Watch Your Mouth


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01I heard that phrase a few times from my mom while growing up…”watch your mouth.”  And I probably needed to have heard it more often!  Today’s Renew study & group discussion questions are centered in the Matthew 5:33-37 text where Jesus teaches about “oaths.”  In the Kingdom of God, our language is a bit different than what most of us normally encounter…

MEMORIZE:  Luke 6:45

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (NLT)

1)    Name a business or industry that rarely delivers on the promise of its product or service. (*Don’t get side-tracked on the negative!  Spend at least as much time on the positive question below!

Name a business or industry where you have experienced great satisfaction that they continually deliver on their product or service.

2)    What do you learn about a person when you are able to go to their home for a visit & see what is inside?

3)    What do you learn about what is in a person’s heart by listening to their language?

4)    What was the BIG IDEA of today’s message entitled “Oaths”  based on Matthew 5:33-37?   You can listen online at

What LIE might the Enemy speak into your heart to contradict the truth of the BIG IDEA?

5)    Has God ever made an oath?  What is the difference between a covenant and “swearing an oath?”

6)    Where in our culture do we make oaths, promises or vows?  In light of the text (Matthew 5:33-37), should we not do this?  Why or why not?

7)    Words are necessary as we live in community. What is really happening in the heart of a person who swears or overstates what they are trying to communicate to others?

8)    Have you ever been cussed out?  How did it make you feel?  Why did the person use such strong language toward you?  What do you think was really going on in the heart of the person speaking to you in such a way?

Have you ever used such strong language toward someone else?  What were you trying to achieve?

9)    Does cursing, over-stated, strong or inappropriate language ever run through your heart/mind but doesn’t make it out of your mouth?  Is it OK as long as it’s not coming out the mouth?  Why or why not?

10)  How can pious or religious language be used by a person to cover up something that he/she does not want you to know about him/her?

11)  What is your most common response if you overhear gossip or someone who is being spoken about poorly?

If you were the person being spoken of poorly, what would you hope another person would do for your sake…even if it was true?

APPLY IT:  Speak Words of Life

One of the things I regularly recognized in Student Ministry was BOTH the destructive power and the inspirational power of words.  On occasion, we would host an activity called “Affirmation Listing.”  Each person in the circle would write his/her name at the top of a sheet of paper and pass it to the right.  The next person would write 1 positive thing about the name at the top…something they enjoyed, appreciated, admired, or were grateful concerning that person.  The list got passed around the circle with each person adding to the list.  You were not allowed to pass.  You were allowed to put a check mark next to what the previous person wrote if you agreed, but you had to come up with something new.

Many of those students still carry those Affirmation Lists around in their Bibles years later because those words so powerfully countered lies that the Enemy told them about themselves.

You may think this is very juvenile…but you could try it in your group.  Perhaps an equally great challenge would be to determine that you will give a spoken affirmation to 1 person per day, and a different person per day everyday in the coming week.

Theology of Geometry


geom1The car door opened, and our 9-year-old burst into uncontrollable sobs.  Throwing his left over lunch and book bags into the van floor, he attempted to explain the reason for this great sadness through unintelligible sounds.  By the time my wife made the 1 mile trip to the driveway, he had calmed down enough to begin making some sense.  The catalyst for this emotional explosion?  A mean girl in his class (name withheld)  🙂 had eagerly , and somewhat gleefully, reported to him that his girlfriend was planning to break up with him.

How could this be?!  I thought.  They just got married on the playground last week!  They even exchanged rings!  Relationships just don’t last very long these days.

It was my wife who held him in her lap in the living room recliner, to comfort him and to attempt to explain the dynamics of elementary-school girls and what is apparently on his horizon.  By the time I got home, his world was back together.  Mine was coming apart.  My parent fangs were coming out as I listened to the story.  Even when it’s ridiculous, it’s no fun when you hear that another person brought injury to your child’s heart.  Yet, this is an opportunity for an important life lesson.  And it’s a lesson that many adults have yet to learn also.

