Can You Dig It: A SOAP Study on James 1:19-21

Scripture: “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” ~ James 1:19-21 (MSG)

 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” ~ James 1:19-21 (ESV)

Observations/Applications: Before we analyze these verses, we must first note the context of James 1. In this letter, Peter is discussing two things:

  1. How believers should persevere during trials.
  2. How to receive wisdom from God.

After converging these points in the intro, Peter provides a powerful series: Lead by listening, be slow to speak to ensure discernment, and be slower to anger so peace may abound.

Essentially, Peter pulls inspiration from the Proverbs and converts it into an endurance tutorial.  

Are you weary and weak? Be still and know He is God.

Are you experiencing pain? Let God bridge your hurt and emotion.

Do you find your faith tested? Again, be still, listen, and know God is for you.

After all, faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). 

As for our listening, Peter isn’t saying we automatically replace speaking with hearing. Rather, He is channeling a similar vibe from Ephesians 4:29-30

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 

Often times, we perceive this passage through the lens of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel use words if necessary.” However, we must remember while the man meant well, his words aren’t Scripture. We don’t determine what’s necessary through free will but through what is good and true as God defines; hence, why engagement in God’s Word is critical for growth and the life that results.

‘Cause truth is: There are many times at work or in house when we must communicate. Especially in certain professionals, we can’t always afford to be silent or plow behind the comfort of a screen. As such, it’s important we as Kingdom influencers speak life when we speak up or out. Again, it’s not about what we have to say but rather what needs to be said. If our aim is to make God’s love known through truth, we must remember timely stillness, not perpetual quietude, is the road to this reality. 

Now, before I continue, let me be clear. I’m not saying St. Francis of Assisi was wrong; I’m not saying those who advocate the phrase are wrong. Rather I am cautioning us to consider what ‘if necessary’ means as we reference God in the moment, on the clock, etc. Obviously, don’t be silent when you’re supposed to speak and call it ‘wisdom’. Instead know the purpose of your perseverance, in silence or in speech, comes down to aligning to God’s love in faith and His will in prayer.  Remember the ‘how’ bows to the who; not the other way around. As great as our execution can be when given the green light, God’s light is all the greater.

I love how the ESV and MSG translations dance in v. 21:

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”

Like the implied soil, the imagery here is rich. As Lord of all creation, God by proxy is the master gardener of our hearts given His Word is designed to root and yield fruit. Yet, while we know the way we live should reflect what we belief, in the minutiae of work, it’s not always easy. Crazy clients, detached supervisors, secondary natter…the challenge of our character’s consistency never stops.

Thankfully, Peter gives us a straight-forward example of how we can engage space for faith to mature. As we turn from pride and abandon fear, we can receive God’s Word with meekness knowing it’s already been planted in our hearts. This doesn’t mean God is one-and-done with what He sows; contrarily, it means when we come to faith in Christ, God never stops pursuing more room in our hearts to hide His Word. From there, God by His Spirit stirs us closer to His heart by encouraging us to His Word.

Now, here’s where it gets fun. First off, why would Peter conclude his point with an earthy metaphor? Or better put, how can we receive something from God that’s already been buried?

To answer this, let’s review Philippians 4:8 (AMP):

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart.

This leads me to a key point:

Just as God is faithful to plant His Word, we likewise must be faithful to implant it.

For many who believe Jesus is Lord and Savior can the accept the idea God sows truth by His Spirit. The question is when push comes to shove in our darkest days, when the chaos of enterprise is sapping our strength, are we focusing on what is perfect, pure, and honorable? Or are we setting before us the way of surviving and striving? 

Think of this way: If God entrusts us with His trust, then we can implant what He plants. What He sows, He renews, and what He renews we can reap in confidence. My encouragement to you, my friends, is to not separate your daily work from your daily walk. Let gratitude pave the way for humility and let humility mark the efforts of your heart and mind. Care for each other with sincerity knowing what you do is secondary to who and how God has made you. And as you reference God, know you approach Him as more than a conqueror. As you resist fear and anxiety, as you cast your cares on the Lord, understand you’re giving Him room to landscape your heart with inspired truth and perspective straight from His Word. Don’t just think about things that are good, but let God cultivate His good into a harvest shared with those around you. Whatever you do, whatever you say…let your work be a testimony of God’s Word continually renewed in you. By committing to these soul goals, these divine purposes, not only will you ‘fertile’ your heart but discover the seeds you’re meant to sow back as a co-gardener unto the Lord.

Selah.

