By David Wise
The initial concept for this blog was to give an opportunity for a P.S. after a sermon was over; this week is the perfect example of that happening. Within the concept of idle relationships there were so many directions I could have gone and so much content that it felt impossible to do justice to any single area. As I was listening to the communion meditation given by one of our elders, I realized that I spent the vast majority of the sermon focusing on our relationships with people without spending much time emphasizing the needs to prioritize our relationship with God. The truth is, if we’re not prioritizing our relationship with God then none of our other relationships will be what they’re supposed to be.
I realized this morning that my relationship with God has not been what it should be. The past few weeks, or maybe even months, I have been trying to do more work for God rather than relying on Him to work through me. While my intentions may be good, they have been causing tension in every area of my life. I was completely blind to this until I was meeting with a retired pastor last week and he explained his previous behavior and I realized that it was exactly what I had been doing.
As a pastor, part of my work is to pray, read the Bible, study, and preach. The issue arises when my work becomes my only time of reading and devotion. For some time now, I’ve been getting up in the morning and instead of spending time with the Lord, praying, and reading the Word, I’ve been jumping into work. Usually this means reading books, studying, and working on sermons. While there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, they have been placed in a higher position of priority than simply spending time with God.
I realized it recently when it was my day off and I didn’t want to read the Bible because it felt like work. That was a sad realization and a somber moment to realize that I’ve reduced my relationship with God to a mechanized version of work. The idea has slowly drifted to become an attitude of inputs and outputs and simply spending time in prayer or reading the Word has become a chore instead of something to delight in.
I have been idle in my relationship with God.
As I began to be convicted of this over the last few days, I spent some time yesterday simply repenting to God and asking the Holy Spirit to lead and direct me. This morning instead of waking up early to get a head start on work, I simply woke up and spent time in prayer and then reading. I resolved to wait for work to start until I’d left the house, but for that hour before the kids got up I simply spent time being in God’s presence.
It was incredible to prioritize my relationship with God, but also to experience His love and grace. As I was opening to 1 John, I began thinking about the apostle John. We don’t know much about him, but in the gospel account named after him, there are multiple times where a disciple is mentioned as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most scholars and teachers acknowledge this as being the apostle John and that title, or designation, has always annoyed me. It either comes across as arrogant or needy, but either way it has never left a positive impression on me, until this morning.
As I was simply spending time in relationship with God, I thought about John as not being arrogant or needy, but being firm in his identity. What if John simply clung to the fact that Jesus loved him? What if John wasn’t trying to point out how special he was, but was just resting in God’s personal care for him? Perhaps John was just making a statement, but I believe there is something more to this. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, which means that although John wrote it, the Holy Spirit inspired it. God wanted those words to be written, multiple times, to show that Jesus loved John. What I was reminded of in that moment this morning is that I share the same identity. I am also one whom Jesus loves, personally.
Perhaps that’s not a deep and profound concept for many, but for me it was incredibly refreshing to be reminded that God loves me. Even when there are periods of time where I slowly drift into a works-based mentality of performance-driven spirituality. Even when there are times where I wobble between being arrogant and almost simultaneously needy. To be reminded that the God of the universe loves me was exactly what I needed to see this morning and to cling to that identity.
God desires relationship with us, personally. Yes that relationship should make us desire to live differently, but too often that becomes us working for God rather than abiding in Him. Jesus loves each of us and that should confirm our identity as God’s children. It is only as we engage in relationship with God that we will be able to be purposeful in our relationships with people.
I’ve had multiple people ask me if I’m okay lately, and I guess I haven’t been. I’ve been trading in a purposeful relationship with God for some idle counterfeit that’s based on my work and not His love for me. My relationships with those around me have been under tension because I was trying to do this on my own effort and without entering into God’s presence simply to spend time with Him. Without prioritizing our relationship with God our relationships with people will never be what they’re supposed to be.
By David Wise
As we finished this week’s focus of avoiding idle words, without purpose or effect, there were so many other areas I wanted to focus on but due to time I had to narrow down the ideas to what seemed most pertinent to our congregation. In this first part of the post, I simply want to flesh out a conviction that I have felt, ignored, embraced, neglected, moved toward, and ran away from at multiple times in my life. The area: idle words within music and songs.
This thought started as I was driving my daughters to school a few weeks ago and they were singing along (loudly and proudly) when a lyric came out that made me pause. I’d heard the song countless times before, but hearing it from a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old somehow caused me to reflect differently. The lyric was a part of a love song and without getting legalistic, this made me think about the reality of lyrics and how we repeat them so easily without really reflecting on what they mean.
Essentially what was being said is that some guy is more important than anything else and this girl would do anything to be with him. That’s not a message I want my daughters to embrace. Their relationship with Jesus should be the most important relationship in the world. It’s more important than their relationship with their mother and me, more important than friendships, and more important than any romantic relationships (once they’re 25 and done with college). What was more convicting though, was how many songs I’ve sung along with without thinking about what I was repeating and the heart behind it.
