The tongue is a restless rascal. Words seem to jump out of our mouth without ever crossing through our mind. Once out, they are irretrievable. As much as we may regret them, they are out there forever. They build up and tear down. They encourage and discourage. They carry a punch that lingers for a very long time. Words. Potent weapons however they are used.
They originate deep down in our most inner self. We call it the heart (Matthew 15:18), and the thoughts that spill out of our lips start way down there. We communicate our genuine selves in consonants and vowels that form words which express ideas. We seldom give them a lot of thought, and that is a mistake. They are capable of healing hurts or causing them. They slash and burn or comfort and console. They are unforgettable.
God told us long ago of their power and how poorly we handle them (James 3:1-12). It’s as if our tongue has a mind of its own. Like a windblown ship that goes wherever its pilot guides it with a small rudder or a horse controlled by a tiny bit. The tongue is relatively insignificant but seems to control us more than we control it. Sound familiar? Have you ever felt sorry for your choice of words? They sting the hearer and haunt the speaker. Neither forgets. A single match can set a great forest ablaze.
We have been able to tame all sorts of critters, but the tongue still seems beyond our control. We praise our God and curse those who are created in His image. James fills a paragraph with an assortment of images (Using words, by the way!) to open our eyes to the need to watch our mouths. Blessings and curses come from the same vocal cords. That is not the way it should be.
Christians should be different. No, Christians MUST be different. Every word is significant. There is no place for indecent or obscene language. In the middle of his discussion about our speech, Paul mentions the possibility of grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:32). Imagine how we would guard our language if we could see the Spirit of God flinch with disappointment and sadness every time we spoke inappropriately. Every sentence is a fresh opportunity to encourage and edify, to glorify and honor our Savior. Let’s not waste them.
We are children of God and that brings both blessings and responsibilities. We represent Him wherever we go and whatever we say. Speech is not just words but also the manner in which they are spoken. “…But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…(Ephesians 4:15).” It is our Lord’s design and desire that our speech be uniquely Christian. His ears are everywhere. It matters. Let’s not let Him down.
We come to the Lord with broken, ragged lives. Some have ventured from the depths of the darkness and others out of the dubious shadows of respectability from a worldly perspective. All have the same need: God. There are a variety of histories, and each of us has a unique story. All have sinned just in different ways. Satan is as clever as ever and traps us all in our weakness and often in our pride. He dictates, we obey and another soul is lost.
Time passes and we forget how we were. Scripture consistently reminds us to remember, not to dwell but just to recall where we have come from. It prevents a prideful condescending attitude of judgment. We were dead. The lethal effects of sin left us in the hands of the enemy, and he used every weapon in his arsenal to manipulate us as mere puppets on a string (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have all been there, and then God stepped in (Verse 4).
It is humbling to realize our total dependence on God in this matter, but dead people can do nothing to revive themselves. He grants life where there was none. We came in pitiful condition: foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved. Our actions of malice, envy and hate demonstrated our wickedness (Titus 3:3). The ugly list includes moral sins of all kinds (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We find ourselves repulsed by what we once embraced, but we must not reject those who come with that kind of a resume (Titus 3:2). They need the Lord’s resurrecting power and life-changing Spirit, just like we did and still do.
Jesus came under harsh criticism from the religious establishment for the people with whom He associated. They steered clear of those sinful types and tax collectors while the Lord sat right among them. His reasoning was, as always, impeccable. They are the ones who need Him. Sick people need a doctor. Their illness was sin. He was the cure. Well people (Of which, without God’s healing there are none!) need no physician. He came down to earth to be among the people who needed Him. And what about us?
Where would we be in that picture? Criticizing or seeking to share the healing power of the Lord? Or in the case of the prodigal son, who would we be most like? The lost boy who came home (That is who we are!), the Father who welcomed him (Like God welcomes us) or the huffy older brother who resented the grace-filled celebration? It is easy to forget our own past and take on the role of the critic. Sundays bring us face-to-face with the reminder of how we became children of God. It wasn’t a bright, shiny, sin-free lifestyle but a crucified Savior. We were dead but God…two powerful, hope-filled words…but God…resurrected us (Ephesians 2:4-5). He is rich in mercy. Shouldn’t we be?