Prayer: Lord, in times like these, what can we do but thank you? To stand in awe of your goodness and faithfulness despite our frailties and fragilities? As we digest this Word, we’re reminded of your master plan as created by master hands. Of anything that made new, we know it comes for you. As such, help us to treasure your Word as daily bread, as branches clinging to the vine. Plant new words, ideas, and visions into our hearts today. Teach us how to be faithful stewards of the rich seed you give us. May they take root for your glory so we, as humble, fearless workers, can tell your story. Landscape our ‘now’  so we may calibrate to your ‘wow’. We ask this in Jesus’ mighty, precious name. 

Cover photo creds: experteasy.com

3 Ways to Elevate Others at Work

I don’t know about you, but I find the ironies of Scripture fascinating.

Weakness as strength, the overturning of human wisdom, redemptive reversals…there are many to choose from.

But I suppose the one gripping me most intensely right now is delayed revelation – how one can read the same verse ninety-nine times, but on the hundredth one, the light bulb goes off…as if you’re reading the verse for the first time. Call it God’s faithfulness. Call it maturity meeting an inspired moment. Whatever the reason, I believe it justifies our call to continually renew our minds in the Word. After all, in the space between passage exposure, who says God can’t work new grids and frameworks into the mix?

Prelude aside, I want to share a recent instance during which I was studying Philippians 2 when all of a sudden, I hit an accelerant taking me deeper into new territory. A familiar read, now a profound resonance. Let’s dive into v. 3

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (NIV)

“When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.” (NCV)

 “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (NKJV)

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (NLT)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

Now, before I continue, permit me to share some context.

A couple of weeks ago, during a Foundation Group team meeting,  a colleague mentioned how we should honor one another by assuming other’s loads as “crazier” than our own – an agreeable notion given our corporate desire to serve. While I couldn’t remember the Scriptural reference offhand, I knew it took residence in one of Paul’s first imprisonment letters (i.e. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). Accordingly, I couldn’t help feeling satisfied having found the source a week later.

As I drilled down, it made sense why this colleague would allude to Philippians 2:3. For starters, the verse captures how corporate love looks in a team construct, particularly in vocational settings. To respect colleagues and clients alike, it’s essential we surrender pride, embrace selfless motives, and integrate humility into everything we do. The reasons this constitutes wisdom are many:

  1. It yields no breathing room to arrogance or self-righteousness.

  2. It emphasizes and prioritizes advancing the needs of others.

  3. It inspires a place for the radical middle to thrive. Spiritually, we know this as living in Spirit and Truth, but vocationally, this often manifests as finding common ground to agree upon.

  4. It creates a spirit of safety and enhances camaraderie/team unity.

  5. It converts corporate ladders from vertical hierarchies into horizontal matrices where all roles are equally valuable (though diverse in function).

However, there are deeper layers to be discovered as we consider occupational application.

Case and point: The allegory of the long spoons –  a regarded illustration, but one seldom tied to marketplace principles.

 

For those unaware of this illustration, the allegory of the long spoons is a parable that shows the difference between heaven and hell wherein each location,  inhabitants are given food with oversized utensils incapable of self-service. In hell, the people cannot cooperate and wail in torment. In heaven, the diners use the spoons to serve food across the table where all are satisfied.

This in mind, we can ‘carpe diem’ the application. If our mission is to maximally serve one another, then self-seeking ambitions will fade as humility builds in places they once occupied. As Romans 12:1-2 states, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices, we position ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds to discern the will of God. Yet, to do this, we must also be committed to living securely in our ‘loved by God’ identity.

‘Cause truth is: If we know who we are, not only will compassion be the hallmark of our efforts, but the overflow to how we shepherd relationships. In a sense, we won’t have room to compare or prove our worth because we know we are loved by God; therefore, we have nothing to lose valuing others above ourselves, in pursuing others’ needs ahead of our own.

As for how this looks in the business world, these truths often reflect in collaboration, communication, and correction:

With collaboration, any time a team comes together to fine-tune or streamline a process, the goal is to make critical functions more efficient…for the sake of service. While economical outcomes are practical, it’s the customer bond, not the bottom line, where equity accrues over time. Consequently, if leadership is intentional in anchoring pursuits to critical needs over critical mass, odds are the organization will validate its authenticity and purpose.

Likewise, with communications, a team is reinforced when ideas and individual strengths are integrated into its corporate dynamic. Once in rhythm, a leader can then create environments of safety where those will more experience can speak life into those with less. And though the balance may require calibrating with new hires, as long as space is giving to professional and personal growth, the ‘unity in community’ element will flourish. Again, the goal of workplace communication should be to elevate the ministry of servanthood in advance of performance metrics; however, if verbal success is to be realized, a leader must differentiate their aim and the overflow to come.

