Piping Hot and Served Daily

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
~ James 3:5

A stack of hot takes and the syrup, oh so good.

A hot word has dropped on your ear. What should you do? You heard that somebody said or did something, somewhere, sometime. In other words, someone spilled the piping hot tea. What do you do with that? You have options—ignore it, speak about it to somebody, speak about it to a group of somebodies, like in a church, post about it online in specific language, post about it online in vague language, or go directly to the person and ask about it. I realize that last option is so extreme it’s seldom exercised but just know it’s in the toolbox.

Social media have given us an unprecedented ability to speak out early and often about anything and everything. Our words can reach the uttermost parts of the earth and the International Space Station in seconds. Such ability is powerful and very new. People have adapted quickly to using it. In our new age, people can speak about things and also think they should speak about everything. It’s as if we’ve been endowed with the inalienable right to speak about everything by the creators of the internet. To hear something is to feel the obligation that we must say something. Should we say something? How do we decide?

I want to try to keep this as general as possible, because a host of factors affects what you might do with or about something you’ve heard. I also want to focus on speaking out publicly about what you’ve heard someone said or did. I want to take a flowchart approach to walk through this biblically. If we consider the biblical principles of justice, we find a sure guide to when is a time to speak and when is a time to keep silent.

Mere Information

All statements come irreducibly to one of two conditions—true or false. I realize words can be true or false in different ways. Something can be partly true, where some information is accurate and some is not. Something could simply be a mistake and, though false, not malicious. I don’t want to get all knotted up in those variations. Distilled to the essence, words are either true or false. This is the best starting point because we cannot get any further back of it.

I can’t possibly cover all variations so we are going to consider the two primary conditions of true and false. So you have received information and the statement is either true of false. Let’s begin.

Condition 1: The Statement is True

The first condition means that you have heard a report of something someone said or did. This doesn’t mean it’s a word-for-word quote, but that it is an accurate representation of the facts. The person(s) in question really did say or do as reported. Remember you are receiving second-hand information, at best. You have been told by someone that someone else said or did something. Old covenant law required the truthfulness of a report to be established with the accused given opportunity to speak to his own case (Deuteronomy 19:17-19), which principle is a continued expectation of righteous judgment in the New Testament (Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19). Hearsay was inadmissible (Leviticus 5:1). Failure to establish the truthfulness of a report is to be unjust, a gossiper (Leviticus 19:16; Psalms 15:3; Proverbs 11:13; 20:19, 27; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:5), and perhaps an unrighteous witness (Exodus 23:1). In common law, we refer to that as due process.

Next, we must consider if the meaning of the report is understood. Let’s say a friend comes to you after church and says, “I just heard the pastor tell the deacon, ‘Get out of here.'” This is an accurate report of what was said, but what does it mean? From this brief report, you might conclude the pastor was angry with the deacon and maybe they had been arguing. You would easily come to that conclusion if the friend delivered the report with a concerned look and tone. However, the friend didn’t know, or tell you, that the pastor and the deacon had been joking around and the pastor laughingly told him, “Get out of here.” If words and actions are reported accurately but the meaning is misunderstood, then there has been a misrepresentation. Misrepresentation can be unintentional and would be folly (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). Intentional misrepresentation is a false witness (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 25:18). This goes back to the need to establish truthfulness.

Accurately understood words and actions have to be evaluated according to Scripture. Do they agree or contradict Scripture? If they agree, you commend them, and if they contradict, you condemn them. Now we are ready for one last consideration before we speak to the report: is it your business or place to speak to it? If it is your business or place to speak to it, you are being faithful to do so (Galatians 6:1; Titus 3:10; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). If it isn’t your business or place to speak to it, you should hold your peace and not be a busybody in other men’s affairs (Proverbs 11:13; 17:9; 1 Peter 4:15).

Condition 2: The Statement is False

The second condition is a false report. The statement you heard is not true. In the case of a false report, the teller either knows it’s false or doesn’t know it’s false. If the informer doesn’t know it is false, he is sharing gossip and slandering someone. He may not have malicious intent, but his carelessness marks him a fool (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). You take part in his folly by sharing it and add fuel to a destructive fire (Proverbs 26:20-21). If someone knowingly shares a false report, he is a liar, deliberate slanderer, and sower of discord (Proverbs 6:16-19). Speaking to it in this case makes you participate in his sins. It means you are putting your hand in to raise a false report (Exodus 23:1).