The spotlight falls squarely on the Son of God. He is the focus. Without Him, we would have no hope. His journey began in the eternal realm on equal footing with God. He was God. All of creation came into being through Him, whether visible or invisible. Life is meaningless apart from Him. He lights the way for all who choose to follow. That is the pathway for both spiritual healing and sense of purpose. He is our everything.
His arrival was angelically announced to shepherds. He found His first dwelling among animals. He was almighty God in an infant’s body totally dependent on the humans He created. His adolescent years were scarcely noticed. History records very little until His thirtieth birthday. Then for three brief years, He turned the world upside down.
He embraced the rejects and the marginal. Many of the sinners found Him irresistible, and the religious aristocrats saw Him as an irritant. He ate with objectionable riff raff; you know those people from the wrong side of the tracks. He rubbed elbows with Samaritans and butted heads with the spiritual hypocrites. His footsteps rattled the world and angered the establishment. Ultimately, they could take it no more and formed a conspiracy to do away with Him. Or so they thought. They played right into God’s hands.
His own countrymen, who should have recognized Him, didn’t. The civil authorities joined the party spearheaded by the Jewish leadership and the entire bunch was whipped into a frenzy. They beat Him. Spit on Him. Slapped Him around. Mocked Him. And eventually nailed Him to a cross. They accomplished what they wanted. God did, too. All the sins of history went to that cross with Him. He hoisted the load and took it away. What a Savior!
It would have appeared that it was over. The messianic wannabe had been dealt with once and for all. They failed to see the events from the eternal perspective. Human eyes cannot see the total plan and power of the Lord. Focus on the crucified Jesus, and we don’t see the whole picture. Yes, He died. He was buried. It is a partial view until we add the empty tomb. Only then do we begin to have the full concept.
The gospel message, the good news of Jesus Christ takes us beyond the death and burial to the never-ending hope of resurrection. Even that is not the end. Ascension to heaven is. It is a trail that leads to God. Jesus went through it all to take us to the Father. There is no other way. He leads. We follow.
This weekend we turn the spotlight on Jesus, where it belongs. He lived, died, rose and ascended for us. It is a wonderful, hope-filled story of redemption and salvation. It is His story and ours to tell. Now is a great time to “Share the Son.”
We step hesitantly. He is a holy God. We are unholy people. Sin has a way of working on our minds. The eternally perfect Creator is approachable. That seems unlikely, maybe even far-fetched. His Son made that not only possible but encouraged, even mandated. It is a walkway bathed in pure, sinless blood. Jesus goes before us to open the way.
He took on the full human experience so that He could meet the devil on his turf and destroy his power. The fear of death had a stranglehold on everyone. The Son of God came to break those bonds by dying and rising. The devil is a powerful foe but no match for the Lord. Death is finally seen for the fraud that it is. It is a comma not a period. There is life beyond the tomb, and Jesus proved it (Hebrews 2:14-15).
His humanity was a prerequisite for His eternal role. He is a high priest serving at the right hand of God in a merciful and faithful way (Hebrews 2:16-18). It is a relationship that even the angels do not have but only the Lord’s faithful people. His brief stay on earth exposed Him to the temptations and struggles that we have. No one understands our needs better than He does. He paid the debt we owed and stands ready to assist us along our journey. His message? Draw near to God.
The grave could not hold Him, and earth could not contain Him. He ascended to His role as high priest in heaven (Hebrews 4:14-16). His journey enabled Him to sympathize with the human condition. He endured every kind of temptation, just like we do. Although He never gave in, He understands our weaknesses. We are not as resistant as we might think. The evil one is incredibly clever and will snatch us away in the valley of temptation. Jesus knows. He has made the trip and is always there on our behalf.
It is in those moments of failure that He serves us the most. We stumble and fall. Guilt sets in. We feel ashamed to face our God at the time when we need Him the most. Instead, we hide at a distance. He urges us to come to the throne of grace, not a throne of judgment and condemnation, but of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Draw near. Grace and mercy are awaiting us there. Jesus sees to that.
We may enter into the very presence of almighty God because of who our high priest is. We approach Him with openness and kindness. The entry price has been paid. We have access through the blood of the Son of God to draw near. We bring a sincere heart and total trust before the throne. It seems improbable, but it isn’t. He came to us, so that we can go to Him. We must not squander the privilege.