Lastly, with correction, a team leader should always employ honesty with understanding and prudence with patience. Here the principle is straightforward: If a leader is to speak discipline effectively, he/she must exercise transparency constructively. For example, if a leader/supervisor rushes to grace without understanding, then cultures of security may be compromised as opposed to strengthened. Granted, this can be a fine line to walk; then again, that’s the beauty of Philippians 2:3 – One doesn’t have to try to be right, but aim to do right in tending the good in others…

…which brings me to my last point…

If we’re to use our spoons to serve others, we must be intentional to clean them regularly.

Think of it this way: You may love pot roast and mashed potatoes, but if the utensils are dirty, you’re going to hesitate to eat them. Most likely you’re going to wash the serving spoon or request a different side item. Unless you’re really, really hungry.

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In theory,  the same concept applies to ministry, work, and all points in between. While what you serve is important, how you serve is all the more. For instance, not only does ‘how you serve’ shape your influence but answers the question as literally considering Jesus.

As such, if you ever wonder how to serve with clean spoons…lock on to Jesus. Specifically, look to Him as your example in selfless humility (v. 5), empty yourselves as servants of all (v. 7; Mark 9:35), and honor each other with enthusiasm (v. 12). Dare to work in a manner worthy of your calling (Ephesians 4:1), in a way that points to Christ’s sovereignty. And from there, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, and actively pursue spiritual maturity (v. 12) in community, in unity…with humility.

You got this, my friend.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Terryberry.com

Say the Words: The Bridge Between Forgiveness and Identity

Okay, so I know I promised a ‘part 2’ in my last post; however, I figured a) I’d delay for some storytime and b) You guys wouldn’t mind a change of pace. Accordingly, I’ll retarget the aforementioned sequel to next weekend. 

So yesterday, I’m eating lunch with some colleagues when suddenly an open question becomes an answer to my silence. An opportunity to share now a moment to care…just without the words.

Deep down, my subconscious begins to skew…

I thought they said life wasn’t supposed to a spectator sport? I should be in the game, not the sidelines! Why did I accept this invitation anyway?

Granted, I’m embarrassed having assumed the question was for me when it was for someone else. Still, I’m desperate to quench this oral craving. Time to take the plunge and jump in, I think to myself.

And so I do. Five minutes in…the first unforced tangent, I carpe diem the crap out of it. Like an open book, I’m elated knowing where I’m going, where I’m stopping, and where I’m headed in this midday manuscript.

What could go wrong’, I wonder. ‘I just need to wrap up my say and head back to the bleachers. Get in, get out, and go home happy.’

And for a while I’m right. After a relay question to stitch the rabbit trail, I‘m not only out, but home happy – the start of 18 hours of muted conscious.

That is until this morning’s 5:30 am wake-up call – a muffled ‘Beautiful Day’ ringtone softened by the tune of leftfield conviction.

You totally hijacked that conversation,” I hear.

Sensing that familiar twilight echo, I quickly realize God is talking to me.

When you go to work today, make sure you apologize to the person you cut off.”

*Sigh* “Okay, God. I get it. You got it. Like my most popular Slack, ‘Will do’.”

Hours later, I’m back in the office, a couple convos into a steady rhythm when my time comes to apologize. Without hesitation, I pivot off a talk of the times to the words of the time.

About yesterday. I know you probably thought nothing of it. Certainly didn’t mean anything by it. But I just gotta say…I totally hijacked that conversation yesterday. It would have been better for me to listen than chime in out of fear of not being heard. Will you forgive me?

Like butter to burnt toast, I smell the melting – this friend of mine, a fairly recent acquaintance, touched by such sensitivity.

Wow, you’re a man of God, aren’t you,” she says.

Uhhh…yes. Yes, I am a man of God. This is true. Can’t argue…” I stagger.

At this point, I’m reeling like a teenage pop-fan in 2012, stunned by this one direction¹. In no way did I expect the dialogue to end up here of all places.

Yet, as I reflect back, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

‘Cause truth is: Whether we’re owning a misgiving or repenting for a fault, asking for forgiveness always helps us rediscover who we are. Sure, we may feel like a horse being led to water, eager to rid ourselves the yoke of apology. But as I learned this morning, there’s not only grace behind an “I’m sorry”, but identity calibration as well.

