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Archive for September, 2021

What power the written or spoken word has! Nations have risen and others have fallen as a result of the power of the tongue. Individual lives have been elevated and others have been deeply damaged because of human speech. The human tongue is small, but it is a powerful instrument.

James, the brother of Jesus, understood this as well as any person in history, and through the use of graphic analogies he has given us the most penetrating exposition of the tongue anywhere in literature, sacred or secular: In his small New Testament epistle, he says, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts” (James 3:3-5).

Having grabbed our imagination with his graphic language, James adds this final touch by describing the tongue as being “set on fire by hell.” It is not possible to miss the point he makes. The uncontrolled tongue has a direct pipeline to hell. Fueled by hell, it burns our lives with its filthy fires. The tongue’s destructive power in gossip leads the list of the destructive ways it is used. As Solomon wisely observed, “The words of gossip are like choice morsels; they go down into man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs18:8).

Gossip veils itself in acceptable conventions such as “Have you heard . . . ?” or “Did you know . . .?” or “They tell me . . . ” or “Keep this to yourself, but . . . ” or “I wouldn’t tell you, except that I know it will go no further . . .” Of course the most infamous such rationalization in Christian circles is “I’m telling you this so you can pray.” This sounds pious, but the heart that shares evil reports will leave flaming fires in its wake.

Another damaging use of the tongue is to indulge in flattery. Gossip involves saying things behind the back of someone that you would never say to his or her face. Flattery involves saying things to a person’s face that you would never say behind his or her back. “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).

Still another damaging use for a person’s tongue is to needlessly criticize others. Once while John Wesley was preaching, he noticed a lady in the congregation who was known for her critical attitude. He noticed that all through the service she sat and stared at his new tie. When the meeting ended, she came up to him and said very sharply, “Rev. Wesley, the strings on your tie are too long. It is an offence to me!” Wesley asked if any of the ladies present had a pair of scissors in their purse. When a lady handed him a pair of scissors, he gave them to his critic and asked her to trim the streamers of his tie to her liking.

After she had trimmed the streamers on his tie, Wesley said, “Let me have those shears a moment, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I also gave you a bit of correction. I must tell you, madam, that your tongue is an offense to me – it is too long!  Please stick it out. I would like to cut some of it off.” Of course Wesley’s reply wasn’t what she expected. You don’t get an opportunity to reply to unjustified and demeaning criticism that often. The critic who begins by criticizing himself will be too busy to take on outside contracts.

Offered to God on the altar, the tongue has awesome power for good. For example, it can proclaim the life-changing message of salvation to those who are lost. The apostle Paul makes this indelibly clear in Romans 10:14-15: “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

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The Song of Solomon is the only book in the Bible dedicated solely to romantic love. It is ironic, isn’t it, that its initials are SOS? Those three letters do not describe all marriages, but they definitely describe those that are dominated by discord. In a cemetery in Middlebury, Connecticut, for example, there is a stone, erected by a widow to her husband, bearing this inscription: “Rest in peace – until we meet again.”

Dr. I.E. Gates, former president of Wayland Baptist College once told the story of a blackmailer who sent a letter to a man that said, “”If you do not place $5,000 in a hollow stump (giving the location of the stump) by six o’clock tomorrow afternoon, I am going to kidnap your wife.” To this letter the man replied, “Dear Kidnapper: I don’t have $5,000 to do as you requested, but your proposition is an interesting one.”

Troubled marriages like the one described by Dr. Gates are often due to the following things: (1) unrealistic expectations, (2) lack of preparation, (3) selfishness on the part of one or both partners, or (4) failure to understand the level of commitment that a strong and healthy marriage requires.

Love in a marriage draws strength from many sources – but first of all from God. A strong marriage does not happen just because a bride and groom say “I do” and make some promises to each other. In a healthy marriage a man loves a woman because he makes a decision to do so. The same is true when a woman loves a man. And every day throughout their lives they keep on deciding to love each other.

