Taming the Tongue

For the month of February, my Sunday school class that I teach has been studying the book of James. It has been a challenging month as we have wrestled with many of the difficult teachings contained in this New Testament letter. James beings with his teaching on the testing of our faith that leads to perseverance. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). There are not many of us who welcomes this development of perseverance through trials. James tells us that we must believe and not doubt, “because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). James then writes: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). James continues his strongly worded message by saying, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, Do what it says” (James 1:22). Then James finishes off the first chapter by telling us that if we do not keep a tight rein on our tongue, then our religion is worthless (James 1:26). This study really got some emotions stirred up in us as we were forced to examine how we live out our daily lives in light of the principles that James presents to us.

And finally, that difficult lesson that I was dreading to teach: Controlling your speech or taming the tongue. If we are honest, most of us would admit that we do a poor job of taming our tongue. We often speak before we think and we repeatedly fail to listen to the person that we are talking to. Remember the words of James in 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If we truly lived out this advice from James; to become good listeners who are slow to speak, and even slower to become angry, there would be more harmony and less confrontation in the world.

Our lesson was from James chapter 3, and this chapter begins with a strong admonition to those of us who teach. James writes, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Thanks James! I am already struggling with teaching this lesson and now you go and make it even more difficult for me to teach. The early church had many false teachers who would distort the truth and James was warning the early church about these types of people. But his warning was to all teachers, because of the responsibility we have to those that we teach. It’s not enough to just teach the word, we must “do what it says.”

The week that I was to teach the lesson began like any other normal week, but as the week progressed I could feel myself becoming more stressed and the tension beginning to build. It was truly one of those “perfect storm” weeks where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I thought that I had done a really good job of holding it all together and I patted myself on the back several times, admiring the perseverance that I had developed during the week. On Wednesday however, things began to unravel even more quickly and I soon found myself beginning to unravel as well.

Early Thursday morning, a coworker of mine made a mistake that he had made numerous times before. However, this time his mistake cost me several valuable minutes that I did not have to spare and I must admit that I did not respond in a Christian or James like manner. In fact, I used my tongue and my words to tear this man down. As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I regretted saying them but it was too late. The damage had already been done and I had spoken words that I could not take back. I thought, “Great! I have a Sunday school lesson to teach on controlling your speech and I have just failed miserably by saying some hurtful words.”

To be honest, I avoided my coworker that entire day. I knew that I had deeply hurt him and upset him and so I just kept my distance. After two restless nights, I decided that I needed to apologize to him for the way that I had conducted myself and for the unkind words that I had spoken. I reached out to him and tried to apologize but he was not really interested in anything that I had to say at that point. And for the remainder of that day and night, I just felt miserable. This was simply the worst feeling that I have experienced in recent memory. And to make matters worse, I had to teach a Sunday school lesson on controlling your speech! How could I do that without being a hypocrite? I recall thinking that God must be having a good laugh at the predicament that I had myself in.

Fast forward to Sunday morning and I notice that our attendance is a little lower this morning. Good, I thought, maybe I can somehow teach this lesson and just get this over with. Someone then remarked (jokingly of course) that our topic this week must have been too difficult for our absent class members to handle and I sank lower into my seat. “Great, I’m the teacher and this topic is too much for me to handle,” I recall thinking. When the moment came to share a time when you said something that you wished you could take back, no one spoke up with a real life example. Through the piercing silence, I could almost hear God saying to me, “Go ahead and tell the class what you did this week.” And so I did.

I gave them the ugly details of how I used words to tear someone down instead of building them up. They listened and someone asked me if I had apologized. I told them that I did and that my apology was not well received. I must say that it was a relief to confess my failure to “tame my tongue.”  Nevertheless, I knew that I had to attempt to apologize again for the hurtful words that I had spoken.

I went back to my coworker and I asked him if we could talk privately for a moment. He agreed and we sat down in my office. Without making any excuses, I simply told him that I was sincerely sorry for what I said to him. I told him that it was not in my nature to tear other people down and that I hoped he could forgive me someday. He looked at me and said, “I have already forgiven you.” I won’t go into any further details except to say that at that moment a huge burden was lifted from me. While going back to this man a second time and asking for forgiveness was a difficult thing to do, it was most certainly the right thing to do.

I want to leave you with this one last passage from James. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). Forgive us God, when we curse instead of bless, all men and women, who are created in your image.