As for the apology, some would say I had nothing to apologize about. But for me, I’m glad I had something to own. For when we own something, it only proves we’ve accepted what’s been given in the first place. And while this could look a number of different ways, I submit at the core of it all is a gentle, gracious reminder that we are loved in and through weakness. Even when we’re not perfect, there’s at least room to be perfected – the space in between the sweet spot of our identity.

Selah.

Later this spring, I’ll discuss this forgiveness/identity dichotomy in greater detail. For now, here are some verses we can revisit for next time…

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.~ Luke 1:76-78 (ESV)

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  – Luke 7:47 (ESV)

Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ…” 
~ 2 Corinthians 2:10 (ESV)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”  – 1 John 2:12 (ESV)

‘Til then, you got this, people of God…

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Footnotes

  1. Youth pastor joke from my LEGACYouth days (see linked text)…
Photo cover creds: Healthy Beginnings

 

3 Ways to Level ↑ Your E-mails

E-mails.

We all write them…but do we really know how?

I know, I know…sounds silly to ask, especially in the Information Age business world we live in.

Still, when it comes to etiquette, how we frame professional communication within pragmatic boundaries is worth discussion.

As a governmental employee, I’ve been on both sides of the decorum fence as a sender and recipient. So trust me when I say the importance of lining up what you say and what you mean is very important.

That said, here are three practical points in delivering quality e-mail content…

1. Keep it ‘short and sweet’

As a writer, I admit: I can be wordy at times.  I remember early in my career, I would often exhaust my word count fearing I’d say too little, conceal my tact, and/or give my recipient room to read between the lines.

Yet, after years of composition, I ultimately discovered my best e-mails were the ones with simple language and basic syntax (think 4th grade level as opposed to 8th 1). Granted, variance in e-mail construction hinge on the need; however, in most professional scenarios, e-mails will either answer a question or call to action.

Thus, if you want to communicate more effectively, consider a ‘short and sweet’ approach. Not only will you capture the problem more cogently, but also increase the odds of it being solved more quickly. Not to mention you limit the risk of asking unnecessary questions.

Bottom line: Coherency and conciseness go hand in hand.

After all, if you’re going to troubleshoot, why not shoot straight?

Bonus: If you’re concerned your ‘short and sweet’ e-mail is more on the short than sweet side, consider inserting a smiley emoji after the greeting or concluding sentence (informal cases only).

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2. Make humility apparent

In a day-to-day grind, it’s hard to be perfect. Clearly, as long as there’s work, there’s going to be errors…and with errors, an assortment of cleanup, manipulative maneuvers2, and mountains made from molehills.

Okay, okay…maybe those last two are a tad extreme; however, as real world correction has taught me, it’s worth noting how to handle being on the wrong side of them.

‘Cause truth is: when people throw you shade, there’s always a fade3…and that, in one word, is humility.

Now I know for many humility is nothing more than a ‘kill with kindness’ or ‘fall on the sword’ strategy; however, given true humility has no agenda, it’s safe to say these approaches are flawed since they cater to what you want to say or what you think others want you to say.

From my experience, if you want to live true humility in the marketplace, the best approach is through forthright evaluation. In other words, if there’s something to own, be sincere in owning it; if there’s something to resolve, be direct in resolving it.

Remember when rectifying conflict electronically, the emphasis should always be reconciling the issue as opposed to justifying why it exists. In doing so, not only will you validate concerns, but establish value to whom and what is necessary to move the ball down the field.

Bottom line: Wrong turns happen. Why not write4 the ship by humbling yourself and letting God’s grace exalt you?

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3. Proofread your tone, not just your grammar

 It’s fair to say the e-mail equivalent of ‘think before you speak‘ is ‘proof before you send’.

Need proof? Just check out your app store…

Grammarly, PerfectIt, Ginger, AutoCrit, No Red Ink, Hemingway Editor, Phrase Express, After The Deadline, EssayDot…and we’re just scratching the surface.

Yet, while most of us associate proofreading to syntax and grammar, arguably one of the most underrated elements in e-mail content construction is checking for tone.

Yes, you may be able to master subject lines, use the right words, and succinctly capture information; however, if you don’t put yourself in your recipient’s shoes before pressing ‘send’, you risk losing the message through ambiguity and misunderstanding.

Bottom line: When proofing your e-mails, dare to read them as sender and receiver.

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Footnotes

  1. Just because you decrease the reading level, doesn’t mean you decrease the tact
  2. i.e. ‘throw under the bus’ tactics
  3. Specifically, a fade from offense
  4. Intentional misspelling

Cover photo creds: Shutterstock