Having served as a pastor for more than 60 years I have counseled with many couples who were planning to be married. I have told them that a successful marriage comes from the following things:

  1. Faith. First of all, faith in God, but also faith in each other. The nature of faith is that it trusts. If husbands and wives do not trust each other their marriage easily becomes a battleground.
  2. Ownership. Often couples believe their problems are the result of the other person’s actions. It is easy to avoid responsibility for your problems by blaming your partner. In the long-haul, admitting mistakes and owning up to them is a powerful predictor of turning bad into good. Couples need to realize that it is not who is wrong, but what is wrong and how to correct it that is important.
  3. Hope. Hope believes that good will ultimately triumph. The foundation of hope is belief. Every marriage – without any exceptions – will encounter problems along the way. Couples must believe that the kind of marriage they want is possible. Hope keeps love alive. Stop hoping and marriage dies.
  4. Empathy. In other words, walk in each other’s shoes. A spouse must be aware of what his or her spouse is feeling. Empathy involves both the head and the heart. Many of us do one or the other fairly well. We either feel our partner’s pain with our heart, or we try to solve their problem with our head. To do both can be a challenge. But that is what empathy calls for and is all about.
  5. Forgiveness. Forgiveness heals wounds. In a good marriage, both the husband and the wife are quick to ask for forgiveness and to grant forgiveness. The simple words, “I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?” is magical in a marriage. Forgiveness heals the deepest wounds of the human heart.
  6. Commitment. God designed marriage to be a lifetime contract, not a short term option. Without commitment and the trust it engenders, a marriage often has little hope of lasting. When difficulties arise, the key is to stay committed to your spouse and solve them together. Otherwise, both bride and groom who stood at God’s altar to say “I do” will have to admit, “We said “I do” but we really “didn’t.”

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An Old Legend

There is an old legend about three men who carried two sacks around with them wherever they went. Each man carried one sack that he tied around his neck that hung down in front. Each man tied his second sack around his neck and let it hang down his back. If we were to carry two sacks hanging around our neck in today’s world, it would undoubtedly cause a lot of questions to be asked.

When the first man in this legend was asked what he had in his sacks he replied, “Well, in the sack on my back are stored all the good things that my family and my friends have done for me. That way they are out of sight and hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.” 

It is not difficult to see that because he spent so much time concentrating on all the bad and negative things that had happened to him, he really didn’t make much progress in life. When you accentuate the negative you eliminate the positive. You become a pessimist. Given the choice of two evils, a pessimist will choose both of them. A pessimist has no motor; an optimist has no brakes.

When the second man was asked, “What do you have in your two sacks?” He replied, “In the front sack are memories of the blessings I have received from God, and all the good things that I have done to touch and bless the lives of others that gave me great joy. In the sack on my back I keep all the mistakes I have made. Sure, this sack is heavy, and it slows me down. But you know, for some reason I can’t put it down.”

When the third man was asked what he had in his two sacks, he replied, “The sack in front is great. In it I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I have experienced in my lifetime, and memories of those who have made constructive investments in my life that helped me to become a better person – my parents, my teachers, and countless others. The weight is not a problem. It is like the sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward and adds great joy and meaning to my life.

“The sack on my back is empty. There is nothing in it. I cut a big hole in the bottom so that all the bad things I think about myself or hear about others could leak out. They go in one end of the sack and out the other. So, as you can see, I am not carrying any extra weight at all. Sure, there have been mountains to climb and dark valleys through which I have had to travel during my life that have called for every ounce of energy I could muster. There were times when I wondered if I would have the energy to face the difficulties and the challenges that I faced. But God supplied my needs – every single time.”

The story of the three men and their sacks is just a legend, but it has a message for every generation. Let us remember our good times with gratitude and joy. And let us face our difficult times with faith, knowing that God is always both able and willing to supply our need. The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:19 assures us that this is true: “And my God will meet all your needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

What are you carrying around in your sacks?

Who are you carrying around in your sacks?

Which sack is full, the one containing your blessings or the one hanging down your back?

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One of the basic human needs is for peace. Genuine peace is not the absence of conflict. Otherwise, Washington, D.C. would not have such a large assortment of peace monuments. One is built after every war. Peace is an inner possession, and lasting peace can only be supplied by God.

Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:6-7, elaborates on this when he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

The word “guard” in these verses literally means “to stand as a sentinel, to serve as a lookout.” When Paul penned these words, he was a prisoner of Caesar, guarded constantly by a Roman soldier. In today’s troubled world our lives need to be garrisoned by God’s peace, don’t they? The nearness of God as He guards our hearts and minds is what makes possible the admonition, “Do not be anxious about anything.”

Theologian Dr. Halford Luccock, in one of the books I studied while in seminary way back in the mid-1950’s said, “Telling someone not to be anxious is a little like telling someone sitting on the edge of the crater of an active volcano not to worry.” Genuine and lasting peace can only be provided by the Prince of Peace.

