“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Monday, October 17, 2005

What's On Your Lips?

Recently I posted about what we, as pastors, read, and view, and in this post I would like to say a few words about watching our heart and speech. This is the most difficult of the posts to write as I struggle here as much as anywhere else. It is not that my speech is laced with a healthy dose of expletives, it is more the tenor of my speech and the heart attitude that is associated with it. Much more than watching what we say in some moralistic manner, this post will be about what our speech says about our heart condition.

I know that Luther liberally sprinkled his writings and sermons with some questionable, and strong speech, and as he grew older and more bitter, he got worse, so this is not a new phenomenon, but I am still struck by what I have heard lately from pastors. To list a few, without naming names:

1. A pastor stating from the pulpit that his lust over a car is 'God-ordained sex'.
2. A 'pastor' who has a web site called 'godhatesfags'.
3. A pastor, from the pulpit, does a full broadside aimed at his fellow believers.
4. A pastor, again from the pulpit, preaching from Harry Potter.

First, a pastor making a covetous statement from behind the pulpit is completely unacceptable. People already struggle with materialism, so when a pastor makes an ignorant statement from behind the pulpit, it reinforces their materialistic attitude, and stands in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Messiah. This reveals a heart that is covetous (IMHO) and denies the sanctifying work of the Spirit in one's life.

Second, a man, masquerading as a pastor who not only spends all of his time in teaching hatred, but PROMOTING a violent attitude towards others is unacceptable. This reflects very clearly what is in his heart, and it ain't pretty!

Third, I may have a quaint, some may say quirky, idea as to what is to be said from behind the pulpit, however I do not believe that Sunday morning is the time to express our disdain for our fellow Christians in a fiery diatribe that is not even Biblical, but simply a defense of tradition. This results in confusion for the congregation as they are told that many solid men of God are blasphemers. Pastor, if you are going to make that claim, it had better be correct! This can be a matter of a heart filled with pride; pride in tradition, or maybe pride in 'success'.

Finally, a pastor who teaches from ANYTHING other than the Bible when behind the pulpit is saying something about his faith in the Bible as the Word of God. This type of pastor has forgotten Psalm 119!

Now, understand that I believe that there is nothing wrong with healthy debate over the issues of our faith; there is absolutely nothing wrong with a strongly worded, and decisive stance against false teaching, cults, or that ilk. We are instructed to be firm in this area. However, when involved in these discussions, we should always ensure that our words come from a pure and honest heart, letting our speech "always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." .

Let me quote C.H. Spurgeon as he spoke of a man he strongly disagreed with theologically, "Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley."

To this day, many have faulted Spurgeon for this statement, believing that he was a false 'Calvinist' and actually promoted a dangerous ecumenical spirit. This statement is a complete refutation of Spurgeon's life; he fought for his reformed beliefs at the expense of shortening his life, and was the banner carrier in England for most of his ministry. However, he also understood that men who loved God also disagreed with him.

I think that John Wesley was WAY off the track as well, but I also appreciate what Spurgeon said regarding him. Today it seems to me that pastors are not proclaiming the gospel as much as they are proclaiming their traditions, or showing how 'relevant' they are. This reflects a heart issue, and not so much a speech issue. It is displayed in their speech, but this starts inside a man. This is spiritual pride in its finest hour! By attempting to say something unique, profound, or relevant, we reveal the motives of our heart. I am not pointing fingers indiscriminately, I struggle with this as does every pastor that I know.

As I stated in my post regarding our viewing habits, I believe that we oftentimes believe we can have a double standard, including in our heart and speech. We cannot have one standard for speaking from behind the pulpit, and one used when 'no one is watching'. As a matter of fact, I believe that we reflect from behind the pulpit what we sound like in our day to day discussions, so therefore we should guard our heart at all times.

This actually goes much deeper than simply making attempts to have 'clean humor' and a lack of cussing. Some pastors gets caught in the moralistic trap of mentally 'washing their mouth out with soap'. The problem starts long before that, and again, as I have posted previously, it has to do with the work of sanctification in our lives. If you are attempting to be a 'good' pastor by simply doing, and saying moral things, then you have missed the point. Ghandi did, and said, good moral things, but I would not have him preach at my church. The regeneration of a man starts the process and it is a continual renewal of the mind. This is where the root of the heart and speech attitudes are located. We cannot simply refrain from cussing and believe that we somehow are living a sanctified life. We must examine our heart attitudes about EVERYTHING, and constantly be washed in the water of the Word.