Do you have any 1-liner lessons that got drilled into your core?  One that came roaring back from a file in the back of my mind was a truth taught to me long ago:  “Straight lines are good.  Triangles are bad.”  The truth was uttered in reference to the way we relate to one another with our words…especially when the topic is potentially harmful to someone else.  How many times has your heart been assaulted because you heard a negative thing that someone else said about you?  I would add to the danger of triangles:  squares, pentagons, octogons, decagons…and the larger the shape, the uglier the situation.

The Apostle James points this out in chapter 3 of his epistle.  The tongue has great power.  Like a tiny rudder that can steer a huge ship, the tongue can chart a whole new future direction.  It’s a tough life lesson to learn but a practice that will bless your life and others:  if you have something difficult to say, go directly to the person involved.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200 on the way.  Make a straight line.  As we live in community, it is a part of the way we value and nurture those around us.  Kingdom people protect the character of others.

But there is a way that the geometry can be good!  A few weeks ago, I read a phrase (I wish I could remember who to give this credit to) that struck me as wonderful.  The phrase was “holy gossip.”  WHAT IF our practice became bragging to one another of the awesome things that so-and-so did?  WHAT IF our congregations became small groups that whispered about the crazy-gracious way that “this person” helped out “that family?”  WHAT IF that tantilizing feeling that so often accompanies the juiciness of an expose’ drove us to proclaim to people how we saw someone being Christ in our communities?

We need more Holy Gossip in our world.

During my 14 years working in Student Ministry, we got a LOT of practice discovering how words hold the power of life or death. One of our annual practices among our Leadership Team was Affirmation Lists.  It worked like this:  each person in the circle would write his/her name at the top of a paper and pass it to the right.  The next person would look at the name, then write at least 1 thing that they admired, loved, respected or were grateful for about that person.  Then, they passed it to the right again.  Everyone had to write something new as he/she received the next name.  You were allowed to put a “check” next to a statement someone else wrote if you agreed with it, but your statement had to be new.  This continued until everyone received his/her personal name back.   You may think this sounds juvenile; and perhaps it is.  But I can tell you this:  many of those kids who are adults today, still have their Affirmation Lists stuck in their Bibles.  Most of them have gone on to become amazing Kingdom people all over the globe whose walk with Christ is evident to all around them.

I would suspect that most adults my age and older might find this silly…the thought of sitting around a circle and passing papers around.  But I would also suspect that most would secretly like to receive a sheet of paper, with their name at the top, filled with encouraging words about their personhood and people’s positive perspectives on their character.

Maybe we don’t need paper.  Maybe we could just open our mouths and practice it.  Maybe we could experiment with 1 person per day speaking a meaningful encouragement.  How much faster would God’s Kingdom expand if we help people glimpse the value that He has for them?

Now that’s some mathematics I could get used to.

More Than Property


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01In today’s message at Spring Road Christian Church, we focus upon Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount concerning divorce and the importance of the “practice of love” in the marriage covenant.  Use the following Renew Questions for your personal or group study this week in light of today’s teaching!  Married couples…be sure to pick up a Date Night Package at the Renew Stands in the Worship Lobby!

*Disclaimer…For those of you who are single, answer the appropriate questions below in light of what you hope for/are praying for?  Or you may be able to bless married people in your group by being the most objective to offer what your honest observations are!

1)    What is something you do fairly consistently regardless of how you feel?  What belief do you hold deep down in your heart that drives to override feeling to DO what you just stated?

2)    What was the BIG IDEA of this week’s message entitled “More than Property” (Mt. 5:31-32)? If you missed it, you can listen online at

What LIE might the Enemy try to get you to agree with in your heart to refute this big idea?

3)    What is the ultimate goal of your marriage?

4)    In our 20’s, it seemed strange when people told us to be thinking about retirement; but starting that early, consistent investment is crucial in order to be sustained later in life.  Remember Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare?  “Slow & steady wins the race.”  A small, consistent investment makes a BIG difference in the long run.  What is something you do on a fairly consistent basis to invest in the “practice of love” in your marriage?

5)    Has there ever been a time in your marriage when you weren’t on the same page with your spouse…one of you got ahead of the other?  (e.g., in business, education, career, etc.).  How was balance (“shalom”) restored?

6)    In what way/s does the World look at marriage differently than the Church does?

7)    How might history be different if it had been as easy for women to dismiss men from the marriage covenant?