Legalism comes about when we try to place the burden of our personal conviction upon the masses without regard to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leading. I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to listen to so-called secular music (even though the divide between sacred and secular is a pet peeve, that’s another post completely). I’m not saying you should go throw out all of your CD’s that have any lyrics that aren’t focused solely on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that as Christ followers, we should constantly be asking if what we’re taking in is beneficial in our relationship with God, or if it is bringing distance between us.
I know from first-hand experience (to quote Eminem) that “music can alter moods and talk to you.” The question we should ask ourselves is whether the music we’re exposing ourselves to is speaking life into us or furthering our usage of idle words. This is not an answer that I can, nor will, provide, but it is a question that I believe each of us must lean into: is what I fill my head with helping me to look more like Jesus or is it causing more of a disconnect?
Obviously only on paper are there such neat categories, in reality there are people who never understand the lyrics of songs and they can listen to just about anything without it affecting them. I’m not one of those people though, once I’ve heard a line or a lyric I can’t stop thinking about what was said. Sometimes that points toward grace, forgiveness, a great story, love, or life in general, but sometimes those lyrics point toward sex, gluttony, anger, violence, or revenge.
For me this is an area where I have to be diligent in what words enter my ears because those words will play on repeat over the loud speaker of my mind. If I listen to music with obscene lyrics, then I know my words will often follow suit and become more coarse. It doesn’t matter what negative thing the lyrics entail, those words are powerful in my mind and often come out of my mouth. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that my point is not to dictate what music people listen to, but only to start a thought process and begin a dialogue that gets others thinking and talking about how lyrics, in this case, can impact other people’s thoughts, hearts, and ultimately words. So let’s open up the dialogue, what are some ways that you’ve experienced the impact (positively and negatively) of words within music?
By David Wise
Sunday’s sermon about idle thoughts was something that’s been ruminating in my mind for years and years. I have struggled with idle thoughts since I can remember being conscious of my own mind. The variety of thoughts I’ve struggled with is widespread and deeply rooted in my past. Like many people, I have made many mistakes throughout my young life, but the issue of my thought life that has had the most negative impact is that of pornography.
I realize that even the usage of that word will be harsh or offensive to a number of people, but there’s no point in dressing it up to make it sound prettier or more acceptable than it was. Pornography is a word that is almost as harsh as the content it encapsulates. Even the mention can make people wince, blush, or grin depending on background and previous experiences. In my opinion, pornography is one of the most debilitating external influences when it comes to idle thoughts and is one of the most pervasive sins Christians struggle with in the 21st century.
Due to the private nature of the sin and struggle, there are many people who try to minimize the impact of pornography on the mind. There is a mult-billion dollar industry capitalizing on the minds of men and women, young, old, and everywhere in between. Time posted an article recently that referenced an independent web-tracking company that said, [one] explicit-video-sharing site, says that it gets 2.4 million visitors per hour and that in 2015 alone, people around the globe watched 4,392,486,580 hours of its content[.] That is a staggering statistic but the damage doesn’t stop there. Pornographic content is not viewed and then discarded. Often those images come back into the minds of participants and continue to wreak havoc on the person’s thought life.
As a man who was exposed to pornography at a young age, there is possibly even more danger in the impact on the developing brain. Scientific data is hard to find because research funding is limited due to the explicit nature of the content. From personal experience though, I can tell you that what you view does not just affect your eyes, but twists your thoughts, distorts your desires, and calluses your heart for years to come. What’s viewed in secret does not stay in the darkness of the room or on the dimly lit computer or phone screen. Those thoughts can begin to distort friendships, damage family relationships, and possibly destroy marriages (present or future).
After Natalye and I were married, we had to work through the reality of the impact of teenage and young adult years spent viewing pornography. The impact doesn’t end when the screen goes black, the images replay (even at times unwillingly) and what is thought of as secret or private becomes a battlefield of the mind. Unfortunately, people are not often open with their struggles with pornography. Many Christians fear being portrayed as a pervert or creep, others simply want people to believe that they have it all together when they’re actually a mess under the surface.
In order to work through issues of idle thoughts, we have to be more than just transparent. Its one thing to share a struggle or sin you’re battling, it’s another thing altogether to ask someone to help you fight against it. Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, once said that we have to go beyond transparency and into vulnerability. To be vulnerable means that we’re willing to experience pain because of our failures and that we’re willing to work toward a resolution regardless of personal discomfort. The church needs transparency when it comes to the issue of our thought lives, but we also have to move beyond just being transparent and into the arena of being vulnerable.
For me, this began by finding friends who I could be vulnerable with. This goes beyond sharing about downfalls or struggles, and into accepting challenges and rebukes from those who want to see you grow in Christ. In addition to accountability, there is an incredible amount of free software available to filter and monitor Internet activity. Having Christians for support and accountability, and software for filtering, has been instrumental in my journey to take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ.
Although it’s been a few years since pornography has been an issue, it is still something I have to guard against and work to be proactive at protecting my thought life. I continue to be thankful for friends that have journeyed through this battle with me, a wife who has been faithful and forgiving, and a Lord and Savior who is constantly gracious and merciful. For those of you struggling with your thought life, let me leave you with the words of Paul to the church in Corinth.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13