 

A Citizen of Heaven

Philippians 3: 20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

My grandfather, Cleve Simmons, was a deacon in his Banks County church. He was a farmer, and a good Christian man.  I spent a lot of time with him as I was growing up, and he always had many stories about his life that he shared with me.Although I didn’t realize it at the time, these stories taught me many valuable life lessons that helped to influence and shape my life today.  My grandfather was wise in the way that you should live your life in order to please God.

He had so much wisdom that he would pass on to me throughout my teen years.  He believed and had a deep faith in God, and he did not doubt for a second, that God was with him each and every day of his life. He believed in treating other people fairly, helping out those in need, and loving his neighbors as well as his family.  That was the kind of life that he tried to live out in his small farming community in Banks County.

My grandfather lived all of his 89 years in his beloved Banks County.  In fact, he rarely traveled outside  the state of Georgia.  Whenever I would ask him to take a day trip with us to Atlanta or to go on a short vacation he would always answer me the same way, he would say, “Son, I haven’t lost anything there, so there’s no need for me to go.”

He was a citizen of Banks County and of the United States and he was proud of that.  But more importantly, he knew that he was a citizen of another place, a place that he couldn’t see but he knew that it existed.  He was also a citizen of heaven and that was one journey that he looked forward to.

He and I talked a lot about heaven.  He would tell me what he imagined heaven to be like. We would often try to picture in our minds, the beauty of heaven and the sounds of heaven. He told me how much he looked forward to seeing his parents and his brothers again, as well as his son who had passed away from cancer at the young age of 39.  He was dedicated to living a good Christian life while here on this earth and showing kindness and offering help to those less fortunate.  

My grandfather was not a wealthy man, but he would give what he could to anyone in need. He knew that money and earthly possessions are temporary.  For us as believers, we know that we will receive our reward in heaven. Paul, writing in Colossians, reminds us that we are to “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Many early spiritual writers often compare our earthly life to a journey, urging us to keep our eyes fixed on heaven as our final goal.  Saint Augustine wrote: “We are but travelers on a journey, without as yet a permanent dwelling; we are on our way, but not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, but not yet of enjoyment.  But let us continue on our way, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.”

What would a co-worker or a neighbor think if you told them that you are a citizen of heaven? Would they be able to notice that your behavior and your values are different from those of the world that we live in? Would they notice something different about the way that you live your life that might compel them to want to know more about your faith? What would happen if we lived out our lives every day on this earth with the mind set that we are citizens of heaven?  Would that change the way that we interact with family, friends, co-workers, fellow church members and even strangers?

As Christians, we are called to live out our lives here on this earth, while keeping in mind that we are also citizens of heaven. We hold a kind of dual citizenship – on earth and in heaven. The book of Hebrews tells us, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” However, it is that promise of a future home in heaven that should make us better people here on this earth.

So how do we live out our lives as citizens of heaven, while here on this earth? We are not expected to lead perfect lives, because honestly, none of us can do that. We are however, called to show compassion and forgiveness, just as Christ had compassion on us and forgave us.

The Christian awaits the coming of Christ, at which everything will be changed.  In our present earthly form, our bodies are subject to change and decay, illness and death. However, the day will come when we will put aside this mortal body which we now possess and we will receive, as Paul writes, a “glorious” body. No matter how much pain, no matter how much hurt, no matter how many disappointments, this old world gives us, we as Christians, live with the hope and the promise of an eternal life with God in which everything will be changed and made new and glorious.

Can you imagine a place where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears?   It’s difficult to imagine such a place, because it seems that here on earth, we experience these things on a daily basis.  But in heaven, all of our pain and suffering and tears will be taken away and we will live for eternity in worship and service to God.  How wonderful it will be to praise God, our creator, when we stand before Him in heaven.

My grandfather understood this and I witnessed this in the final hours that he lived on this earth. He would be conscious one moment and then he would drift out on us the next.  I remember going into his hospital room on the night he passed from this earth.

When I walked into his room, he opened his eyes and said “Hey son, it’s good to see you.”  He would continue to be in this world for a few minutes and then he would have visions of heaven which he would describe out loud to those of us present.  I knew that he was about to experience that beautiful heaven that he and I had so often talked and wondered about.

He saw his brothers and he called them by name.  And then he drifted out on us again. I have often wondered about his arrival in heaven and who was there to greet him among his family that had gone on before him.  I often wonder who was in his welcoming committee in heaven. His last words to me were, “Son, it’s good to see you”, and I imagine that when he arrived in heaven he was also told, “Son, it’s good to see you, welcome home to the place that I have prepared for you, for eternity.”