8)    Is the level of respect, compassion, etc. in your interaction with people in the Church the SAME or DIFFERENT than your interaction with your spouse at home?  Why or why not?  Should they be the same?

9)    Is there a role model marriage for you?  What kinds of things are you observing that you want to imitate or wish was a part of your marriage?

10) Why would Jesus elevate the topic of Marriage & Divorce as something not to be taken lightly?  Especially if you grew up in a home that experienced divorce, what perspective can you add?

APPLY IT: Make a Marriage Investment 

Plan a dinner date with your spouse sometime this week.  Pick up a “His & Hers” Envelope Packet located at the Tall Green Renew Stands in each Worship Lobby.  Do not open your envelopes until you get to dinner.  Each envelope contains 6 possible questions you could ask your spouse.  Take turns asking your questions of each other during your date.


God on Trial


trialThere are days, as a parent, that I think I may lose all moral fortitude and go completely ape…specifically those days when our children sense that everything–all day long– is unjust.  On these days, it takes special strategy, to avoid entering a 10 hour judge and jury shift.  Prayer, patience, counting to 10, trying to be proactive & think of fun things to divert the energy.  I’m also not opposed to a glass of red.  My rationale is that the stress caused affects my stomach.  The Apostle Paul okayed that.

This is going to feel like a 90 degree turn in my thinking but hang with me.  Earlier this week, I posted something that spoke to me as a great truth.  It was a phrase that came from a book I’m currently reading entitled More Than Ordinary:  Enjoying God by Doug Sherman.  The phrase was this:  “Do you believe the LORD has our best interest in His heart? Your answer to this question affects every choice made today.”  As I was typing that, the thought crossed my mind…how will this truth test us if something bad happens this week?  The next day, a family in our community lost their 16 year old son in a car accident.  The following day, bombs went off in Boston.  And the next day, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded killing dozens.

Thank God every week isn’t like this one.  We can all certainly point to seasons of our own lives where we have thought “seriously God?!  Why did you let that happen!?”  Where exactly is God on the continuum between “everything left to chance” and “everything predetermined by Him?”  In a season now when there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking (thank you John Piper), I would suggest that this is like many ideas in scripture where we live with 2 evidences in conflict.  We can all point to scriptures and circumstances that support both ends.  Somehow the reality is that they are both overlapping. We live in a tension between them.  I want God to expand His prevention business; but that doesn’t seem to be happening.  And like my children, it causes me to cry out unfair!  Unjust! jonah

I had the opportunity to preach on Jonah last weekend.  I loved researching this amazing narrative in the Old Testament.  (By the way, the story is NOT about a whale.  There’s one in it…well, some kind of big fish.)  But the tension of the story is Jonah’s angst with God because God’s idea of justice is very different from Jonah’s idea of justice.  When we get down to the core of the story, we are challenged with the truth that God is as much, if not more, grieved by the observed injustice.  But in His all-knowingness, will act in the best possible way to bring about the best possible future outcome in the face of what the Enemy has wrought.  Jonah is NOT quiet about his feelings, and throws quite a tantrum.

In Psalms, the hymnbook of ancient Israel, over half are songs of complaint.  As a worship pastor, I grieve that we have shelved these.  Believe it or not, they are songs written for the purpose of the congregation complaining together to God about things that they feel are unjust.  Apparently, it is good for our souls to acknowledge, corporately and individually, when things are not right and something needs to be done about it.  Most of our worship services are filled ONLY with the greatness of God…which is wonderful & worthy; but the LORD also wants to know from us what we observe is wrong with His world.

So…back to that FB post.  “Do you believe the LORD has our best interest in His heart? Your answer to this question affects every choice made today.”  Actually, our honest impressions of this statement got installed in us like software early on in our lives.  If our answer is “no,” or if our answer is “probably, but He is not going to do anything about it,” it’s very difficult to correct.  But that is the business that the Holy Spirit is in:  new software installation.  It is a significant step in discipleship to realize that Jesus is walking alongside you, personally, everyday, waiting on you & me to engage Him, to ask Him, to invite His thoughts into our every activity.  Once we embrace a “yes” answer, then no matter what happens we can look Christ in the face and say “wow, didn’t see that coming.  How are we going to handle this?”  This is how God “works things for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  We get to participate in restoration.  And we grow to understand that He is more deeply hurt than we are, that it was not intended to be this way, and that a day will come that this sort of thing will never happen again.