Jesus, after He predicted His death upon the cross, said to His disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:25-27).

“The peace that passes understanding” described in God’s Word is available, but millions of people are looking for it in the wrong places – in a pill, in a bottle, at the end of a needle, in pursuing pleasure, or in countless other places where peace is often promised, but not delivered. The Bible makes it clear to all who read it that freedom from anxiety, though often promised by the world, is not delivered.

The prospect of world conflict, of course, is not the only source of anxiety that people experience. Many who are facing burdens and tensions are looking for a place to hide. But there is no place in our world where they can hide. Their difficulty is that they are trying to hide from themselves.

A scholar in Australia in the 1930’s accurately foresaw from his observation of global events that a worldwide war would soon break out. He also recognized that Japan would be one of the belligerent nations. Very few Americans, if any, foresaw that fact. Otherwise we would not have sold millions of tons of scrap iron to Japan in the late 1930’s. That scrap iron was turned into weapons that attacked Pearl Harbor.

That Australian scholar studied his atlas in search of the perfect hiding place, the best possible island to escape from the storm about to break across the civilized world. By the employment of careful logic and the process of deduction, he finally selected the ideal spot to escape the coming conflict – an obscure Pacific island. In the summer of 1939 he went ashore there. The name of that island was Guadalcanal.

Escape is not the answer for dealing constructively with anxieties. Apostle Paul knew the secret: It is “through prayer . . . with thanksgiving . . . presenting our requests to God.” When we follow this pattern “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts through Christ Jesus.”

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“The living know that they will die” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) – even so, many of us find that fact difficult, if not impossible, to talk about. We know that the biblical dictum is true: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). When describing the universality of death we find it easy to use euphemisms – such as “she has gone to heaven” or “he has kicked the bucket.”

Paul Tillich, the German theologian, in The Eternal Now, observes that “it is our destiny and the destiny of everything in our world that we must come to an end.” This is true, but we want to live as long as we possibly can, and we are shocked when a loved one or a friend is taken suddenly from us as the result of an accident, violence, or war. Ambivalence – fear of dying and yearning for immortality – has characterized our struggle to come to terms with our demise.

The Greeks had a legend of a young man named Tithonus, who was made immortal when he married a goddess. But the gift of immortality did not prevent him from aging. Finally, the very old and senile Tithonus became unacceptable to his wife, who shut him away. A poem by Lord Tennyson permits the deified Tithonus to beg for restoration to that mortal condition “of happy men that have the power to die.”

One of the realities of living is to know that one day our journey on earth will come to an end. The pre-Christian view of death is revealed in the reasoning of a woman of Tekoa who said to David, Israel’s king: “We shall surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Samuel 14:14). Allusions to life in wisdom literature describe life aslike grass . . . a flower . . . the wind . . . like a river wasting away (Psalm 103, Job 14, and Psalm 78).

Even a newborn child is old enough to die – an Rh factor gone awry, suffocation or strangulation, congenital malformation, or birth trauma. For other persons, dying is drawn out over months of waiting – cancer, stroke, heart disease, etc. Life on earth is temporary. Knowing that, it is extremely important to discover what life is all about, and how it can be lived to the fullest in the most constructive way.

The tragedy is that multiplied millions of people never discover what life is all about. They have not yet accepted the fact that we were created by God, and that purpose and meaning in life can only be discovered and experienced when we develop a faith relationship with the One who created us. It was for this purpose that God sent His Son into our world.

The apostle Paul wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself“(2 Corinthians 5:17-18, RSV). This turning from darkness to light is called “conversion”. Salvation continues as the new Christian receives nurture, guidance, and strength for life.

Spiritual growth is designed by God to follow the new birth. Paul wrote: “The moment when we will be saved is closer now than . . . when we first believed (Romans 13:11, TEV). The experience of faith is neither temporary nor static, and it is through faith that the joy of living becomes more and more meaningful throughout life. Then, when the end of life’s road on earth becomes inevitable, we know that it is merely the door into life on a fuller scale.

H.M. Reasoner expresses this thought extremely well in his poem entitled, “Friends that Traveled with Me”:

“Many friends that traveled with me
Reached heaven’s portal long ago;
One by one they left me battling
With the dark and crafty foe.
They are watching at the portal,
They are waiting at the door;
Waiting only for our coming
The beloved ones gone before.”

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