Setting a Guard

Ephesians 4:29

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

What does the Bible have to say about our words? Wholesome speech. Honorable speech. Sound speech. Controlling our tongues.

Quite a lot actually. If you read through Proverbs regularly like my family does, you’ll find that it is a frequent focus in the wisdom of Solomon. Here in Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul has just been encouraging the people in the church in Ephesus to have unity in their pursuit of Christ, integrity in theology, faithfulness to their callings and giftings, and an exhortation on what it means to live in the new life of a Christian—putting away darkened understanding and turning from the futility of mind, putting off the old self with corruption and deceitful desires, turning from “every kind of impurity.” Paul writes, “PUT OFF your old self… and be renewed in the spirit of your minds… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And here is the famous clincher: what is the THEREFORE there FOR?? Paul writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, along with all malice.”

So what is “corrupting” talk? Any ideas? Probably anything that is NOT “building up” and “giving grace.” Other translations say “rotten” or “unwholesome.”

Matthew 15:11 tells us that it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his mouth.

But here’s the thing: the battle for purity of the mouth and tongue (by which of course I mean, your words) is fought in the heart. In Luke 6:45, Jesus declared that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” My dad used to say, “what is down in the well comes up in the bucket.”

Pastor John Piper describes four main types of corrupting or rotten talk: taking the name of the Lord in vain, trivializing terrible realities, referencing sexuality or the body in vulgar ways, being vicious and mean-spirited. Then Piper describes four implications of this kind of speech: it does not nourish, it will harm/wound/make sick, rotten words are rotten fruit and rotten fruit comes from rotten trees. Piper says, “the issue for Paul is not really language at all; the issue is love. The issue is not whether our mouth can avoid gross language; the issue is whether our mouth is a means of grace. You see he shifts from the external fruit to the internal root. He shifts from what we say to why we say it. That’s the issue.”

Scripture is full of reminders that what we say matters. But Scripture is also clear that the reason for that is because our words, our speech, our attitudes show much about the state of our hearts.

Proverbs 11:9, 12—with his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Proverbs 15:1, 2, 4—a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 18:4—the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 20:15—the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

But let me close with this—it is by Christ and the Holy Spirit that we can turn from darkness, that we can turn from corrupt speech. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” because GOD is a fountain of life and the righteous live on God. And the way God means to change the mouth is by becoming that abundance. He means to be a fountain of life for us and in us so that out of that abundance our mouths can be a fountain of life for others. We’ve seen the call of God to put away, put off, get rid of, turn away from… all the negatives. But what does Scripture tell us about pure words and righteous speech?
The mouth of the righteous is a well of life. He who restrains his lips is wise. The lips of the righteous feed many. The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom. A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. The tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever. He who guards his mouth preserves his life. Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

And in conclusion, Psalm 141:3 and 19:14 are a beautiful prayer to ask for God to equip us and sanctify us and purify us as we ponder our words:
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

The Great Architect

After contemplating God as the ultimate Artist last week, I was intrigued with the idea of God as the ultimate Architect this week. Someone who is very methodical, mathematical, organized, precise. Someone who knows about building and fortifying and anchoring.

What is an architect?? A brief definition is that an architect is the person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building. Last week, we pondered God as an artist in the context of Genesis chapter 1—so let’s briefly think about that chapter again, envisioning God as an architect.

God divided light from darkness, waters from firmament, waters from other waters, and gave names to each thing, like an architect might divide rooms with lines on a blueprint or framing during the building process, and different rooms are assigned different names for their different purposes. Dividing “kitchen” from “bathroom” from “bedroom” are helpful distinctions. He also gathered some things together into one place, like someone might organize their building supplies, putting like items together. Bricks here, planks there, pipes in another place. And then He added depth and layers. Have you seen how a blueprint does that? Makes a simple 2-D sketch suddenly have a 3-D aspect? God adds trees and flowers and vegetation… and they carry seeds within them so they can continually reproduce and fill the earth. God planned where to put lights, and organized them to bless the space they illuminated. Just like an architect places canned lighting and chandeliers and sconces around their design to illuminate and accentuate particular places in their work.

Without going ad nauseum through the early chapters of Genesis, I think you can see how God shows characteristics of an architect. Dividing and lining up and saying how far to go, adding character and light and depth, naming places and describing what their uses will be so that their purpose can be not only obvious but also fulfilled. God was intent upon creating a good work, and indeed He called it very good upon His completion.