We get to participate in restoration.

In the meantime, complaining to Him is a sort of prayer.  It actually IS worship.  When I complain to God about something unjust, I am also saying within my heart “I believe you can fix this.  I believe you can make something beautiful out of this mess. I am willing to help bring your Kingdom to earth.”

This gives me perspective the next time my kids come demanding a verdict.  After all, I’m part of their software install.

The Rubicator


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01For personal study or use in your Renew Small Group Study & Discussion Time, use this week’s questions which go along with Ron Lewis’ message “The Rubicator” based upon Matthew 5:17-21.  If you would like to listen online, go to  You can also download a pdf of the following study.

MEMORIZE:  Psalm 1:2-3

His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither.  Whatever he does prospers.

1)     In one statement, what was the BIG IDEA of today’s message entitled “The Rubicator” based upon Matthew 5:17-20?

2)     Name 1 saying or principle handed down to you from your family that has stuck with you?  What is it?  Who transferred it to you?

What reasons can you list as to why this got so ingrained in your being?

3)     How many Bibles do you have/think you have in your house?  How easy is it for you to access the scriptures?

4)     Occasionally, I find that “perfect card” that expresses the exact, right words that I am wanting to say to someone I love.  Where in the Bible would you       go to find those perfect words to express to God?

5)     Do you have a “life verse?”  In other words, what verse or section of scripture do you find yourself frequently returning to?  Why is it so significant in your life?

What is a scripture that has sustained you during difficult times?

6)     Under what kinds of circumstances do you believe people normally turn to scripture?

7)     Why have certain nations, throughout history, gone to such extreme lengths to ban the Bible?

8)     Did you know that for much of the Church’s history, the clergy went to great lengths to keep the printed Bible inaccessible to the general public?  Why would they have done that? (You may be interested in reading more about an important man in our heritage named William Tyndale

9)     In what ways can you observe a persons physical presence and learn something about what is in their heart?  How might getting the Word into one’s self affect the body?

10)  Is reading/studying the Word a part of your daily routine?  Why or why not?  What are the most common circumstances which compete for your time in the Word?


Set aside time intentionally to read & meditate upon these amazing “Growth Passages” this week:

 Day 1                                                       Day 5

Romans 12:1-21                                     Colossians 3:1–4:6

1 Corinthians 13

 Day 2                                                       Day 6

Galatians 5:22–6:10                                1 Peter 2:1–3:16 and 2 Peter 1:2-10

 Day 3                                                       Day 7

Ephesians 4:20–6:20                              1 John 4:7-21

 Day 4

Philippians 2:3-16 and 4:4-9

Group Study 4.14.13

Things You Should Know About PK’s



Since I’m a second generation PK (preacher’s kid), I’m beginning to note that there are specific thought patterns in my own children that I had when I was in their shoes 🙂 Enjoy!

We will be in the church building more times this year than many of you will be in the next decade.

We love our dad and sometimes want him all for ourselves.

We are glad you think our dad is wonderful. We think so too, but he is much more human than you think he is.

Although she is not paid, our mom is as much–if not more–of a pastor than dad is.

We eat the communion bread and drink the juice when you aren’t looking.

There are scores of fun games that can be played under pews. Loose change can also be found there.

The best environment for freeze tag is the sanctuary.  “Jesus loves the little children,” so He’s OK with us running around in His house.

Please don’t act surprised or overly disappointed when we make mistakes. After all, we learned it from the elder’s kids.

All of you in the Church are extended family: cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

It may take us a while to understand why our parents love you so much.

When something funny happens in church, like someone passing gas or a bird gets in, it’s definitely a win.

Ask us to help out or lead something…we are here anyway & it honors us that you would think we have something to contribute too.

Old people smell funny, but they think we are cute and give us candy. So they can stay.

We like it when you come to our house instead of always having to meet at a church building. It’s more personal, and feels less like our parents are at work again.

We are part owners of the church building.