Lost souls are everywhere. They occupy the dark alleys and back streets. They are the violent and criminal. They are the outcasts of society. These are the ones who are easy to spot. Their lifestyle is front and center, but some are not so obvious. They are the reputable who live in the nice houses, drive the fancy cars and work at the prestigious companies. They are just as dead. They simply live in fancier coffins.
The Lord has redeemed His church for a mission. Good works characterize His people, and there is no better task than seeking those who are trapped in sin. We may have difficulty identifying them because they look like everybody else, maybe even better. Their darkness is usually covered over with the veneer of success. Inside, they are empty.
They may be in the pew next to us. Maybe, it is us. That deep darkness is within. Our Sunday best has nothing to do with the kind of person we really are. A fancy chandelier shines no light on that internal problem. Jesus warned of the danger that consumes us when our focus is wrong (Matthew 6:22-23). It grows in intensity as it permeates every aspect of life. These people are all around us. Do we see them? Are we looking?
Several men knew that their friend’s condition was beyond their ability (Mark 2:1-12). He needed help above and beyond their skills, and there was only one place to look. Jesus was in the neighborhood, and they were convinced that He was the solution. So, they sought Him and were stymied by a crowd. There always seem to be people between the needy and the Lord. It was time for an unorthodox approach. Faith will do that. It will find some kind of way to get people to Jesus.
So, up on the roof they went ripping the tiles apart and lowering their friend to the great physician. It was then and there that the picture froze. Jesus did not immediately heal the visible problem. Paralysis is horrible but sin is worse. He declared the cure for the worst. Huh? Who can do that but God alone? The implications are enormous.
God in human form? Forgiving sins? What about that physical matter? Yes, He took care of that but the more important issue was the sins, and the healing of the body proved His authority to heal the soul. The Lord cares about both. We should, too. The four roof-snatchers had faith in Christ which He saw and honored.
Does our faith drive us like that? To go to extremes to get the spiritually lame to the only hope they have? They are everywhere in deep need. He is the great healer of both body and soul, but the crowd still stands in the way. Will we help them get beyond it? Will our faith rip off the roof?
Labor Day has rolled around once again and a time to tip our national hats to those who clock in everyday to keep the country running. This became a national holiday in 1894 and has been celebrated ever since. In an age when dependable workers are increasingly hard to find, appreciation for those who take the jobs that must be done (Especially the yucky ones!) has grown. A single day each year seems inadequate, but it is a time to thank those who labor.
It is easy to take them for granted, especially the ones who work behind the scenes and those who do the unpleasant tasks. Let’s face it, there are some nasty jobs that very few of us are anxious to do. Among them is cleaning up other people’s garbage. It’s not my trash; why should I pick it up? Imagine what it would be like if everyone had that attitude. I didn’t break it, so I’m not going to fix it. Thanks to those we never see who tidy up our messes, especially the spiritual ones.
We all had a mess that we could not resolve: sin. There is not a soap in the world that could wash away the consequences of our own transgressions. We are left with the grit and grime of Satan’s fingerprints which are not simply external. That’s only part of the picture. Yes, we leave a trail of wreckage, but that’s not all. We have the internal damage of distorted values and twisted logic. We seek to hide but cannot. Guilt sets in. We search for an anesthetic (What is ours? Sex? Pornography? Illegal drugs? Legal drugs like alcohol? Food?) but there is none. We are desperate for a deep cleansing and realize we cannot do it, but who can?
Jesus, the Son of God, came for just that reason. He entered into flesh and blood to bring grace and truth. His mission was one of salvation and deliverance. He had every right to bring a sentence of condemnation but chose not to. Instead, He battled with the self-righteous and extended mercy to the sinful. He did not minimize sins. He would never do that because of its devastation that he experienced firsthand. Nails punctuated the sentence. Sin is brutal, and sinners need to be cleaned up. Only His blood can do that.
His mission did not end that day on the cross, nor did it stop at the empty tomb. He ascended to the right hand of God to continue. He is still on the job for His family. He is our advocate with the Father when we stumble and fall (1 John 2:1). He remains in the presence of God on behalf of Christians (Hebrews 9:24). He came two thousand years ago to clean up the mess of sin and has never stopped. Today and every Sunday, we remember. Happy Labor Day!