Interestingly, when I searched online for something about “God as a great architect,” the top hits were actually Hindi, Mason, and Mormon—I really wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. The idea of the Creator of the universe, of all things both massive and miniscule, using aesthetic and mathematic, logically and artistically bringing order out of chaos, building foundations and erecting heights—just think about the redwoods along the coast of California and the layers of rock down the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon—what could be more foundationally Christian than recognizing our Creator as an architect?

So are there places to see in Scripture where God is referred to in this way? Of course there are!
Hebrews 11:10 calls Him the builder and maker of the city which has foundations.
Psalm 127 also describes God as the builder, without whom we labor in vain.
Hebrews 11:3 talks about the universe having been created by God, which makes me think about the aspects of architecture and building and constructing: the knowledge and wisdom that would be behind it.
In Job 38, we can read all about God’s testimony to Job, describing His creation and authority over it.
We read about God laying foundations in Psalm 102:25 and Isaiah 48:13 and Hebrews 1:10.
In John 14, we see Jesus talking about His Father’s house with many mansions, and He goes to prepare a place for His people.

So he lays foundations, he builds, He fortifies, He prepares places. Therefore, while nowhere can I find God specifically called an architect, when we remember the definition of an architect being that of a person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of a building—that is absolutely something that God has done, and does. He is the greatest Architect.

Calling God the great architect of the universe is actually a conception discussed throughout centuries by theologians and apologists. Science, especially geometry and astronomy, were linked to the divine for medieval scholars, because of the geometric and harmonic principles found there. They believed that to seek knowledge on those things was a way to seek and worship God. Thomas Aquinas said that “God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to things created as the architect is to things designed.”  In Calvin’s Institutes, John Calvin repeatedly calls God “the Architect of the Universe,” particularly when commentating on Psalm 19—“the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (vv1-6)

Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” It is His genius that not only displays the artistic side of creation but also the engineering, mathematical, tangible side. He didn’t just throw planets and comets and galaxies across the blank canvas when He created solar systems. He put order and logic into the plan. His works are measured, calculated, precise, exact.

Creation Magazine said that our sun is a star in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a spiral galaxy (there are three types: elliptical, irregular, and spiral). Astronomers estimate the Milky Way is made of over 100 billion stars! And our solar system is ideally placed in one of the arms. If we were too close to the center, we would be swallowed by a massive black hole. If we were somewhere else on the arm of the galaxy, we could be in danger of colliding with other stars. And our stable sun, our special star, is exactly specifically created to bless: it is the right color (white), because if it were red, it would be much cooler and its light could not give plants the energy they need. If it were blue, it would be hotter and emit dangerous radiation. God also has our planet orbit precisely far enough so the oceans don’t boil yet close enough to the sun so they don’t freeze.

We can witness so much of God’s majesty by looking at the things He has created. The blueprints He designed, which He has used millions upon millions of times over, are marvelous. Every snail shell, every toenail, every oak leaf, every sunflower seed, every mountain crag, every tree trunk, every honeycomb, every embryo.

Job 38 is one of the most beautiful Scriptural expressions of God as Creator, as Architect. Here are verses 4-13:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?”

God laid the foundations, determined the measurements, stretched lines and fastened foundations, laid the cornerstone. He shut the sea in with doors, fixing a limit for it, using bars and doors to precisely keep the waves and tides in their place. He commands the sun so that dawn knows where to be and when. This should make us tremble with awe and wonder and praise.

Romans 1:20 tells us that nobody has an excuse not to know God, to see His handiwork, to recognize His power and authority and workmanship and design. We can look at the stars or the insects or the mountains or the tides or the path of the sun, and clearly perceive the hand of the Lord at work.

My encouragement for you today is to look around you and see the Hand of God in the order and mathematics and lines and strength and measurements and glory of creation around you. And then, as a bearer of His image, replicate to the best of your ability and imitate your Father in heaven when you figure math problems and sketch castles and plant seeds and write essays. Divide things, name things, give structure to things. Bring order out of chaos and build upon Him as your strong foundation. He is Your fortress, the mightiest structure of all.

Friday Collective

Have I mentioned yet that I am trying to call our Morning Time routine something different now? Partly because “Morning Time” is a little inaccurate since sometimes we don’t do it in the morning… and the time of day is certainly not the spine of this family gathering. I know people who call it Gathering or Symposium… but the word that I recently stumbled on and decided to clasp is Collective. I feel like that word really captures the essence of what I want to accomplish and cultivate: collecting people together to collect & cultivate culture together. I mean, the simple definition in the dictionary is “a cooperative enterprise.” But in a homey way, I just love the idea of collecting my people and collecting truth, goodness, and beauty alongside them. THAT is the spine of what I want to do during this time.