If there are cookies and popsicles anywhere, they will be found. They will be eaten. There will be no evidence of what happened. We will know nothing.

We can sniff out hypocrisy faster than one can say “practice what you preach.”

When our parents are appreciated, it makes us feel good about sharing them with others.

Genetics and environment have not predetermined that we are entering full time ministry someday, so don’t assume it.

We know a lot of the Bible stories as well as our teachers do…maybe better.  So spend time with the LORD in advance so we can learn why He is more important than the details of your flannel graph.  We want to know how you experience Him.

Our dad’s phone rings more than yours does.

The Nature of Nurture



The warmth of this past Tuesday evening drove me and our 5-year-old into the backyard for a serious game of trampoline baseball.  (If you don’t know the rules, I’ll post those later). During a brief break, we athletes collapsed onto the mat and noted the freshly tilled area of the yard still waiting to receive this season’s garden plants.  So I asked the little man:  “what kinds of plants do you think we need to put in our garden this Spring?” To which he replied:  “cherries, tomatoes, chocolate, macaroni & cheese, fish sticks, pickles and cucumbers.”

Summer agenda in the Plank household:  A 1st Grade Primer on Horticulture.

So in between practice rounds, we toured the yard and noted places where my perennials are peeking out of the soil.  He was curious why some plants came back to life, while in other areas we had to start over completely.  I have wonderful memories of “helping” my mom in her greenhouse when I was his age.  Maybe that’s why I love nature, the outdoors and truly feel that there is healing power in placing one’s hands in dirt.  I can still see her sprinkling seeds into potting soil and leaving it under a grow light on top of the hot water heater in our utility room.  This usually began in February.  Within a couple of weeks, it was time to separate the thousands of seedlings into 6 packs in the greenhouse…an all-day affair.  After weeks of watering, fertilizing, tending and fretting over keeping a continual warm temperature and minimum airflow, it was time to do what mom called “hardening off” the bedding plants.

C.S. Lewis said there were really only 2 books in life:  the Word of God and the Book of Nature.

I didn’t realize how important a proper “hardening off” was until I got older and attempted my own garden.  In other words, the fragile systems that have sustained the life of the plant since inception now had to be removed from the protected environment and quickly adjusted to the outside elements.  One of the best ways this was accomplished was in cold frames.  In cold frames, the plants could continue receiving warmth from an electric blanket mat at root level while being exposed to the cool night time air.  Plants that successfully harden off have a productive life ahead of them.  Those that do not become systemically damaged and rarely produce anything and never appear very healthy.

Our children are like those seedlings.  People that we disciple within the church are like these young plants too.  It is likely that you know people who were systemically damaged in the first half of their lives, and they have never fully recovered from it.  Recovery is not an impossibility, but it does require much Holy Spirit intervention and usually a lot of fortitude and will on the part of the person to move toward recovery.  For those who are nurtured in a healthy environment, they emerge as Kingdom gifts to the world.

The first half of life requires an environment of nurture, a desire for health and growth, and a teachable spirit.  For those of us entering or who are in the second half of life, know this:  it requires patience, sacrifice, maturity and selflessness.  If you are beyond 40, you have likely noticed how much of culture, school and church is programmed for first-half-of-lifers.  Have you caught yourself thinking “Hey, what about me?  What about the good old days?”  You must fight this urge to make things about you.  You will have moments when all is as you would have it; but your primary task now is to care for the seedlings.  Sadly, there are many in the 2nd half of life who still squawk like baby birds in need of nourishment.

Encourage the 1st-Halfers, challenge them, teach them, correct them, invest in them.  I’m not advocating a Montessori free-for-all, but let them take that hymn you hold as if you personally wrote it and hold the copyright to it.  Allow them embrace the faith you passed on to them by rearranging the score into a culturally relevant sound.  Be genuinely happy that those lyrics are meaningful to them and that they didn’t throw them out.  Point out the progress which you see evidenced in them, as was so important to Paul in 1 Timothy 4:15.  We naturally do this for our children.  Remember that we have many surrogate ones in the Church.

And when the cold-snap comes and every leaf has fallen off the tree, be present in the life of the one whose root is still alive until she re-emerges.