A Shot of Encouragement

You Can’t Pay for This Kind of Promotion

Ryan Hall is eager for the upcoming seminar on Bible study. We should all have this attitude and perspective toward our copies of God’s Word:

I want to become a kid in the candy store when it comes to reading through the pages of Scripture. You can never out-study the truths of the Bible.

A Shot of Encouragement

Pastoral Wisdom

According to 50 former pastors, faithful pastoral ministry requires initiative and discipline, with a vivid sense of divine calling, from a constantly refurbished theological commitment, and personal, growing affection for the sheep.


Rightly Dividing

Rightly Dividing Your Copy of God’s Word

Today we announced a new seminar at church:

Rightly | Dividing aims to move believers beyond personal Bible reading to Bible study. There are many useful Bible reading plans, and for that matter, much excellent material is available from good Bible teachers. But this seminar hopes to train people how to understand and depend on the Book, not only on teachers of the Book.

I’ll be teaching this seminar on Saturday, October 11. (Don’t tell anyone, but October 11 also happens to be Mo’s due date with Hallie.) It will include over six hours of teaching, covering topics like how to prepare for study, basic principles (hermeneutics) for Bible study, how to find the point of a paragraph, and recommended tools.

Anyone in the area is welcome to attend. If you’re interested, jump over to the Rightly | Dividing website for more details and online registration.

Whispers and Flames

Fools Play with Fire

Avoiding drama doesn’t mean we never say tough things, it means we don’t add theatrics. It also means that we say tough things to the person, not about the person. Being kind to someone’s face doesn’t always equal love, and saying difficult things to someone’s face doesn’t always equal not love.

On the other hand, whisperers are invariably haters. They talk a love game in certain settings but, as Proverbs 26:23-28 describes, they are hiding an evil heart and harboring deceit. It is never loving or kind to whisper; it is dishonest, insincere, two-faced talk. Whisperers, quarrelers, deceivers, and haters are destroyers.

The whisperers in Proverbs 26:20-22 are fools. Of course, the entire book of Proverbs identifies the contrast between wisdom and foolishness, and a man’s speech tells on him. Wise men quiet contention; fools start fires. Fools whisper and start fights. Fools take a bad situation and stir it up. Other fools listen to and eat up drama.

While these related proverbs comment on the effect or results of drama, the apostle Paul reveals the cause of drama. Whispering and fighting are works of the flesh.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19-20)

Some of these sins fly under the banner of drama. The point is, drama–especially drama in whispers–starts in the heart. These sins are also a sign of God’s abandoning men to their unrighteousness.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:28-31)

It’s no wonder tongues cause such turmoil since “the tongue stains the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). We inflame and sustain fire with our mouths, because our tongues are hellish. It may not be a surprise, but it is no less wrong.

Spirit-filled Christians should not whisper or quarrel. Drama is fleshly. Galatians 5 says that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. We will stop the drama. Those who increase drama, therefore, are those not walking in the Spirit.

This has application for everyone, but young ladies appear especially susceptible to being busybodies, buttinskies, and backbiters.

But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. (1 Timothy 5:11-15)

Apparently because they don’t have enough to do and aren’t looking for responsibility, they go about writing on other’s Facebook walls, text messaging, and getting each other in corners to talk about what Miss So-and-so did. But the devil watches young women. He takes their drama and uses it to slander Christ. Ladies must keep their tongues from wagging after Satan.

With every response we show what is important, either drama, or the Lord. We’ve got to guard our hearts, guard our lips, and guard our ears. Especially for leaders, those who typically know more information about others, and those on whom more eyes and ears concentrate, drama must not be entertained or tolerated in our reactions. We need to make disciples, not drama.

Enjoying the Process

I Didn’t Pick My Eyes Out

Mo and I returned Monday afternoon from the Olympic Swim Trials. We spent a week together in Omaha, NE, in celebration of our 10th Anniversary and Mo’s forthcoming 30th birthday in November.

