Category Archives: Refined by the Word

Wrapping up our week with some power workouts for our words <3

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We have been looking at a sermon given by Chris Otts at Antioch ATX in Austin TX (our son’s home church) all week here on the Journey. I have been learning and relearning with you and I hope it has blessed you. If you missed the series, start at Monday…and here is the link to the podcast for the original sermon https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/new-year-talk-to-me/id1257271009?i=1000504316920

Today I am covering the bulk of his message which was based on Acts 16.I suggest a refresher read of this chapter at some point but let’s dive in.

In the Acts passages, Paul and Silas have been beaten and are imprisoned. The charges against them are based on exorcising a demon out of a slave girl. Her masters, who made a good bit of income off of her, were so angry they roused a mob and attacked Paul and Silas. Their bleeding bodies are chained in an inner cell of a prison and they are assigned an armed guard. The situation was completely out of their control as they were foreigners held in a high security prison with no means of escape or representation. 

So they sang. 

In their confinement, under the watchful eye of an armed soldier, they sang praise songs. And so the other prisoners and the guards and anyone within ear shot heard these two carrying on a worship service through the night. Pretty sure that was a first for everyone listening 

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When I read that I am reminded of the last trip I made to Kenya. We had left the clinic way too late in the afternoon and so as we drove, night fell. Our host missionaries had been warned by the people of the village that there were rumors of bandits waiting for us along the rough roads that led back to our home base. It was quiet and tense in the vehicle I rode in. My friend and I prayed together, but then the Kenyan drivers of our car suggested we sing praise songs. They sang the most beautiful Maasai hymn with gusto and then asked us if we would sing something. 

I am embarrassed to say we stumbled around racking our brains for some song we could sing that we would know both the tune and the words. We explained that we aren’t really talented singers, not on the praise team at all…not even asked to be when they are desperate to fill a choir. Even in the dark I could sense our brothers were a bit confused by our hesitation to bust out a praise song.

Much time has passed but as I recollect, we may have managed a feeble attempt at Jesus Loves Me. We got home safely that night and it troubled me that as Americans, we traveled halfway around the world to bring Jesus and we couldn’t even muster up a song of praise. 

I realized how much I rely on Christian radio and the praise teams to lead worship and I can just mumble along to the words on the teleprompter. I am not alone in this. Our worship music tends to be trendy and we pick and choose the songs we like to listen to without giving much thought to raising the voice God gave us to sing back to Him. 

You would think I learned my lesson, but no. 

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Years later I found myself in homes in Cuba where our hosts and hostesses for dinners invariably ended up suggesting a hymn sing. With windows wide open to passers by who glared in; and knowing that outward expressions of their faith could mean serious sanctions, they sang with unabashed joy.

Teenage boys and girls, young couples, children, grandparents…all singing loudly. Again I found myself red-faced amongst my American friends having to try to drum up some song we stood a chance of remembering the lyrics to. Without the help of a few instruments and some strong lead singers, we warbled out what we could. It was a noise, but not so very joyful. 

It was, as I think of it, extremely self-conscious…which is completely the opposite of what a praise song is supposed to be. 

So as I have pondered this week about speaking words of life instead of death, and the power of the tongue and the example of Paul and Silas, it occurs to me that instead of using many words to explain to God what is so very wrong around me or share with my fellow humans the plight of my misery as I struggle with keeping myself upright in a world that has gone topsy-turvy or consuming the many words of others who are in similar chains of the times, perhaps the lesson here is to use my tongue to learn to sing praises first. 

For Paul and Silas, praise broke the chains that bound them, flew wide open the doors that confined them and brought the entire household of the jailer to salvation. 

Yes. I think I need to go dig out that journal I started many years ago where I was collecting the lyrics to old hymns and new praise songs and practicing singing them all  by myself….off key, wrong tempo, sometimes substituting words in that sounded like what I thought they were saying…but God-conscious instead of self-conscious. 

Then with a tongue that has been eating words of Life…and a heart that is bearing the fruit of worship…I can speak life and hope and Jesus to those around me who are desperate for hope and healing. 

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It’s not what you say…it’s how you say it <3

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Here we are at Thursday and I have enjoyed being on task and following through with a theme this week! I love order and consistency. Being flexible is something I can do with grace when I am well-rested, nourished and have most of my ducks in a row…or at least know where they are. 

But throw me a curve ball when I am hungry or tired or juggling too many things in my hands or my head…and watch out. Mary Poppins, I am not. 

If I don’t completely lose it in front of you, I say something snarky and harsh and then get in the car and bawl my head off as I rant and rave before God about my plight of woe. 

Seriously. 

This is me. 

So as I read the next set of questions raised by the sermon notes I am revisiting with you this week, conviction hits me square between the eyes. 

What’s the loop that is playing in my head? How am I talking about the circumstances I am in? How do I take about situations that seem out of my control? (hello 2020/2021….I see you) Because they ARE out of my control. This part is true.

But…

What do I say about them?

What do I say in them?

What do I say about myself in them?

How do I talk to others?

Because what I say bears fruit! Life or death!