Conclusion

The truthfulness of a report is not enough of itself to justify to your speaking to it publicly, but established truthfulness is absolutely required if speaking to it publicly. Further, we should remember our words should always be governed by wisdom as taught extensively in the book of Proverbs. I will end with a short dose of wisdom for our words in a list I have adapted from Kidner’s Proverbs commentary.

  1. Words are powerful for good or bad (Proverbs 12:18; 16:24; 18:21; 29:5).
  2. Words are cheap, easily manipulated, but cannot change reality (Proverbs 14:23; 24:12; 26:23-28; 29:19).
  3. Words should be honest and few (10:19; 16:13; 17:28; 24:24-26).
  4. Words should be thoughtful and well considered (Proverbs 10:20; 15:2, 23, 28; 16:1; 25:11).
  5. Words should be calm and calming (Proverbs 15:1; 17:27; 18:13, 17; 25:15).

De Los Muertos

Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.
~ Deuteronomy 14:1

… and other oddities

November 1 is the well-known Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead. Customs may vary throughout Mexico, but generally it is a celebration of the dead. People build ofrendas in their homes to place pictures or some possessions of their deceased relatives. They may have flowers or burn candles on these altars. People gather around the graves of their deceased and eat meals featuring the favorite foods and drinks of the departed, and leave portions for them as well. They pray to and for their dead, dance in the streets, and calaveras are everywhere.

The holiday is typically associated with the Catholic holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. However, the Catholic influence on such practices is more come lately, as the roots these observances go back much further to the pre-hispanic, indigenous peoples of Mexico. Odd beliefs, customs, and practices concerning the dead go even further back in the roots of paganism.

Pagan Roots and Fruits

We first encounter observances pertaining to the dead in the Bible among the Canaanites. The old covenant law gave specific warnings to Israel, forbidding them from taking up the pagan practices of the nations around them (Leviticus 19:26-31; 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; 18:9-14; 26:12-15). We find there prohibitions against such as making offerings to or for the dead, body modifications for the dead, eating the blood to gain power of the dead, and consulting with diviners and such to communicate with the dead in order to learn the future or gain special knowledge outside of God’s natural revelation in creation or special revelation in his word.

Of course, the Jews of Israel were not impervious to these cultic practices concerning the dead. A perusal of the prophets finds the nation condemned for such things as offering their children in the fire and seeking commune with the dead (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 47:12; Jeremiah 7:31-32; Ezekiel 23:37-39). By the time of the intertestamental period post-exile, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be offerings for the dead and prayers to and for the dead in Israel. The inclusion of such things is one of the reasons early churches rejected the intertestamental books as apocryphal, not including them in the canon of Scripture.

Various adaptations of pagan practices concerning the dead have persisted in church history. The practice of prayers to and for the dead eventually gave rise to the doctrine of purgatory and the idea of post-mortem atonement or absolution of sins. I hope that evangelical Christians can see all these things as the abominable pagan practices they are, regardless of the sanctified language, historied traditions, good intentions, or imaginative reasoning used to support them.

A Rose of Another Name

It is good to have such hope I suppose, but Christians really seem to struggle to get a handle on paganism. We can’t seem to figure out what it is exactly. For some, all you have to do is label something as pagan and that roundly condemns all instances of it and everyone within a fifty mile radius of it. You better steer clear of any twice-removed cousins who know a guy that has a friend who might have seen it or heard of it before. Of course, that is not any species of scriptural reasoning at all. It is more like the reasoning of a sweating fundamentalist evangelist at a southern summer campmeeting. He can preach agin’ anything. All he has to do is label it worldly and then quote a verse about not loving the world, and, boom, he’s got “bible” for preaching the devil out of y’all.

Calling something pagan or claiming it has pagan roots doesn’t accomplish anything. For instance, pagans have hunted and farmed as long as pagans have existed. They typically pray to their gods before and after their harvests. Does that mean farming and hunting are pagan practices? When a Christian engages in these activities and prays to the true and only God before after the harvests, is he committing paganism?

A pagan cuts down a tree, builds a fire to warm himself and bake bread, and with the rest he makes idols to worship (Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:2-5)? Pagans go outside and cut flowers or other greenery to bring into their homes. They may do so with observing certain rites and believing they are inviting the spirits of their ancestors into their homes to bring them favor. When a Christian cuts down a tree, builds a fire, warms himself, or bakes bread, is he practicing paganism? When a Christian man brings home a bouquet of beautiful flowers to his wife and she puts them in a vase on the dining room table, or they otherwise adorn their home with plants of God’s creation, have they committed abominations?