The prayer of the apostle is bold, powerful and exemplary for us (Ephesians 3:14-21). We approach the One who shaped us in our mother’s womb, knows everything about our words and deeds, is fully acquainted with the length of our days and has infinite love for each of us. This powerful God with whom we converse has capabilities beyond our limited understanding. He can raise the dead, and He stands ready to put that power to work within His people.
It is impossible to fully grasp the significance of prayer as we approach the God of creation. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and Christians approach Him as their Father. This brief prayer (It takes less than a minute to read!) takes us into the spiritual stratosphere of being filled to the fullness of God. That seems impossible, but we are also reminded that He can do more than we can even imagine. This remarkable Being is waiting to hear from us.
The plea goes straight to the inner person; seeking strength from the Spirit that we might be a totally Christ-centered people. We are not pursuing a casual association with the One born in Bethlehem. We do not join the world with a nod at Easter and Christmas then put Him back on the shelf for the rest of the year. We long to have Him take up residence in our very heart, and that will only happen through faith. That is the foundation.
We will never be pleasing children without faith (Hebrews 11:6). We might go through the motions; sing the songs, break the bread, contribute to the work and hear the Scriptures read and preached on a weekly basis but we will fall short until we put unflinching trust in our Creator. That leads us to the higher ground of Christ occupying our hearts. That is when we really begin to transform into the church for which He died.
Love grows where Christ lives, and that is the pinnacle (1 Corinthians 13:13). It secures us in His church with deep roots and a firm foundation. Christians won’t waver with such a base. They become dependable and trustworthy because their confidence is not in a mortal person but in an immortal Savior. He lives in us, and we grow in our comprehension of His love for us and begin to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-2). God’s fullness becomes a reality. That concept stretches our minds beyond human capacity. “Filled to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).” And that brings us back to Him who can do the impossible. He is able (Ephesians 3:20). It is a simple statement pulsating with potential. He is able. He delivered the Israelites through the Red Sea, Daniel through the lion’s den and Jesus through the cross and tomb. That is our God, too. And He is our Father waiting for us to ask. He is able.
Anger seems to be ruling the day. The rage smolders like a covered pot on the stove ready to boil over as the media, hate-groups and politicians turn up the rhetorical heat. Unprovoked attacks on our streets are a daily occurrence, and drive-by shootings are no longer headline news. Cities have turned into war zones, and the authorities have no idea what to do. What can we do?
Several generations ago the powers-that-be decided God was a bad idea. They kicked Him out of school, and trouble soon stepped in. Fist fights behind the gym slowly evolved into drawn knives and ultimately turned into pulled guns. Cops replaced the Lord in the hallways, and chaos ensued. What can be done? Clearly, booting the Deity wasn’t a good idea.
The time is ripe for the light of the world to shine once again in that brutal darkness. Jesus Christ is the solution, and it is our task to present Him to a woefully lost world. We must not retreat from our mission. It is no longer adequate to focus our attention on those folks over there, wherever “over there” may be. Overseas is good but our country is in trouble, and there is a desperate need for revival within the body of Christ in our neighborhood.
Closing our eyes and locking our doors is no longer an option. The Son of God engaged the unsavory characters of the world, and left the same task for His followers. Lost people need directions. Sick people need a physician. Darkness needs light. The dead need life. It is urgent that we take what we have and share it. Jesus is the answer to all of these needs and more.
God saw a sinful and needy people and sent His Son so that we might believe and be saved. Why? Why did the eternal Creator take such an extraordinary step? Because He loved us. In all of our wayward behavior and poor judgments, He extended to us a way out. Hope that our tomorrows would be better than our yesterdays. That the light would overcome the darkness. That we would find meaning and purpose. It is all grounded in His compassionate love for humanity.
His love is not dependent on our love for Him. It does not falter depending on how we behave. It is consistent. Our response to that love will determine whether we receive the eternal benefits that it offers, but He never wavers. God is love. Are we? How shall we respond to the state of our surroundings? With love?
The Son of God came to save, resurrect, heal and repair the damage that sin had inflicted on the objects of His Father’s love. It was a painful but essential mission. He laid down His life for us. Love does that. It gives, not because of who they are but because of who we are.
