Hollow Words

“Every abstract word is hollow until we pour life into it. Honor, glory, sacrifice, loyalty, love, joy, peace, courage and endurance, faith and faithfulness, democracy and brotherhood, justice and mercy- what are these?

Words. Abstract words. Hollow words- until we fill them with deeds, with life, and hence with meaning…

The great words of the Christian faith—grace, forgiveness, redemption, faith, hope and love—are all hollow words until we pour our Christian experience into them.

Yes, the great words are hollow; and yet filled full of life, they could shake the world again as they have done in the past, not as disembodied sounds, however correct, but as poured-out life penetrating to the heart of the world.”

—  J. Wesley Ingles

Whose Neighbor Are You?

One day, a rule-bound lawyer, hoping to get a checklist to prove he was good enough, approached Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Like a wise rabbi, Jesus didn’t give an answer, but countered the question with his own question, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”

The lawyer was thrilled, because he knew the answer to that one!  Proudly, he rattled off something he learned in the synagogue  as a child years ago, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”  Then he added, “And, love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Bingo!” said Jesus.  “You nailed it!  You said it right.  Now, DO it!”

The lawyer was startled.  The conversation was moving fast from theory to real life application.  He wasn’t so sure he liked the direction this was going, and got defensive.”

“But. . ..  But. .  . who is my neighbor anyway?”

He wasn’t asking in order to find a neighbor to love.  Instead, he was asking “who is NOT my neighbor?  Who can I exclude?”

Jesus would have none of that, so he responded with a story.

“A man, traveling to Jericho, was attacked by robbers, beaten and left for dead beside the road.

A priest hurried by.  He was late to church.  When he saw the broken, bleeding victim, he thought, “That’s sad.  I wonder what he did to deserve that” and passed on the other side.

Another religious guy a local politician, approached him, and, horrified when he was the battered man, thought, “We need to have a discussion about violence in our community.  At the next council meeting, I’ll see if we can form a committee to look study it.”  Then, he scurried on his way.

Finally, a Samaritan passed by.  (Samaritans were considered half-breed outcasts in their culture.  All the characters in the story so far would have looked down their noses at him — especially the lawyer who asked the question in the first place.)   The Samaritan stopped and helped the injured man.  He bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey and carried him to a safe and comfortable place to heal.

Now, who was the neighbor in this story?”

The lawyer realizing there was only one correct answer here, replied, “The one who showed mercy.”

And Jesus smiled and said, “You are right — and THAT is what you need to do.”

The lawyer started the conversation by asking “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus ended the conversation by asking, “Whose neighbor are you?”

100 Preachers

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”

–John Wesley, Letter to Alexander Mather

A Life that Preaches

Daddy was a preacher.  On Sunday mornings, he thundered truth from the pulpit — and sometimes the thunder came in a whisper.  He whispered a word of grace which quietly entered our hearts and then thundered on the inside.

Some preachers yell because there’s no substance.  It’s loud, but hollow and doesn’t sink any further than the earmuffs.  But Daddy’s message always sank deep into the soul and then exploded.

He wasn’t eloquent.  Reading was a struggle for him, and he never attended seminary.  Sometimes, he felt inadequate.  But Daddy was equipped.  Although he never finished high school, he was admitted to God’s Bible School, and graduated with honors and served a full life of effective ministry.  His sermons, though simple, were always powerful and transforming.

I think the main reason for Daddy’s effectiveness in the pulpit was not his oratorical or homiletical skills.  Instead, it was because his whole life preached.  What he was on Sunday morning behind the pulpit was what he was Monday through Saturday.  He lived a life overflowing with holy love, gratitude and praise.

As he put life into his words, he put his words to life.

I thought of Daddy when I recently read these words by J. Wesley Ingles:

 “Every abstract word is hollow until we pour life into it. Honor, glory, sacrifice,loyalty, love, joy, peace, courage and endurance, faith and faithfulness, democracy and brotherhood, justice and mercy- what are these?

Words. Abstract words. Hollow words- until we fill them with deeds, with life, and hence with meaning…

The great words of the Christian faith—grace, forgiveness, redemption, faith, hope and love—are all hollow words until we pour our Christian experience into them.

Yes, the great words are hollow; and yet filled full of life, they could shake the world again as they have done in the past, not as disembodied sounds, however correct, but as poured-out life penetrating to the heart of the world.”

Especially in this day and age, it would pay Christians to practice what they preach.  Rick Warren said that often when people observe Christians, they don’t see the hands and feet of Jesus.  Instead they just see a big mouth.

Mary Ruth Penn, my Sunday School teacher during my high school years said, “what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.”  The truth of that teaching just floated on the surface and didn’t sink in for quite some time.  But eventually, like Daddy’s sermon, it detonated in my heart and now, almost 40 years later, it is at work in me.

The other day, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my father staring back.  As I age, I look more like him and hope, when I grow up, I’ll look more like him on the inside too.

Truth remains just a concept that doesn’t change anything until we bring it to life.