Paul would say, No (1 Timothy 4:3-5). The creation of God is good and is to be received and enjoyed with thanksgiving. All things are made by God and rightly belong to him (Psalms 24:1). Paul actually quoted that verse in 1 Corinthians 10:26 where in chapters 8-10 he is showing that meat sacrificed to idols is not tainted or inherently sinful. Paul wrote that those who have true knowledge understand that and that an idol is nothing in the world (1 Corinthians 8:4). Those chapters certainly help us sort out paganism for what it is. Paganism doesn’t create or own anything. Paganism perverts and corrupts what God has created and owns to use for abominable practices. But, pagan misuse doesn’t nullify a proper use.

Secret Sauce

Getting back to praying for the dead and other such odd practices, what should we make of it? Some may be tempted to apply Paul’s argument about meat sacrificed to idols and say, “Oh, we aren’t praying for the dead like that. We are not praying like pagans do. We don’t believe in purgatory or post-death atonement. We are merely praying retroactively, knowing that God has all power and time is nothing to him.” I’m tempted to ask, What then are you praying for? What are you asking God to do, or what you asking for to happen? Stripped back to the essence, this argument claims that pagans misuse prayers for the dead and these Christians are making a right use of prayers for the dead.

That argument fails and twists Scripture. We have already considered references where such practices for the dead are condemned as pagan abominations. God doesn’t give alternatives to those practices as if there were a right way to do it. No, he says don’t do it at all because you are “the children of the LORD your God,” and you are “an holy people unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2). When it comes to plowing a field, there is a way to plow in sin (Proverbs 21:4) and a way to plow in faith (1 Corinthians 9:10). The plowing itself is neither sinful nor righteous. Paul said the same thing about eating the meat. But, praying for the dead is only sinful. There is no right way and wrong way to do it. The whole practice is abominable.

The various strange practices for the dead are all linked by the attempt to converse with a realm that is forbidden to us living people. When Moses gave Israel the law, he made clear that the source of knowledge for them and the source of requirements for them was not hidden or secreted away is some unreachable realm so that they would have to resort to unusual means to find it out (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). What God wants us to know is given to us in his written word (Deuteronomy 29:29). To pray for the dead is to meddle with God’s domain that is his alone. Our prayers are to be made to God alone and not after the manner of pagans (Matthew 6:5-13), and they are to be made for the people living in our time (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Well, Actually

We all struggle at times to distinguish wrong from right. When it comes to oraciones por los muertos, prayers for the dead, no struggle is required. It’s actually pagan. It’s actually wrong.

What’s for Dinner?

It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word of God.
~ Luke 4:4

Whole Words

Have you ever eaten like a pig? Have you ever been so hungry you ate like a street dog assuming its last meal? Have you ever said you were starving? Were you actually starving? Probably not.

Imagine a scene where a starving man at last lays hold of food and he can’t shove food and drink in his mouth fast enough. Is that what would happen if you sat a starving man down to a feast of rich food? Reality is probably much different than what you imagine.

To Build a Bridge

In 1942, the Japanese captured the Scotsman Ernest Gordon and others as they attempted to sail from Indonesia to Sri Lanka and took them back to Singapore. They were force marched to a prison camp in the jungles of Thailand. There Gordon was part of the labor crew forced to build the infamous bridge on the River Kwai. The bridge was a part of the Japanese railway to transport supplies and support their planned attack on India.

The conditions in that concentration camp were reportedly some of the worst known in World War II. Unlike many others, Gordon survived the prison camp for over three years until the Japanese surrender in 1945 and he was liberated. Gordon endured malnutrition and extended starvation among other unimaginable tortures and privations. The prisoners had been fed just enough to barely keep them alive. It was not enough for many. It was said that for every railroad tie laid there was one life lost among the prisoners. Gordon himself was even sent to the “death house” in the camp where they sent prisoners who were expected to die soon, and yet he still survived.

When Gordon was freed, he was taken to a British military hospital set up in Rangoon in Burma for treatment. Gordon described himself and the others as living skeletons and they did not fall on tables of food when they first arrived like hungry lions on a wildebeest. They did savor some fresh brewed tea and fresh baked white bread, but they couldn’t eat much of anything they did eat. What they could eat was nothing very solid and Gordon said it was quite a long time before he could eat any meat at all. These men had to be slowly brought back to life and relied on small portions of soft food and heavy doses of vitamin and mineral supplements. Most of us will never know starvation like that.