So my Morning Time posts are now simply Collective. Our Morning Time Cart is now happily renamed the Collective Cart. And we are trying to remember to refer to this time as Collective in conversation, even though we do occasionally slip into the old phrasing of Morning Time. Old habits really do die hard. I have been so ingrained with Cindy Rollins, Sarah Mackenzie, & Pam Barnhill’s teachings over the years that I can’t exactly just move on without some serious retraining. 😉 I’m too connected to Schole Sisters to make the switch lightly or simply!

Without further distraction, then…


Poetry Readings:
selections from Sing a Song of Seasons
selections from Amy Carmichael’s Mountain Breezes

Scripture Readings:
Psalm 24:1-10
Proverbs 16:1-16
John 6:1-21

Nehemiah 8:10
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Memory Work:
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
1 Peter 3:10
G: Epilogue from The Lay of Redemption by Joseph Carlson
A: Jesus is the Beautiful Gate by Jason Farley
E: Resurrection Sunday (1) by Joseph Carlson
S: David (1 & 2) by Joseph Carlson

G & A reviewing the New City Catechism (finished all 52 here, so this is their third completed catechism)
E continuing through the New City Catechism (on question 20, this is her third catechism)
S continuing through The Kid’s Catechism (on question 82, this is his second catechism)

Hymn of the month:
Christ the Lord is Risen Today (Charles Wesley)

Psalm of the month:
Psalm 35, Behold, the Love, the Generous Love (Isaac Watts & Seaborn Denson)

Additional singing:
Taizé Gloria
Psalm 117
Psalm 92
Psalm 128
The Apostles (Jamie Soles)
Follow the Line (Jamie Soles)
The Beatitudes (David Erb)

Ancient History reading:
Mystery of History, Vol 1, pages 378-384
Story of the World, Vol 1, pages 285-287
Child’s History of the World, pages 159-163

Church History reading:
selection from Radiant by Richard Hannula

Fiction reading:
Strays by Remy Wilkins
stack of picture books, including Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler, We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines, and Petunia by Roger Duvoisin

Aletheia, part one

I was really delighted to be asked to speak at a local retreat! When I was asked if I would speak on “truth that shines,” I simply began to pray that God would lead me to the topic that the women would need to hear. I had no idea who would be attending this event, the background or baggage, preconceived notions or presuppositions that would be coming along for the ride.

In the end, I decided to focus on a very high-flying, broad view of how to discern truth from Scripture about who we are as Christians, women, wives, and mothers—and how we ought to live in light of those realities of Truth. The Greek word for truth is a beautiful term: αλήθεια (aletheia). In ancient Greece, this was used in a lot of philosophy, to designate full disclosure and the reality of being unconcealed: truth.

The Truth of Who We Are

  • as Christians
  • as women
  • as wives
  • as mothers

and how the light of the Gospel shines here

In case you are new around here, I will briefly introduce myself. I’m Melissa Joy, and I have been married to my husband Steven for almost fourteen years. Ten years ago we built our house on a plot of land beside my parents’ property in the Pacific Northwest—there, my husband runs his Bible software company Olive Tree—there, I plan annual Paideia Northwest conferences to encourage moms in the Christian education & upbringing of their children—and, most importantly, there we seek to raise our five children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

I am a second generation homeschooling mama, and I love spending my days delving into stories, songs, histories, sciences, and messes of all kinds with my always-too-precocious children.

I am also a who-knows-how-many generations back Christian mama. I was raised with five generations of Christians alive at once, attending the same church (we regularly filled two long pews in the balcony) & having Sunday evening dinners together every week at Grandma’s house. The faithfulness of God to my great-great grandparents and beyond is astounding. Having such a long standing line of faithful Christians to stand on is a humbling thing, but a glorious heritage to follow. We take up our cross to follow Him, but His burden is easy.

As we look together now at the subject of discerning truths, those are just little pieces of truth about me as an individual. Telling the truth about me allows you to know me. The truths that we now turn to are what allow us to know God. He is truth, and so my hope is that by time we are done here, we will all know our Lord a little more intimately. These truths are not new—they are as old as creation. And they are graciously, generously both broad and simple.

We turn to Scripture in order to seek truth. I believe in (and love) 66 fully inspired and Spirit-breathed books in the canon of Scripture. When it comes to certain topics especially, I just don’t even see the need to try saying anything eloquently because the Word of God is right here at my fingertips! My desire is to thumb through the Scriptures now in search of Truth, beginning with this Psalm 139:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thoughts afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”

Something that really strikes me in this particular Psalm is the way David writes about both our spiritual selves and our physical selves. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and the glory of God is expounded when we contemplate His hand in both our spiritual and physical life. Those are the two things we will begin contemplating—who are we spiritually and physically?