Qwest Center pool in Omaha – see all our trip pictures

I know, Omaha doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 list of romantic destinations, but Mo has dreamt about attending the Olympic trials meet since she was 10. In fact, she told me that had I taken her back to Hawaii instead, she would have been a little bit disappointed.

Though I’m not a swimmer, a swim coach, or an otherwise interested spectator of swimming, I think I was a good sport all week. Not only did I enjoy the time with Mo–away from interruptions and regular responsibilities–not once did I feel like picking my eyes out. Almost every session saw a record broken, whether it was a meet record, American record, or World record. Michael Phelps really is dominant (in US swim team marketing as well as in the pool), and Dara Torres was that old–and dominant. I would not appreciate sitting all day watching nine year olds swim, but the Olympic trials obviously highlight the best our country has to offer. Friday and Saturday night in particular saw the largest crowds ever to watch a swim meet in the US, Saturday the largest at over 13,770. Any former or current athlete couldn’t help but get goose bumps as the crowd stood and cheered a close race over the last 50m.

We didn’t do much other than attend the trials, eat, and hang out in our hotel since Mo still isn’t feeling fantastic (though at least we didn’t make any visits to the hospital). It is good to be home after being gone most of the last three weeks. Perhaps now I’ll return to normal intermittent posting.

Enjoying the Process

Happy 10th Anniversary, Mo!

Mo married me 10 years ago today, June 19, 1998. Wow.

happy in Hawaii last November

Back then I was looking for someone who wouldn’t be satisfied with the status quo. I prayed for a person that would encourage and push for our marriage to be full and intimate and fun and show off the relationship between Christ and His Bride, for our parenting to be consistent and kind and diligent and nurturing in the Lord, and our ministry to be vigorous and faithful and biblical and a fragrant aroma to God. I didn’t realize how big a request that was.

I knew that this woman would need to love God more than me, that she needed an understanding of–and eagerness to learn more–theology, that she needed a passion for discipleship, as well as an appreciation for her family and in particular submission to her dad, and that she needed affection for the local Body. I also knew she needed a healthy sense of humor, an understanding about coffee and red meat (even if she didn’t partake herself), and she had to be hot. I didn’t realize how rare a woman like that is.

Mo surfing in Hawaii

What I didn’t recognize is how poor my communication skills were, how little practice I had at enjoying things, how utterly insensitive I could be, how narrow and limited my perspective was (and is), how superficial and deficient my understanding of–and ability to–love, and how prone I was to take myself too seriously. I didn’t realize how prodigious a sinner she’d be dealing with.

Mo possesses all of those attributes and deals graciously with all of my failings. I knew I needed her; I didn’t realize how much! After 10 years I’ve at least started to scratch the surface of how important she is to me and how thankful I am for her. These have been my favorite 10 years thanks to Mo. She is my portion in life (Ecclesiastes 9:9), the wife of my youth (Proverbs 5:18), an excellent wife who does me good all my days (Proverbs 31:10-12), God’s gracious and favorable gift (Proverbs 18:22) to me. Thanks for marrying me, Mo.

Enjoying the Process

Enjoying the Travel

In a few minutes Maggie and I are leaving for a two week trip to Ohio. Mo and Calvin are staying home this year, but I’m off to preach five messages at a church conference on the Five Points of Calvinism and then nine messages from Ecclesiastes for the same church’s youth camp.

Somehow it happened that we’re flying United again, but we’re avoiding Chicago with a layover in Philadelphia and jump to Pittsburgh. (Yes, we are actually going to Ohio). It’s still faster than driving across country.

Though I typically reserve my Twitter for meditating thoughts I’ll add some traveling updates for the interested.

UPDATE [9:10PM June 13]: The Twitter followers know we made it safely and with minimal wear and tear. I believe that’s partly due to God’s providence in not having us fly United, but a US Airways flight operated on behalf of United.

Whispers and Flames

Whisperers Eat Fires

There’s a reason we don’t put out fires: we love the action.