May God help us to keep ourselves focused on living out our lives on this earth as citizens of heaven.

                                                                     

 

 

Where is God when I need him?

As you read this devotional writing today, it is likely that you are striving to “hear” from God or to at least feel His presence in some way in your life. This world that we live in can be demanding and at times overwhelming. There are moments when we question God’s presence in the midst of our pain and disappointment. This world that we live in can cause us to lose hope. You may be feeling discouraged today because you want to feel God’s presence but instead you feel nothing. Recalling the words of Matthew 7:7, we pray, we ask, we seek, we knock, but yet we are met with silence. God, I know that you promised to never leave me or forsake me but I need some reassurance that you are with me in the midst of my suffering.

Jesus had just shared the Last Supper with his disciples and was explaining to them the events that would soon take place. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in order to show them how much he loved them. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1). Our Lord and Savior then predicted that one of his disciples (Judas) would betray him and even Peter would soon disown Jesus three times. Jesus then tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). Do you trust in the things of this world or do you place your faith and trust in God?

Yesterday was one of those days in which the world sent a lot of trouble my way. Normally when this happens, I remind myself to stop and seek God and ask for guidance and peace. However on this occasion, things began to unravel so quickly that I failed to seek God or ask for His calming presence. I was reminded of just how difficult the world can be to those who follow Christ. As followers of Christ we are warned that this world will cause disappointment, heartache, and pain. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

So where is God in the midst of our pain and suffering? Why does it seem that God is silent when we call out to him and plead for some assurance that He is with us? There are times when God chooses to not reveal himself to us and we must honor that because God has given us that same free will to make our own decisions in life. I believe that God often is working on a solution to our present problems while we are in the midst of them. We all must make a choice; do we follow the world or do we follow God? If we decide to follow God we can be assured that God is always present with us, whether we can sense His presence or not.

As Joshua was preparing to succeed Moses and lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, Moses spoke these words from God to all of Israel. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:eight). That same promise applies to all believers today. God is always with us and God goes before us to guide us along the path that He calls us to follow.

Jesus said, “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 14:27). May the peace of Christ be with you and guide you in the knowledge that Christ has already overcome this world and defeated Satan and all the powers of evil. In this world we will have trouble, but in Christ we can experience complete peace. As followers of Christ we have been given the assurance of eternal life. Remember that promise when the world sends trouble your way. May God be with you and bless you today.

 

A Word of Encouragement

Psalm 30:4-5 (NIV): Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

I have been writing this blog for over three years now and I believe that God has used my simple words to encourage and draw people into a closer relationship with him. From time to time, people will write to me with words of thanks for something that I wrote that helped them hear God’s word just when they needed it the most. And many times, those comments about something that I wrote, serve to inspire and encourage me to continue on in what I do. Today, just when I needed encouragement the most, I received it from someone who read my blog and took the time to let me know that God touched them through me.

Lately, I have been struggling with God over my calling. I have prayed and wrestled with God over what He wants me to do. Of course, I think that I know better than God what’s best for me and I am often guilty of trying to coerce God into doing things my way. Over the last month, I have asked God to help me let go of my will and allow God’s will to take over my life. It’s difficult to surrender and agree to let God take control. By inviting God to direct our lives, we must give up control over our lives, and allow God to lead us to places where we are fearful of going. And that can be scary! But in order to grow and serve, we must allow God to place us in situations where we are uncomfortable or feel ill-equipped. It’s in these types of circumstances that God shapes us into who He wants us to be. So I am learning to allow God to grow me and use me in the way that He desires. And as I see success in areas where I am uncomfortable, I know without a doubt that it was God and not myself that was responsible for that success.

In writing my blog I often wonder if I truly help anyone with what I am sending out into cyberspace. I question if I am wasting my time and I begin to think that God should use me in other ways. I try to explain to God that I am not a writer and there are many other ways that He could use me that would make more sense. And then God reminds me that He can take any words of mine and use them to touch the lives of people as He sees fit. And today, just when I needed some encouragement I received it. A reader of Daily Walk with God wrote to me today and said, “I don’t know who you are, but God used you today.” This is all God, because He used me in spite of my glaring weakness and resistance.

Like the psalmist, I “sing to the Lord” and “praise his holy name.” There has been more than a night of weeping for me lately, but praise God, it’s morning and now there is rejoicing! God has been so incredibly good to me and I am learning on my own daily walk with God to allow God to take over my life and lead me into those places where I have no other choice but to trust and lean on Him. Will you do the same?