The majority of people who would read my blog, probably including you, are Christian women. That is both a spiritual and a physical designation. Fearfully and wonderfully Christian. Fearfully and wonderfully female.

So what does it mean to be a Christian?
Where do we find the truth about this in Scripture?
And how are we called to shine the light of Jesus in our Christianity, corporate and personal?

I would like to suggest that three ways we ought to shine truthful light as Christians are by being disciples, evangelists, and worshipers. We are disciples when we seek the face of the Lord to learn at His feet, like Mary the sister of Martha, in Luke 10. You know the story, right? Martha was bustling about the house, and fretted because Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He said. Jesus told Martha that she was worried about many things, but Mary was singleminded. In fact, Scripture says in Luke 10:42, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” She was taking the part of a disciple, and Jesus says that this is good. So we must begin with being disciples, eager to learn truth at the feet of Jesus, saturated in His Word.

Throughout the history of the church, true ideas and false ideas have grown together, and it’s up to faithful Christians to be watchful and diligent to compare every idea with the Word of God—we must prayerfully consider His Word as we discern everything else life and culture throws our way. Especially in this world of having a “31 flavors of ice cream” kind of Christianity smorgasbord, we must be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).

On an average Sunday, my family drives almost an hour to reach our church. I have not tried to count all of the churches we pass directly on our way, but it is undoubtedly dozens—including my parents’ church, my brother’s church, and multiple churches where good friends of ours worship. And the point is this: there are countless houses of worship even right in our county. Many of them are definitely preaching Scripture, gospel truth, and pursuit of faithful living. (Amen! Praise the Lord!) But many of them likely are not. How are we to discern the truth of the Gospel? How do I even know what it means to be a Christian?

According to Scripture, the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch—Acts 11:26 is the first place where the Greek word Χριστιανός was used. It is a noun which literally means “one who is like Christ.” It is not a casual participle saying that those folks over there are kind of Christ-ish. It is its own designation. Christian. One who belongs to Christ. One who is part of His body. There are multiple ways this can be nuanced, probably according to which church tradition you study: and, often, it can be associated with the time of baptism or some kind of conversion experience.

So, the truth is, I might say to you that I became a Christian when I was baptized in 1996—I can tell you the jumper I was wearing (it had sunflowers on it) and some of the people who were in the room—because that is the time when I visibly joined the Church.
Or I might say to you that I became a Christian when I was a toddler—I don’t remember it, but my parents have told me that at bedtime one night while my daddy was playing guitar and singing to me, I said I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart—so that is probably the time where I prayed some semblance of “a sinner’s prayer.”
Or I could tell you that I was a Christian by the time I was born—I had faithful Christian parents, (some) faithful Christian grandparents & great grandparents—and I was raised in the church from the womb, not ever knowing a single day where I was not taught to sing and pray and read my Bible and repent and forgive and trust in Jesus.
But then again, the truth is, it was two millennia ago when Christ died at Calvary, thus atoning for my sins and sealing His promise of everlasting life to me… and it was long before even that when God chose me to be one of His children—in fact, Ephesians 1:4-5 says that He chose His people before the foundation of the world, predestining us for adoption as His children.

But what does this mean or why does it matter? How does this tell me anything about the truth of who I am as a Christian?

At its most basic level, to be a Christian is to belong to Christ.

I think a lot of times, we think that being a Christian means doing certain things, living a certain way, checking off certain boxes—like reading your Bible, believing in the dual nature of Jesus as both God and man, attending public worship on Sundays. Or maybe even legalistic things like dressing a certain way, avoiding certain substances, praying certain prayers.

But here is the thing: too often we focus on what we are doing as Christians. We need to focus on what Christ has done for us.

We don’t belong to Christ because of the things we do, the theology we believe, or the way we live our life.

Rather, we do the things we do, believe the things we believe, and live the way we do because we belong to Christ. Who we are is Christ’s! What we do flows out of that reality.

When we belong to Him, we walk in His ways, we seek to become more like Him, and His Spirit produces fruit in us. These things, like salvation itself, are by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Salvation is not procured by our good works, it is a gift of God. He gives us this salvation and eternal life as a gift to receive with humility, thanksgiving, and joy. We can not boast about it, except for boasting in Him (Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:31).

(…continued in Aletheia, part two…)