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Proverbs 26:22

We don’t extinguish drama because we enjoy it. We’re not built to let fires die out. We are fire eaters, not fire fighters. Though that may sound silly, it correlates the image of fire in verses 20 and 21 with the picture of eating in verse 22.

Proverbs 26:22 is verbatim with Proverbs 18:8. When a proverb is repeated like this, it contains a key nugget of wisdom. This is a sad, but commonly true description of human character: The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels. Delicious morsels are a noun form of a verb that means to swallow greedily. That these delicious morsels go down into the inner parts of the body means we scarf them down.

We love to listen to drama. We delight in bits and pieces of juicy gossip. They are delicious, lip-smacking, finger-licking, and good to the last drop.

It’s why reality television (and soap operas before them) fascinate our culture. It’s why producers of reality TV always allot time for soliloquy in every show, separating a character in a soundproof room so we can hear her slander and rip the housemates. And we eat it up. We get a little and we want more. We’re entertained by relational conflict, deception, bad-mouthing and revenge. It entertains us.

We love us some dirt. Whether by instant messages, text messages, Facebook walls, notes in class, room corner conversations, or late night phone chats, we eat it up, then vomit it back to others. Most of us–that is, those of us in the church–act like our motives are pure and justify our participation in the drama because we care. But under the smokescreen of sympathy we eat and inflame the fire.

Though whispers are delicious morsels to us, they are bitter and foul to God’s palate. Whispering drama destroys like poison. As it seeps it ruins the reputations of others. It kills our credibility. It undermines unity. It wrecks relationships and friendships. It hurts.

The first two proverbs in this unit deal with our talking; this third one addresses our listening. We are not only what we say, we are what we listen to. Whispering is wrong and so is paying attention to whispers. Our ears play a big part in drama too.

Whispers and Flames

Quarrelers Inflame Fires

Not only do whisperers fuel drama as we saw in Proverbs 26:20, quarrelers also play a large roll in drama.

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
Proverbs 26:21

The first half of the proverb in verse 21 provides the comparison, As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire. The fire was already started and now fuel is added. Charcoal refers to black coal while hot embers are glowing, burning coal. We still use a charcoal grill at our house for summer barbecuing so this picture is fresh in my mind. It doesn’t take long before an added cold, black briquet is engulfed by already lit, hot, white coals. The more charcoal added, the bigger and the hotter the fire. In like manner, the quarrelsome man increases and intensifies the drama.

The main character in verse 21 is the quarrelsome man. He is a man of madon, of strife, of contention. The quarrelsome man doesn’t necessarily start fights, but he jumps on top of the pile. He fans the flames. His attitude is combustible; he’s easily excited and ready to burn. It only takes a spark to get his fire going.

Charcoal, wood, and the quarrelsome man are fuel to the fire. He aggravates the problem and escalates the situation through the roof. Though verse 21 doesn’t tell us specifically how a quarrelsome person provokes the fire, it does state the fact that he’s flammable.

The whisperer and the quarrelsome man are connected. I think the connection is contextual. Obviously verse 21 immediately follows verse 20, but more than that, both verse 20 and 21 use the image of fire. Additionally, the quarreler is inserted between two verses about the whisperer (verse 20 and 22), suggesting these three verses are a unit.

The whisperer is like wood, the quarrelsome man like charcoal and wood. Both add fuel to fire or make the fire bigger, and without them the drama dies. Verse 20 says without a whisperer the fire goes out and quarreling ceases. Verse 21 explains that the quarrelsome man kindles strife, which means sparks won’t fly without a quarreler.

And notice that both the whisperer and the quarrelsome man are responding. At least as far as verses 20 and 21 are concerned, these characters are responding to the fire by keeping it going or by making it bigger. The whisperer keeps it going, the quarrelsome man makes it bigger. They aren’t starting the fire, they’re sustaining it or stirring it up. One burns slowly, one explodes, both keep the fire going. One is subtle, one is obvious, both are wrong. One might seem sympathetic, one appears bold, both are foolish.

The implication is that the wise person douses drama. They smother and snuff out the fire. Without fuel, gossip and fights and strife dwindle and die. Extinguishing drama is the work of the wise.

