Compassion and Conversation

Recently, I preached a sermon on James 3, which starts out talking about the power of the tongue.James is considered the Wisdom literature of the New Testament (think Proverbs in the Old Testament). While it’s considered the least theological book in the New Testament (second only to Philemon), it’s also one of the most practical and pastoral letters.

The first 2/3 of chapter 3 is about the power of our words (what James refers to as “the tongue”). For one example, James likens it to a spark that starts a forest fire. In September 2020, a simple smoke device gone wrong at a gender reveal party ended up: burning 22,000 acres of forest; burned for 23 days; caused 21,000 people to evacuate; and causing the death of 1 firefighter. Sparks can be the catalyst for tremendous damage. So does the tongue.

James was one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9). As such, he undoubtedly, with his background of being Jesus’ brother (Galatians 1:19) and being such an experienced church leader, encountered many times both the destructive and life-giving power of words. James wasn’t being cliche; he was serious in describing the power of our words.

I’m a firm believer in free speech, and I know that free speech ends up causing trouble many times. Liberty in an area requires an accompanying amount of wisdom in handling that liberty. Here are some other verses that we can read and take seriously when it comes to word operations:

  1. Proverbs 11:9 “Evil words destroy one’s friends; wise discernment rescues the godly.”
  2. Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger.”
  3. 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.
  4. Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
  5. Colossians 4:6 – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

What is the impetus of these words? Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

There’s an old anecdote that goes this way: If you have a cup of anything and someone bumps into you, whatever is in the cup spills out. When life bumps into you, what spills out? Anger? Resentment? Apology? Graciousness? Giving the benefit of the doubt? What spills out is what’s in your heart. Fill up your soul with good things. That’s what the Lord did, and we should follow His example. It doesn’t mean we always excuse others’ bad behavior or words; it doesn’t mean that things are never or always our fault. But it does mean that we search for the truth in every situation and proceed graciously.

Almost the whole year of 2020 was a great lesson in the power of words. We each have different areas of influence and authority. Perhaps you were in a position of authority to speak to the health issues caused by the coronavirus, or to speak authoritatively to the political situation. Or maybe you were in a position to counsel  families as they struggled with the changes brought about by lockdowns.

Our family sponsors 3 children through Compassion International. We love to write to and receive letters from those kids. Speaking is natural, but we don’t get to speak to them. The next best thing is the old-fashioned letter. Even in writing, words mean something. Any writer will tell you that words hold negative and positive power. Any recipient of a communication will tell you the same thing, whether that communication is spoken, written, or sung. Because our letters to our sponsored children need to be fairly short and concise, we have to be discerning with our words. We are speaking to younger children in other cultures, and we don’t want to create jealousy, cause grief, etc. What we write needs to build up, not tear down.

In 2020, it was very easy to fill the atmosphere with criticism. Much was valid, much was not. What I noticed early on was that, while the ether was filling up briskly with negativity, there wasn’t much in the way of encouragement. Many were not being wise with their words. Again – I believe in free speech, yet I also believe in the Word of God. While we need to speak the truth, we also need to let our speech encourage others. Not only were there people to confront, there were people who were hurting.
We need to be selective and wise with our words. James said it the best: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.

God Bless

Be Content…Today

Compassion (https://www.compassion.com/) challenged its blogger community with the following for October:

“This month, we invite you to write about what the Lord has been teaching you lately. Have you been thrown a curveball that seems insurmountable? How were you able to move forward?”

2020 has been a year of changes. Sure, there’s been plenty of sickness, violence, government mandates, drastic changes in how pretty much every industry goes about its business. But for me and my family, it has meant consistent change.

A significant aspect of this change has been that our usual activities have all but stopped. So it’s a change toward the temptation to stagnation. Most of our evenings have turned out to be the same. I have kept my job, though I’m 100% at home, whereas before it was 80% at home. Our older sons, who live at home and work nearby, have kept their brick-and-mortar store jobs because they’re considered “essential.” We home educate, so that stayed much the same for my family.

The difference came with the evening time. We have places that we’d usually go, in order to break up the pattern of staying at home. We like to get out so that we can be around others, have fun out-and-about, give our kids different experiences. But those activities were either halted or reduced in occurrence, and remain that way (though we certainly hope to return to them as things open up).

