Last year we took a family trip to a nearby zoo. There was one section designated the “petting zoo” where children could interact with animals. I asked my oldest if she want to go in and feed the goats and she said yes. As we were walking through the animals my daughter seemed okay. She was a little timid but there was nothing to be concerned about…until we approached the feed dispenser. When the goats saw us nearing the dispenser they knew what was coming and rushed over to grab some food. At this point I had the feed in my hand and goats were rearing up and some were butting heads to get the food. When they reared they were taller than my daughter, and at this point she was starting to panic and was clinging to my leg. I was knocking goats away, trying to protect her. Finally I just tossed all the food away and the goats swarmed it. That’s when we made our break and escaped the petting zoo – never to return (read that last phrase in an ominous voice).
My wife and I had a similar experience visiting St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. The square outside the Cathedral was famous for pigeons. Thousands of them! And tourists could stand in the middle of the square, hold out birdseed in both hands, and have the birds flock to you and land on you. It was quite a sight (and yes, I tried it). You’ve got to be careful with that birdseed.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:22-32)
Notice that he says Christians “put off the old self” – the language is very similar to changing clothes, taking off one outfit to put on another. There is supposed to be a difference in Christian behavior from the way the rest of the world operates. Our outfits are supposed to be new and different. That plays out specifically in our language and how we use our words. Paul says to put off unwholesome talk or “foul language.”
I’ve heard many people use this verse to tell others not to use profanity. The debate about what words are (or should be) taboo is for another time, but suffice to say that Paul isn’t talking about that here. “Foul language” is not about profanity but about language that tears down others. With our mouths we have the power to harm or to heal, especially when it comes to rumors and gossip (some of the most “foul language” around).
Our words become like birdseed and those crazy pigeons. Every time you jump in the rumor mill you are spreading birdseed. Even if you get the facts right later the seed is still out there. I’m still trying to clean up birdseed from a over year ago. “Did you hear that Pastor Chris did…? Did you hear that Pastor Chris said…?”
You have probably had to deal with this in your life. “Did you hear about…?” And the birdseed gets scattered. Then the hungry birds come and devour the seed and then fly away. What do full birds do? They poop! Someone miles away might get pooped on because of the seed you were spreading. How do you stop birds from pooping on people? Stop spreading the birdseed! This isn’t what Christian behavior is supposed to look like.
The book of Acts does give us a picture of what the church SHOULD look like. It’s supposed to be characterized by 1) authentic community – the church is supposed to be a place where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be, 2) wholehearted worship – the church is where God gets the glory He deserves, 3) spiritual growth – the church is where you can become the best YOU that you can be, 4) financial care and responsibility – the church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity, and 5) reaching others – the church is where everyone gets adopted into God’s family. When the Church embraces those characteristics it becomes a powerful force in the world and in people’s lives.
We Choose. What type of Church community would you prefer to be part of? The birdseed model or the Acts model? We choose what kind of people we are going to be. It is my prayer that we refuse to be birdseed Christians and start being the purposeful people we see in Acts.
Stop throwing birdseed. Be the people He calls us to be.