Thursday, February 23, 2006

Taming the Tongue (James 3)

Taming the tongue. A statement like that conjures up many images. Maybe it brings to mind something horrible you heard someone saying in the hallways of school. Maybe it reminds you of a time in which you said something you later regretted. Whatever it is, James reminds us it is no small task to tame one’s tongue. And I think we see that in a day-to-day basis in our encounters with people.

TV shows (whether news or sitcoms) are chalked full of boldfaced people who say whatever comes to their mind. Might I even dare say…we enjoy that kind of entertainment? What’s better than watching two people duke it out with words? (Oh I know, two people duking it out with their fists!) Imagine what would be said of the Hollywood star that never retorted back at someone who intentionally belittled them with words? They would be laughed at for not responding. They would be laughed at for taming their tongue. They would be laughed at for obeying the Word of God.

On a more personal level, I find it hard to not snap back at someone who lashes out at me verbally (even if I don’t verbally assault them, I do it in my mind). But in studying James, I’ve been convicted (by the Holy Spirit). This has led to a discovery in my life of two things.

1. I can’t control my tongue. There are too many occasions where I say something only to regret it an hour later. I look at the situations I face and easily see I don’t measure up to what God desires. Case and point: Jesus Christ. What a knock on the head when we see God Himself taking insults, beatings, and being spit upon by His creation and He never once retaliates physically or verbally (see Mark 15:15,29,31, Matt 27:30). It would have angered me and surely I would have said or done something, it broke His heart and He remained silent. This brings out a noticeable difference between Jesus the Christ and myself (not that it would have been hard to find any in the first place), He can control His tongue, and I can’t.

2. I need help in controlling my tongue. Who will come to our aid in such a devastating situation? For us Christians, it is not who will come, but Who is already there. The Holy Spirit living inside all believers (Ephesians 1:13) will give us strength to hold our tongues. What do we need to do? Surrender (and sometimes it is very hard) our will and what we want to do to Him. In turn, our will is replaced with God’s will. I challenge you to do that this week. When someone rips into you verbally, pause for a moment, remain silent, and surrender any inclination to strike back to God. Do it and see what happens. I double dog dare you!

Practical Advice for taming the tongue

1) Think before you speak. You don’t have to instantly snap back at someone when they say something harsh to you.
2) If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. It is better to walk away from a situation saying nothing then to add to it. (Check out Ephesians 4:29)
3) Begin each day with a simple prayer: God help me to watch what I say to others.
4) If you hear something negative being said about someone, walk away. If your friends ask you why you did that, tell them you don’t want to be a part of unwholesome talk. (Ephesians 4:29)
5) Practice the spiritual discipline of silence. Try going a whole day without saying a word. Try only listening.
6) If you have something unwholesome, negative, or bad to say about someone, tell God first. Try going to God with everything, even your thoughts. Do this before talking to someone else. Live by the principle: Everything I say or write I’m able to share with God first.
7) Remember that you will have to give an account on Judgment day for every careless word you speak. (Matthew 12:36) So, no matter what you say or where you say it (even if it’s a harsh comment said anonymously on the internet), you will be held accountable.If you do or have messed up with words, go to the person and apologize. Even if they don’t forgive you (sometimes it may be hard for a person to forgive you), God will.

Your thoughts on the issue of taming the tongue?
Any other practical advice you could offer?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Discipling New Christians (Acts 14)

We started Acts 14 last night in youth group and didn’t get through the whole chapter. So, here are some observations on something we started to talk about and will continue next week.

Acts 14 gives us some practical advice on what to do with new Christians. Paul and Barnabas, on their first missionary journey to the region of Galatia won (with the help of God of course!) many converts to Christianity. But, they also encountered resistance in these cities. I’m talking about resistance that led to Paul being dragged out of one city and stoned (v.19). However, despite impending trouble, Paul and Barnabas made trips back to these very cities to disciple new believers (v.21-22).

So, what does the Paul and Barnabas model of discipleship look like?

1. They strengthened and encouraged the disciples to remain true to the faith, Acts 14:21-22. What all does this involve? Looking at Paul’s sermons one could guess he elaborated on Jesus. Maybe focusing on who He was (God’s Son, God, Savior), why He came and had to die (forgiveness of sins and salvation to all who believe, even Gentiles), His resurrection (what that personally meant to Paul since he encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, what that meant for the Gentiles, and how that is the driving force behind Christianity). I’m sure Paul and Barnabas nailed all the corners down on the basics of Christianity.

2. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust, Acts 14:23-24. It wasn’t enough to just have new Christians. Paul and Barnabas needed leaders to lead this new congregation. Paul may have charged these leaders with the task of preaching and teaching God’s truth. Whatever it was the fact remains that leaders were appointed. And it seems this was no light task because prayer and fasting were involved. So, we have in the Paul and Barnabas model of discipleship two key components:
1. Strengthening and encouraging disciples to remain true to the faith. (Teaching correct doctrine and beliefs about Christianity.)
2. Appointing elders. (Passing leadership on to someone else in the Church.)

Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Dead Disiciple (Acts 9)

In youth group we just finished studying Acts 13 this week. So, I want to backtrack just a little and talk about something we looked at a few weeks ago. It happened in Acts 9.

Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea is Jerusalem’s seaport city Joppa. Not much going on here. A death just took place, a disciple by the name of Tabitha, a woman who enjoyed making clothes, doing good things for others, and helping the poor. Her death saddened those closest to her and a time of mourning was in place. Gloomy times for Joppa. But, a splinter of hope was rising amongst the disciples in Joppa. Word has it that there’s a man nearby with the ability to bring her back to life. Who is it? Long time disciple and follower of Jesus, Peter. (Acts 9:36-38)

The disciples send for this man named Peter. He hears their predicament and eagerness for help. Knowing what it’s like to lose someone, he travels to Joppa. He’s greeted with tears and hugs and taken to the upstairs room where Tabitha laid washed and waiting for burial. Friends, family, and widows have paid their respects. A handful of widows still remain with her in the room weeping. Peter feels the heartache of those around him and asks them to leave the room. Some think he’s just going to pay his respects and pray over her. A few minutes go by and suddenly the door opens, Peter reappears aglow with a smile on his face, Tabitha is standing by his side. She’s been given the breath of life again; she’s alive! (Acts 9:39-43)

Before Pentecost (Event in which disciples were given Holy Spirit. See Acts 2 for the whole story), Peter couldn’t have done something like this. But, after the outpouring of the third Person of the Trinity (Holy Spirit), Peter’s life was changed. He had received the same Spirit flowing eternally back and forth between the first Person of the Trinity (The Father) and second Person (Jesus). The Spirit is life because the Spirit is God. Three distinct Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) who make up our One great God (think too hard about it and it hurts, at least for me). And Peter, by faith in Jesus Christ was welcomed into the Trinity, not to be made or turned into a god, but to become like God.

I read this short story in Acts 9:36-43 and my curiosity is peaked. To think of Peter bringing someone back from the dead seems absurd! Healing a cripple is plausible, but bringing a dead person back to life? But, why should it surprise me? Those of us who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead are given a deposit. Ephesians 1:13 reminds us of what that deposit is: The Holy Spirit. So, I shouldn’t be surprised at God’s ability to work through Peter in the Person of the Holy Spirit to raise the dead. This wasn’t the first time God raised someone from the dead.
- What do you think of this story?
- Do you find it hard to believe? Peter bringing someone back to life?
- Have you ever heard of this happening today?

*Side note: After raising Tabitha from the dead look at what happens in Joppa. The event grabs the attention of many people and they believe in the Lord. (Acts 9:42)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Preaching Jesus (Acts 13)

Acts 13 sweeps us away with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Their first stop is an island named Cyprus. Rich in copper, paganism, and scenery, Cyprus was a missionary’s dream stop. Upon arrival, Paul and Barnabas start preaching the Word of God (v. 5). At Paphos, a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus (Elymas) balked against their message. He didn’t like what they had to say and made sure they knew it. He apparently had some influence over the Roman proconsul on Cyprus (Sergius Paulus) because he tried preventing him from hearing the Good News (v. 8). Then Paul steps in…

Unyielding to opposition, Paul stood up to Bar-Jesus. He called him what he was (a child of the Devil) and with the help of God summoned blindness upon Bar-Jesus (v. 11). Imagine being able to blind someone because they opposed your message about Jesus? (Think of the many lawsuits that would incur if used in our day and age?) This sign from God, along with the teachings about Jesus, was enough to convince the Roman proconsul (of which Bar-Jesus was an attendant) to become a believer (v. 12). Once again, God takes an initially bad situation and turns it around and uses it for the building of His Kingdom (See article on suffering to learn more about that).

I find Paul’s stand against opposition amazing. This is just the beginning too! Acts is filled with numerous occasions where Paul stands toe to toe with unbelievers and persecutors (some so mad they wanted him dead!). And through all of this he doesn’t back down or water down his message. He keeps preaching the truth about Jesus Christ. Really we shouldn’t be surprised, the Holy Spirit enables us to take a stand for truth. That’s just one of the many activities of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Paul stood up for the message of Jesus Christ despite the reality of discord. Could you do it?

My observation from this passage is the opposition Paul and Barnabas face because of their diligence in proclaiming the Word of God. To be honest I have never faced this type of hostility for preaching Jesus. Sure, I could brush it off and say it’s because of the country we live in, but is it? Doesn’t the Bible say if we love God the world is going to hate us? Or is America excluded from that? I’ve yet to come face to face with a Bar-Jesus (an outspoken critic against the message of Jesus Christ). I wonder how I would fare amidst friction against my Christians beliefs? So, here are my questions for you to think about this week:

- Have you ever been opposed for preaching Jesus Christ? (I’m not talking about Internet discussion either, but real life stuff.)
- When’s the last time somebody intentionally disagreed with you because you proclaimed the Word of God?
- If we never come up against or experience opposition does that mean we’re not really preaching the Gospel? The true Gospel of forgiveness offered by God, through His Son, by death on a cross (who was then resurrected) for our sins? What do you think?