Jesus was a man on a mission. He was looking for the lost to bring them salvation (Luke 19:10). That would appear to be a noble focus, but not everyone agreed. We repeatedly see Him in conflict with the hierarchy of the covenant people of God. It is a curiosity that His harshest critics were the religious elite.
Sinners appear to be more comfortable with the Son of God than those who should have embraced Him. Throughout the ages, the Lord had provided for them spiritually and materially. Their existence was forged in centuries of enslavement, and their liberation came through a miraculous series of plagues. Led by an old man with a stick they came through the Red Sea to freedom. Then they faltered. After all that they had seen and experienced, they did not have adequate faith to take the land that God had promised. So, they wandered for four decades.
They had considerable history to draw upon. The Israelites knew the ups and downs of obedience and rebellion, trust and doubt. The Lord had communicated with them through His law and the prophets. He had entrusted them with His message and covenant, and they had squandered those blessings. The Savior came, and He was largely rejected (John 1:11-13). It is a dark world, and light that bright was not welcome. In fact, it is hated (John 3:19-20). He came anyway.
He knew He was stepping into a hostile environment. Sin had been distorting the world ever since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. We cannot reject paradise and expect it to end well. Turning away from the word of God begins a downward spiral into antagonism aimed at Lord and His people. His Son would feel the brunt of that like no one else ever will. His eyes were wide open. Searching for the lost was taking Him into enemy territory, and that is never a pleasant venture. He came anyway.
Condemnation was not His agenda. Sinners deserve it, but He came with a totally different purpose in mind. Love does that. It changes goals and the means by which they are achieved. Love stirred God’s heart (John 3:16). He sent His unique Son who invested fully in the mission. He sacrificed the glory for the gory to bring grace and truth to a mostly-disinterested world. They didn’t care. The same could be said for much of humanity today. He came anyway. It was to human rejection, hostility and a brutal execution that He came. It was the Father’s plan to look for and deliver sinners from slavery to freedom. He cooperated and gave up everything to give us life through His death. Following in his footsteps will take us into the same darkness seeking the lost, not to condemn but with the good news of salvation through Christ. It may not be pleasant, but we go anyway. He did.
The events in our nation’s recent history have been unsettling, to say the least. We are witnessing what appears to be the unravelling of our country. Violence escalates as values that we once held dear are rejected. Morality, or the lack of it, is shocking. Almost anything goes, and our institutions are supporting the slide. Biblical standards are ridiculed if not outright forbidden. It appears that we are on the road to self-destruction.
Trouble is brewing on all sides of the political spectrum as Christians helplessly watch. God’s faithful people seem to be shrinking in strength and number as the opposition gains momentum. Through it all, we must remember that God is still supreme. He continues to occupy the throne above all the thrones in this creation. He will always be the King of kings. We may feel puny, but He is not.
The eternal Creator has lost neither His power nor His authority. As confusing as world affairs may appear to us, He remains in ultimate control. It is hard to see as wickedness runs rampant, but He is and our faith is in Him not in any earthly organization. They will surely let us down. Our Lord will not but confusion still lingers. If He is really omnipotent, why doesn’t He do something?
The prophet Habakkuk saw his world in disarray and was totally perplexed (Habakkuk 1:1-4). How long was God going to allow all of this evil to go on? Was the Lord deaf to his pleas? The destruction and violence were everywhere. Everybody was fussing and fighting. Nobody paid attention to the law, the judicial system was all out-of-whack and the power was in the wrong hands. Sound familiar? So, we pray and wonder. How long will God put up with this? Can’t He hear us?
That was the context within which Habakkuk learned a powerful lesson about God. Yes, He could hear his requests for action against a corrupt society and would deal with it in a most unexpected way. In fact, it would be incomprehensible from a human point of view (Habakkuk 1:5). He would use evil to sweep away evil. The cleansing of His people would come at the hands of a powerful, wicked nation that was being sent by the King of kings. Who would have ever figured that?
We are appalled at the state of the world today. We stand against a deteriorating culture with our sense of powerlessness. We are outmanned and outgunned. We pray to our almighty God and wait. He seems either deaf or uncaring. The world gets worse, and the beat goes on. It does until He says it doesn’t. Then the end will come, either of the whole creation or a part of it. God is still God. Never forget. We may not understand, and probably won’t, but He will work it out in His own way.