Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Taming the Tongue

Sometimes it seem that we speak and no one listens, we write and no one reads. But at times our words do more than we realize.

I can still quote the little note my roommate left for me when I was having a difficult freshman year in college. He lived near campus and was able to go home every weekend. I was often left alone in the dorm. Knowing my difficulties, he left this note one Friday, “James tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful. I may not be very fervent or very righteous, but I am going to pray for you anyway.” I did not keep the note, I did not need to keep it, I remember it word for word. Thirty-five years later, those words still lift my spirit.

On the other hand there are those thoughtless words, the ones we wish we had not spoken. Some of them are burned in our memories, and perhaps in the memories of others.

Our words are powerful, more powerful than we realize. “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5).

Our words reveal the content of our hearts (Matt 12:34). We all speak wrongly on occasion, for there is an element of evil in the best of human hearts. If we speak ill often, it indicates that evil is gaining the upper hand in our heart.

No human can tame the tongue (James 3:8), only with God’s blessing and help can it be tamed. Do you have trouble speaking the truth? Do you have trouble speaking words that build up? Don’t deny the problem, but don’t tackle it on your own, either. Consider the rest of that verse my roommate quoted to me, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Retirement From the Lord’s Work

We are to remember our creator in our youth (Eccl 12:1); Christianity is a movement that involves and uses the youth; but this does not mean that those of us past fifty (or even past eighty) ought to be put out to pasture or placed on a shelf. There is no retirement from the Lord’s work.

Enoch walked with God all of his 365 years (Gen 5:23f). Moses was 120 when he handed Israel’s leadership over to Joshua. Joshua was near 80 when he accepted that leadership. Caleb, was 85 when he requested that he be given a “mountain” to subdue for the Lord (Jos 14:10-12). John was still working for the Lord and writing in his eighties.

Last week I wrote of the importance of involving teens and young adults in the work. This week I emphasize the usefulness of our older members.

Those between the ages of sixty and ninety have an opportunity that never existed before. The idea of retirement is fairly new. Prior to the 1930’s it did not normally happen. Throughout history people worked until they could work no more, and we may be returning to that situation. But a few generations were blessed to receive an income, without having to report for work and while they were still able to work. Some Christians have used their retirement years as a gift from God. They have used retirement to His glory. Sadly, others have used it selfishly.

There are hundreds of tasks that need to be done. There are classrooms that need decorating or cleaning. There are Bible studies that need to be taught. There are young families that need to be encouraged. Some of these tasks can be accomplished more effectively by a retired person than by anyone else. If you are retired - are soon to retire, or if you just are not asked to work as many hours as you used to work - you need to consider how you can use the extra time to the glory of God.

Whether you walked with God in your youth or not, be sure you walk with him to the end of your days. There is no earthly retirement from the Lord’s work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Youth Movement

In the minds of some sad and misguided souls, Christianity is for the old and the very young. The teens and twenties are seen as a time to pursue other interests. Sunday school is thought to be for children, and worship for the middle-aged or older. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus was only thirty when he began his ministry (Lk 3:23), and his apostles seem to have been younger. More than twenty years after the death of Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes that most of the five hundred that witnessed his resurrection were still alive (1 Cor 15:6). Given the life expectancy at the time, this indicates that most of them were young when he was raised. His movement was, at the start, a youth movement.

Think of the heroes of the faith. Some were old, but many were young. What do Jesus, John the Baptist, Timothy, and Jeremiah all have in common? They were all thirty or younger when they began their ministry.

The work of the church belongs in the hands of the young. Those who are older should provide guidance and direction, but the energy of youth is needed to make the work a reality.

“Nineteen hundred years ago,” J. S. Stewart wrote, “a group of young people under Christ changed the world. He is counting on young men and women today to do it again.”

They can do it again because he is still willing to work in and through them to make it happen. Let us not worry so much over what the world will do to our children, let us rather rejoice in what the Lord may do to the world through our children.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Responding to a Conspiracy

Driving home from Cleveland the other day, I listened to a feature story on NPR. It was about a British chef who came to Huntington, West Virginia to work with the schools to improve their lunch program. Three days later I learned, from another source, that actually the chef was in Huntington to film a television show at a church. What he did at the school was a side light. Why did NPR leave his work at the church completely out of their report?

Why is it that last year, when a group of homosexuals attacked a church service in Michigan, it was not mentioned by most of the major networks and downplayed by those that did mention it? Why is it that when the FBI recently arrested a group of people who are accused of plotting to kill a police officer, every news report claimed that this was a "Christian" group (without indicating any evidence to support the claim or defining what they meant by the term)?

Did you know that the President is legally obligated to appoint an ambassador-at-large to keep track of abuses of religious freedom and to report this abuse directly to the Secretary of State so that it can be factored in to foreign policy decisions? Did you know that the position has been vacant since January of 2009? Why would this neglected duty not be mentioned by CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, or NPR?

We are not playing on a level field. I am not suggesting that we cannot count on the news people. We can count on them -- we can count on them to distort the truth so as to demean Christ and stir prejudice against his followers.

How should we respond to this situation?

Jesus faced a conspiracy against him. His reaction to that very real and certain conspiracy should serve as our guide to responding to the conspiracy we fear is developing.

According to Matthew 12, when faced with a conspiracy against him, Jesus did not seek needless confrontation or undue notoriety. When necessary he did confront (13), but when he could he withdrew from confrontation (15). He did not "sound the trumpet" regarding his good deeds (16), but rather avoided the limelight, while continuing to do good. There may be many reasons for this. Chief among them is the need to teach the disciples -- something that could not happen if the crowds were too big or if the cross came too soon.

Jesus was called -- he was chosen -- for a purpose (17-18). He quietly fulfilled his calling. He knew his purpose and he worked steadily at it. He quietly, firmly, and persistently proclaimed his message (18, 20). Jesus occasionally engaged in controversy, but he was not one to seek a quarrel or make needless noise in the street (19). Nor was he one to give up on the downtrodden (20).

So, let us go and do likewise. We must know our purpose. We must quietly, firmly, and persistently proclaim His message and do good.

Will it work? I AM NOT saying that it will result in the changes we might like. I am not promising that it will make the conspiracy go away, or that it will make people look on us more favorably. It did not "work" for Jesus, and it may not "work" for us. He ended up on the cross, and we must be prepared for that, if such be God’s will. He did it, not because it would work, but because it was God’s will.

Sign some petitions if you wish, but depend on prayer more than petitions; trust in God rather than in some so-called political messiah. Don’t let worldly means and messages distract you from your calling (1 Peter 2:9). Don’t let worldly promises of peace and prosperity keep you from the peace that passes understanding. A peace that you will know only if you submit your life wholly to Christ.