What do we do now? We celebrate! We have a mini-party as a family every night. We have fun. I suppose one could consider our former outings as celebrations, and so they are. But now we have different celebrations. We hunkered down and focused on enjoying time with each other. We enjoyed time together and the other things before, but this year, we have put a laser focus on enjoying what we already have. We enjoy movies together. We started learning different things. We enjoy story time and time around our outdoor firepit. We enjoy singing hymns, talking to each other more often, eating ice cream (more often! 🙂 ), and playing our instruments with more regularity. We’ve brought so much in-house in order to continue our celebration. We even built a small kid fort in our backyard so that the kids could move and climb more.

We could fear, but we’re not going to. We could mope and criticize, we could tear each other down. We could do all kinds of negative things. But we decided that we’re going to live for today. We’re focusing on what we have, not on what we don’t have. We knew that before, but now we’re living it with much more intention.

The Bible tells us to be content with what we have, to seek first His kingdom, not to worry about tomorrow, to think on things that are excellent and noble. and that God will uphold us.
2020 is a great year to do what God says and hold firm to His promises. When viewed from a humanistic point of view, 2020 is far different than many other years. But from the standpoint of biblical faith, God sees it as every other year – it’s not a surprise to Him, and it’s an opportunity for His people to be molded further into the image of His son, Jesus Christ. 2020 has reminded me that He gives us our daily bread, and, again, He hasn’t failed.

You Had One Job

When I read the account of Adam and Eve, starting in Genesis 3, the phrase that comes to mind is, “You had one job.” Adam’s job was to tend the garden. Eve’s job was to help Adam. And their job as a couple was twofold: have children and take dominion over the earth. So it wasn’t EXACTLY one job, but it’s what I think about.

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Raising Christian Men

Of our 9 children, 6 are boys (our oldest is 17); so thinking about how to raise them properly is a constant. Children learn to do what they see the parents do; there are some things that the parents do that don’t make sense; and there are many things along the way that a parent needs to simply state because kids won’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it
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Heartflow

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” – Matthew 15:18-19

The Bible shows that the heart (aka, the inner man) is the source of life and death, good and evil. Unclean food doesn’t make one unclean; it’s what comes out of the heart. We are to guard the heart, because it’s the wellspring (source of) life.
We become unclean because we do not guard our hearts. We exude death because we have allowed sins to come in. Due to that allowance, death flows out of our heart through our mouth. When we allow impurity to come into the heart, it pollutes the well, which then flows out in our words. In short — garbage in, garbage out.
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Study the Word with confidence

This is copied from Logos, but well worth sharing.

Here are some verses to increase your confidence in Bible study:

  1. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
  2. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17)
  3. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
    (Rom. 10:17)
  4. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10–11)

 

The 3 Rs

Not Reading, ‘Ritin’ and ‘Rithmetic. This post is about the 3 Rs for understanding and living Scripture.

1. Reading
You have to read Scripture. The more you read, the more you’ll know and remember. This is the starting point. “You must know what the Bible says before you can know what it means.” Allen B. Wolfe (founder of Balancing the Sword)

2. Reflection
Ask yourself how Scripture applies to your life. What are the implications of the verse/passage for you? Your family?  Work? Ministry? What you would do/say to be biblical in your approach and response?

3. Relationships
A vital part of living biblically is, well, living it out. One can read and reflect, but the moment you come in contact with a grumpy waiter, a manager with a sour attitude, a spouse who’s had a bad day, a crying child, or with your own bleak outlook on life – how does your theology hold up? How do your Reading and Reflection impact real life? Can you go beyond the mental and intellectual aspects or study, memorization and theology (Orthodoxy), and move into practicing it (Orthopraxy)?

The Christian life is more than mental; the goal is to be like Jesus. Jesus did not simply read, study and memorize (though He was obviously well-studied); He lived it out. You need to know what Scripture says, then work  toward living it out. And living it out doesn’t take place in the mind; it takes place in relationships of any and every kind.

You may find it helpful to think through situations first: what would I say or do in such-and-such situation? It’s not hard to think up  situations: I stub my toe – what should I say? Someone complains over the phone: how do I respond? There’s a wrong/extra payment onmy credit card: how should I approach the CS rep when I call to report it? This thinking provides a blueprint and a script. But then comes the point of testing: what do you actually think and say and do when it happens?

If you find that you’ve failed in the true test, you’ll realize that your heart is not truly changed in that area. What do you do? Keep on going – don’t give up.