The book of Proverbs provides at least two instructions for how to respond to drama:

Be quiet.

We don’t need to tell everyone everything we know, and we certainly shouldn’t tell anyone things we’re only guessing about. When it comes to drama, keeping our mouths closed is wise.

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.
Proverbs 11:3

Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 17:9

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
Proverbs 20:19

We fan the fire by adding our two cents. If we’re not careful, even our sympathy can unintentionally increase the drama rather than putting it out. Most of the time we need to be quiet.

Be cool.

In other words, we must keep control of our emotions.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Proverbs 15:18

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Proverbs 17:27

Though we can’t always control what other people say, we can control how we respond. For example, a match won’t light by striking it on any surface. So we can be like a smooth surface or like the side of the match box, staving off or inflaming fire.

We’re often in situations with flammable friends or classmates or co-workers. How we respond makes the difference between feeding the fire and increasing the drama or pulling the curtain on the drama and putting out the fire.

Whispers and Flames

Whisperers Feed Fires

Starting a fire requires fuel and something to ignite the fuel. In particular, fires need heat, fuel and oxygen. Remove any of those three ingredients and no fire will burn. When it comes to the fire of drama, whisperers are the fuel.

For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
Proverbs 26:20

The word whisperer in Proverbs 26:20 is the Hebrew word nirgan, referring to a person who speaks softly and typically maliciously. We would call this person a backbiter, a slanderer, or a gossip. Whisperers communicate in a low voice for the sake of privacy, but there is nothing discreet about the consequences of their whispers. Whispers burn like logs on a fire and keep conflict going. That’s the point of the proverb: For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. Where no one is off in the corner sharing the new juicy detail they heard, the fire of drama dies out. Secret, personal, quiet whispers are the fuel of fights.

So who are whisperers and how can we identify them?

It’s easy to envision downright mean and snotty teenage girls whispering crassly about a classmate, caricatured in sitcoms and movies like Mean Girls. It’s also easy to visualize those girls all grown up, now with more money, wearing fancier clothes and better makeup, badmouthing and backbiting their neighbors over tea and finger sandwiches.

But not all whisperers wear their ill-intent so grossly. Some whisperers are more subtle, stoking the fire with sympathy and solace. We can identify these whisperers as those who:

  • see drama unfolding and jump in to offer their support. They ask for specific details in order to commiserate (or so they can better pray for the situation), confirming the victim and condemning the wrongdoer, all with the pretense of great care.
  • think they are helping by passing on information. They want others to be prepared and not caught off-guard by finding out at an inopportune time or from an unreliable source.
  • claim they are being kind by not talking to the person directly. They believe it would be mean to tell it to the person’s face, after all, they wouldn’t want to embarrass someone or hurt another’s feelings.
  • present themselves like the only ones who understand.
  • leave other things undone or who aren’t responsible for much in the first place (cf. [1 Timothy 5:11-15][1]). Free time enables fixers, with nothing better to do than than collect, coordinate and disperse bits of idle data.
  • seek out weak and gullible targets. They hide from the strong and avoid sharing with those who they suspect would stop them. They don’t seek out wise counselors because wise counsel isn’t what they’re after. This, of course, is part of the reason they whisper, so the strong won’t overhear and shut them down.
  • like to reveal the secrets of others (cf. Proverbs 20:19 and expose the sin of others (cf. Proverbs 17:9).

No matter what posture a person takes, flashing lights and loud alarms should go off in our heads if someone begins talking to us with phrases like, “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Did you hear about…?” or “I don’t know if this is true or not, but….”

Whisperers feed the fire. Yet without sticks, there’s nothing to burn and the fire goes out. So if the whisperer shuts his mouth, the drama dies out and the fire is extinguished.

On a practical note, we can’t forget that someone who is willing to whisper to us is probably willing to whisper about us. If they share someone else’s secrets they will eventually do the same with ours. They may not do it in the same hour, but if that’s their character, what makes us think our friendship is different, especially if and when that friendship ends?