Chris Otts, Antioch ATX January 4, 2021 sermon “New Year – Talk to Me” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/new-year-talk-to-me/id1257271009?i=1000504316920

I blush.

Often I speak words about them and about me in my overwhelming circumstances that I would never say to another human being. 

But the self-talk IS talk and it bears the fruit of death in me as I spew out the poison of words carelessly. 

I grumble and complain. And right now my reading is Numbers and I can tell you, God does not groove on grumbling and complaining. 

As I consider the current circumstances that dominate how I am able to function in February of 2021, I have to admit that there are a whole lot of things that are out of my control that make life challenging. 

I don’t think the answer is to sugar gloss the reality of a pandemic, a nation that is fiercely divided, a lose-lose when it comes to reopening and regathering and an economy that is imploding…just to mention a few things that can get me stirred up with anxiety and fear. 

Pushing down my inner turmoil is not applying the wisdom of Proverbs 18:21. 

Instead I find that I need to thoughtfully set aside as much of the emotions as I can (which is a mighty act of God in me, believe me) and make the effort to first acknowledge who God is. 

As I come before Him full of angst and grasping to control what I think I can, I first need to enter His Presence with reverence and awe. Centering my mind on what I KNOW to be true of my God, I can then present my concerns and spiraling thoughts before Him recognizing that He not only knows what’s going on and how it is going to end; He also knows ME. He already knows all the stuff going on in my head. 

So rather than charging the Throne Room of God with my words, I can quiet my heart and just pour out all that is swirling in a trusting flow of a child going to her Father and seeking His help, guidance, comfort and wisdom. 

As I feed on His Word before I spill out my words, I find that I am not a tumbleweed blowing across some deserted expanse of a hopeless world, but a green vine attached to a Branch that will be nourished to bear good fruit. 

Easier said than done some days, but going back to the list above helps me reorder my thinking to land in a better place to speak words of life – to myself, to others, to my God <3

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Speaking of words…

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Well, speaking of words, I have had to eat mine back since posting yesterday. 

I caught myself in the act of speaking death too many times to recount. 

I blush.

So maybe I am just preaching to myself, but if so…time well spent. 

Because being refined and transformed is all part of the Journey. 

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Working through more of my notes from the sermon (“New Year – Talk to Me, Chris Otts at Antioch ATX January 4, 2021 here —> https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/new-year-talk-to-me/id1257271009?i=1000504316920), I found this thought from Chris:

When things keep piling up, when you are not sure how they are going to go, that’s where words matter.

paraphrase from Chris Ott sermon, Antioch ATX “New Year – Talk to Me” January 4, 2021

As I read that thought again I was reminded, as I always am when there are a lot of things coming against me, of 2 Chronicles 20. 

This passage finds King Jehoshaphat of Judah in a pickle of large magnitude. 

He has Moab, Ammon and others with vast armies marching dangerously towards his kingdom. 

The threat is real and the odds against Judah are huge. They are greatly outnumbered and under resourced. 

Why, we could probably say….the times were unprecedented for this King. 

So with the reality of it all sinking in and in complete helplessness, Jehoshaphat doesn’t start running his mouth to his advisors, strategists and people. 

Instead he responds with:

  1. healthy fear of an overwhelming set of circumstances
  2. setting himself to seek the LORD
  3. calling his people to a place of humility by proclaiming a nationwide fast

The only “talking” we see is in verses 6-12 which is one of the most beautiful prayers of the Bible to me. 

Grab your Bible and look it up. I’ll wait. 

In verses 6-9, Jehoshaphat declares all he knows to be true about God, God’s promises to Abraham and the nation of Israel and recalls the prayer of Solomon over the Temple dedication.  We can not appropriate these promises for our nation as if we were Israel. But we CAN model the essence of the prayer, which is based on KNOWING who God is and KNOWING what has been promised for BELIEVERS in the Old and New Testaments. 

In verses 10 and 11, Jehoshaphat outlines the problem they are facing and how this situation is an affront to God’s people. AGAIN – this kind of prayer involved truly understanding and knowing exactly what God’s plan for Israel had been. Not name it and claim it. But reading Scripture and understanding exactly what God’s parameters were for His people. 

Finally in verse 12, Jehoshaphat brings before God all that he has to offer to bring about a solution to this crisis. 

Nothing. 

He has absolutely nothing to bring except himself, the men, women and children of the kingdom and to helplessly spread out his hands and ask God to lead them because they had no plan or idea on their own. 

What a great example of how to use words for life instead of death when everything is piling up and we don’t know how it is going to go. 

I will wrap up our visit today with a sweet reminder about words from David Jeremiah in reference to our Proverbs 18:21 passage:

These statements together (Proverbs 18:21) illustrate the power of words. What a person says will often return to him or her in some way, either adding to his or her life or subtracting from it. Our speech has consequences.

David Jeremiah, NKJV Study Bible, 2013, David Jeremiah, Inc. pg. 828 (scripture entry added for clarity)

Again it would seem when we don’t know what to say, outward silence is recommended and inward chatter should be formed into prayers of acknowledging our condition, God’s character, His promises and seeking His face even more than seeking His hand. 

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