If you’re like me, you look forward to all the family gathered around the Thanksgiving table for the best meal of the year. You probably even skimp on breakfast and lunch in preparation. What if this Thanksgiving the family was all gathered around the table and Grandmother didn’t bring food to the table, but instead brought pictures of turkey and ham? What if instead of anyone eating anything, she read aloud some of her recipes for sweet potato pie and cranberry salad? Would you be pleased? Would you in any way be satisfied?

As Gordon and the other men survived extended starvation and malnutrition in the camp, they began to be more interested in pictures of food than pictures of calendar girls. They pinned up pictures of roast beef, apple pie, potatoes, and chocolate cake on the walls of the hut. They took great pleasure in listening to a recipe for angel food cake being read aloud, and were tantalized by the pronounced ingredients. Of course, they couldn’t have truly enjoyed what they most longed for if roast beef and potatoes along with hot apple pie were set in front of them. That’s the sad reality of their situation.

The Bible is Food

The Bible compared to food is a common metaphor in the Bible itself. The prophet Amos spoke the word of the Lord about a time coming when there would be a famine, not of bread and water, but a famine of “hearing the word of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). Job treasured God’s word more than his meal (Job 23:12). Jesus charged Peter to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Paul charged the elders of the Ephesian church to “feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter echoed the charge he had received as he charged elders to “feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).

The food Christians need fed is the word of God. The primary job of preachers is to feed people the word of God. Bad preaching is bad food. A steady diet of bad preaching is like a steady diet of junk food. In twenty-one years of ministry I’ve been persistently dismayed by the amount of junk food preaching coming from pulpits. I’ve been even more dismayed by the number of people that prefer junk food preaching over wholesome and nourishing preaching. They pass by roast beef and potatoes preaching for potato chip and ice cream preaching.

Paul warned about people having itching ears and it shouldn’t surprise us when sugar-addicted children choose the line doling out candy as opposed to the line where real meat, fruit, and vegetables are well-prepared and served. It is sometimes the case that people prefer junk food preaching because they’re always chasing a sugar rush through light snacks that any grandma worthy of the matronly office would tell you will ruin your dinner.

Gordon and the bridge builders in the Valley of the Kwai would tell us it’s not always the case though. It is sometimes the case that people have been malnourished and starved for so long that they cannot tolerate hearty and substantial food. Their praise of bad preaching in churches and at conferences is more like Gordon’s men drooling over pictures of roast beef and potatoes while they were nowhere near ready to actually eat such a meal. Like POW’s, many Christians are so used to being fed only enough to barely sustain life that they are just not ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.

A Prescribed Food Regiment

A preacher’s job is not to beat and berate such sick sheep who are ready to die, and to give them only a thick steak to eat would be cruel. Paul told Timothy that Christ’s servants must be gentle, patient, and meek to feed, or teach, God’s flock with the greatest care (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Being “right” doesn’t give you the right to be harsh, hot-headed, and rough instead. God’s flock needs to be fed with the faithful word (Titus 1:9) in order to be healthy and mature properly (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Paul put it best when he charged Timothy, “Preach the word” (1 Timothy 4:1). That “word” means all the scripture, or the whole Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Faithful, persistent exposition of the Bible gives people God’s words and is like taking the best fresh ingredients and preparing a hearty meal. It is a proper balance of sweet and savory. It is a nourishing and satisfying blend of spices mixed with the raw ingredients.

But, we have to remember that biblically malnourished people are far from connoisseurs. Gordon and the others had a mental desire for good food, but not the actual taste for it. That had to come over time. The medical personnel attending them had to bring them along in small increments with love and patience. Preachers are the medical personnel under the Great Physician of souls. We shouldn’t be surprised when plates of hearty Bible food are pushed back, or only half eaten. It seems discussions of preaching inevitably devolve into discussions of preaching styles and personalities, what’s boring and more enjoyable, and even sentimental feelings. This conversation is often joined by endless circling around the definitions of terms and personal experience.

The problem for Gordon wasn’t that he didn’t know or understand the difference between a steak and a piece of toast. The problem was that he simply couldn’t tolerate the steak for a very long time. Preachers need to realize the real heart of the problem with people pushing back plates is seldom a problem of definitions, and more often a problem of malnourishment that leaves people with no appetite or taste for meaty biblical preaching. Preachers must be gentle and patient and keep following the prescription of the Great Physician (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

As for those in the pews, could it that you have been suffering biblical starvation for so long that you’re more concerned with the idea of real food than you are actual food. For the good of your soul and the souls of your family, ditch the junk food and go to where you will be nourishingly fed God’s whole words (Proverbs 19:27).

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