I believe the problem facing the pastorate in this area today is that we, as pastors, live worldly lives for 5-6 days of the week, and then work ourselves into a 'holy' froth for Sunday morning. This ties very closely into the last several posts. Our walk with the Lord is much more than reading the Bible throughout the week to simply prepare a sermon, or listening to hymns as we drive our car to and from church on Sunday morning.

Of course the opposite reaction is equally incorrect; this is the concept that we are simply 'one of the guys', and should not show any signs of a life given over to the Lord. This is commonly misrepresented by being 'real'. Yes, it may be who you really are, but it is not correct. If this is your attitude, you may want to consider another line of work (just a suggestion). A Pastor needs to review the qualifications of the position again if they think that being real means that they are to be as crude and crass as the world. How many Pastors could say, as Paul did to the Church in Corinth -- "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ"?

To give some grounding for this post let me quote a Scripture:

Proverbs 4:23-27: Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

I like this proverb as it covers all the areas. (1) WATCH your heart, (2) WATCH your speech, (3) WATCH your eyes, (4)WATCH your walk. We see that these four things are tied together. A BAD heart produces BAD speech etc. If we would do these four things, we, as pastors, would avoid SO MANY pitfalls! I speak from experience, not from the lofty tower of perfection! James addressed this in his letter. Read James 3!

The giants of our faith were marked by lives that were completely focused on the Lord. They turned their hearts over to the Lord, and He worked in them a mighty work. These were men who stood out in the crowd, not only in their speech, but in their lives! And this all starts with the heart, and flows from there.

Now, I am not saying that people like Spurgeon, or M'Cheyne, or Whitefield were perfect, they would be the first to object to that, but I am saying that they spent much more time with the Lord than many of the modern pastors do, asking Him to work in them a new heart. No doubt this is due in part to the times; there was no Internet, TV, Radio, or the modern media blitz that we deal with. They also lived in a time when the pace of life was far different. However, this is a somewhat lame excuse; in many instances, we simply WON'T spend the time with the Lord that is required to break and change us. When we look at pastoring from the perspective of a CEO, as is popular in today's world, it removes the impetus to spend time being broken by the Lord. We now 'administer' our churches rather than 'pastor' them. This results in our language being that of the world, we no longer speak with words salted with the Lord's teaching, but with secular, worldly words. Read some of the work produced by people like M'Cheyne, Owens, Flavel, and then compare it to modern writing. When was the last time you heard a man speak as eloquently as M'Cheyne about the Lord?

Here is a suggestion for you: Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Pick up Memoir and Remains and look at this man's life. I cannot imagine him dropping the line 'God-Ordained sex' from the pulpit when referring to material goods!

Pastors who spend all of their time in secular thought, and very little time in prayer will have a speech that reflects that. The pulpit today is no longer the place where we hear from God, it is now where we hear from men, and often in coarse and vulgar ways. Our speech is coarse because our heart is coarse, which is because we spend too little time with the Lord, and too much time being 'creative' or ensuring that we are relevant, or any of the other activities that passes for pastoring in our day.

What should we do? Here are a couple of suggestions. These are not exhaustive, but simply a start.

1. Spend less time with the magazines, papers, Internet and TV remote. Stop trying to be relevant and be clay in the Potter's Hands. This does not mean that we become illiterate about current events, it is vital to be informed, but we should not be SO consumed with current events that we forget THE event that happened on a hill in Jerusalem several thousand years ago. The relevance we bring is not to preach about a hurricane and its theological meaning, but Christ and Him crucified!

2. Get on our knees and ask the Lord to remove the pride, covetousness, and other filth from our hearts and renew them. We need to be broken before the Lord!

2. Stop worrying about our reputation, and start thinking and praying about what our Lord and Master has directed us to be doing.

3. Get into the Bible and read through the Psalms. What a devotional the Psalms are. Then, get into the Hymnal and read through the Hymns of our faith.

4. Get with other brothers who will make you accountable, and give them the authority to do so. Part of the problem is that many pastors have opted for a bad ecclesiology, which renders them the virtual despot of the church (or worse yet, the CEO). This does not give a plurality of leadership which is so badly needed in a day when accountability is at an all time low in the pastoral ranks.

I believe that what we read, view, listen to, and say, affects our congregations more than we realize, and while we will always say something that we regret, we need to be diligent to watch our lives, and our words.

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