WORSE THAN DEATH
Saturday, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I got a call from my brother-in-law. This was unexpected in that he generally calls Steve & I keep in touch with his wife. I thought he sounded normal & responded with, “Whew! I thought you were calling with bad news.” That’s when he said,” I AM calling with bad news.” As he retold the unusual turn of events in their day, my eyes filled with tears & I felt a little breathless. His beloved wife of 41 years had been unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, a cancer that had metastasized without even knowing the origin. Karen has been a serious long-distance cheerleader in my journey with cancer the past 4 months. It’s not unusual for her to check in with me 3x a week. Additionally, she made me an awesome anchor-themed quilt, symbolic of her hugs. So, when I heard this report, my mind screamed “NO-O-O!” I instantly felt somewhat paralyzed, while trying to listen to what Pat was telling me. In Dutch we called that feeling benauwed (benout), meaning stuffy, afraid, tight, smothery. No word in English translates quite like it. It’s like you don’t know what to do with yourself, inside your soul. You’re trapped.
Over the course of our 8 years in Kansas, I’ve had ample opportunity to feel benauwed, many times, while bearing the brunt of Sterling’s gossip grapevine. We were warned about a few people soon after we moved. Maybe it’s because we were new to the area. But most everywhere I went, people knew who I was while I had no clue who they were. It’s a little unnerving to be asked questions, while thinking, “How on earth did you know enough, to ask me that?” About 2 years in, I was pulled aside & informed about a family related rumor going around. This gal did the right thing & confronted the source, who admitted she had never met us but that her source, at this time 4 layers in, was reliable. (She totally missed the point of the confrontation.) My initial reaction was that these folks clearly had too much time on their hands! To date, I personally have never been more aware, nor have I experienced, the likes of the lies that have circulated about our ministry in general, & my honey in particular. Gossip is illusive in that you can’t track the jabbering. Contrary to the old adage, words DO hurt worse than sticks & stones. Bones heal. Hearts are haunted. To try confront gossip is near impossible, sort of like nailing jello to a wall! In a town of 2500 with at least 7 churches, I’ll admit…I wasn’t prepared for it. Some rumors were/are downright mean & cruel, coming from faceless cowards over social media. Others were literally so stupid, it’s almost laughable…except it isn’t funny. Near as we can figure, a majority of these lies were started intentionally, to derail our ministry & the message of the indwelling life of Christ. Spiritually, it’s felt almost blasphemous toward the Lord Himself. That’s scary to me! As awful as this experience has been, I’d rather be us, than them. Bitter, unforgiving, driven hearts are toxic.
You’re probably wondering what it in the world this has to do with my sister-in-law being diagnosed with cancer. I said it to my honey when I was diagnosed & I repeated it again today. There is a far worse cancer than physical cancer. It’s a cancer of the soul, that left ignored, can lead to life-changing eternal consequences. Imagine my surprise when I found this description in 2 Tim 2:16&17—"But avoid worldly & empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, & their talk (word) will spread like gangrene (translated cancer).” I think my mouth dropped open. It was a bulls-eye in my heart. Simply put, what comes out of our mouths is indicative of what’s in our hearts. (Matt 15:18) Check out these other “in-your-face” verses. Proverbs 20:19 says that a slanderer reveals secrets so don’t associate with a gossip. Roman 1:25,28-30 references God turning people over to depraved minds because they knowingly exchanged His truth for a lie. Gossip is in the list of the things these folks do. GULP! Other descriptions include fruitless discussions, busybodies, empty talkers, & unjustly accusing with wicked words. (See 1 Tim.1:6; 1 Tim.5:13; Titus 1:10; & III John vs10) If you still don’t believe that God is concerned with your mouth, see Proverbs 11:13, 13:3, & 12:17&18.
The answer to physical cancer is to remove it in it’s deadly form. Surgery chemo & radiation are common methods. And there are even some natural protocols used these days. But the goal is the same. Conquer it! The answer to the spiritual destruction of gossip/gangrene/cancer, is the same. Death to our self-driven nasty, captivating habits. But we don’t have the wherewithal, in ourselves to be victorious. God never intended that we fight our own sin battles. But the good news is, Jesus Christ already fought for us, & He won! First of all, He reconciled us back to His Father by fulfilling the requirements of the law-- His death/blood sacrifice/finished work on the Cross. The power of sin was broken. Secondly, Jesus saves us from ourselves & our fleshy responses to temptations, through the presence of His life IN us, via His Holy Spirit. However, unless you acknowledge His authority over your life, repent (turn, & go in the opposite direction) & submit to His leading, you’ll still be stuck. If you hate God’s authority structure, you’ll never get over yourself. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Disrespect, dishonor, & love of self….all fertile soil for gangrene/cancer, spreading rapidly into a stronghold of bitterness that can easily turn spiritually lethal. This is a state-of-being that is worse than physical death, in the scope of eternity.
God never leaves us hanging, without a way out. Receiving Christ is the foundation. You have to know Him. Then there are some practical steps to keep verbal cancer from destroying lives. It starts with honest appraisal. I’ve seen a loved one die from the physical ramifications of gangrene discovered too late. It wasn’t pretty. It was hard to watch. She hemorrhaged so often that they didn’t understand why she survived. Eventually her body couldn’t fight anymore. But her spirit & soul were healed, and she went home to Jesus at 16 years old.
Spiritually, you don’t have to struggle with relational gangrene, to the point of no return. Two different places in the Word, we are admonished NOT to receive an accusation against someone, unless there are 2 or 3 witnesses to back it up. I Tim 5: 17-19 references elders specifically, being worthy of double honor. You should never entertain gossip about someone who teaches/preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, unless there are witnesses to your issue of concern. Otherwise, gossip naturally follows. My point here is that these guidelines are rarely followed. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out a specific course to guide us. First you go to the person alone, to check out what you heard/ address their perceived error. If that action isn’t well taken, you’re to take 2 or more people with you, so that “every fact (word) may be confirmed.” STOP & THINK ABOUT IT. Would there be much gossip, at all, if these 2 steps were heeded? The question begs to be asked, “How much of what we pass along, in the name of truth, can actually be verified, word for word, by 2 or more people?” If it can be verified, the church body is there to help. (Continue reading the rest of the chapter.)
My conclusion is that most of the gossip grapevine would be uprooted before it even had a chance to grow. I’ve been chewing on the Matthew 18 directives, the past 6 weeks, after a series preached at church. I’m trying to be less wordy. Even if details are true, is it necessary to share them? We can keep the truth short & within Biblical boundaries. As was suggested in a sermon, you can stop your involvement in gossip by simply asking the tale-bearer why they are sharing this information with you. As you pray for God to deal with the relational gangrene in your life, please remember to lift Karen up—in her fight against physical cancer. <3