So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” James 3:5
In James’ letter to the Christian Jews dispersed abroad, his references to the tongue (James 3:1-18) are quite a warning. He calls the tongue a fire, then goes on to say our tongues can be “the very world of iniquity,” --not exactly a walk into the world of positive thinking.
Sometimes we need warnings. They capture our attention (“Watch out!”), they caution us (“If you touch that, it will burn you.”) and they help us re-think our future decisions (“If you keep doing this, your health risks only increase”).
James probably realized his brothers and sisters needed a warning, but even in the warning he shows a way out. At the end of his missive on the tongue, he asks, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
As I was reading these verses one morning, I sensed the Lord moving me to write a quick text of encouragement to a friend. He would be on a stage that evening, attempting to move people’s hearts to reconsider their views regarding Jesus—in a sense, he would be evangelizing in a debate setting.
Usually I let these promptings wait until I’m done reading, but this time, I snagged my phone to jot out a text immediately.
When pulling up my text feature however, I already had a text from a friend 2,407 miles away. This friend—a pastor I met at a speaking engagement more than a year earlier—was getting in touch to say I and my family were on his mind. He was praying for us.
Sure, it was “just a text.” But it was a tremendous encouragement. And it was coming at just after 6 AM his time. We shared a couple of texts as we built up each other, which gave me the words for a quick word of hope and help for the friend who was in the Carolinas for his speaking engagement.
Going back to James’ letter, I realized the tongue can certainly be a fire. It can burn down relationships, damage our ability to advance the faith, and wreck the hearts of people we may not even know.
But, as James says (James 3:4), just like ships “are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires,” the tongue directs our lives. A friend in Oregon used his tongue (through something as innocuous as a text message) to direct not only his, but my life as well. And his text gave me an extra push to encourage another—who would be speaking to several hundred people that evening.
As I plopped my phone back down to get back to my buddy James, it hit me: Yes, the tongue is a fire. But not all fires are bad.
Some fires clear out bad stuff (scrub brush, etc.) so trees can flourish without fear of further fires. Other fires keep us warm and cozy.
Yes, a fire can be threatening. We don’t want our tongues starting those fires.
But our tongues can also burn away the dead brush in another’s life. And they can be a source of warmth for another when the world out there can be so cold.
Each day, we use our tongues to direct our lives—and those of others. In the process, we start fires. The question is, “Which kind?”
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
And when they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also;” Acts 17:6
Paul, Silas, Jason and others caused quite a stir in Thessalonica, where Paul spent three weeks with the Jewish community, convincing many of the good news of Jesus’ identity and mission.
Yet, whenever there is good news some will find a problem. So it was in Thessalonica, where the Jewish leaders became jealous as more and more were persuaded Paul was right by saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:3)
Because of their jealousy, the religious leaders of the day formed a mob (Acts 17:5), then dragged Jason and some of Paul’s friends in front of the city authorities, falsely accusing that “. . . they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:7)
Paul probably made it clear that Jesus was not on earthly king, so why the false accusation? What was the real problem?
The real problem was about power. The religious leaders enjoyed being served by those they ruled over. They had full authority to make proclamations regarding not only religion, but about how the world around them (in this case, the Jewish community) would function.
No one was allowed to question their leadership or their authority. In short, they had a great life—and all of the power they could ask for. Until Paul showed up.
Paul, Silas, Jason and others were offering something new. This good news challenged the one thing the leadership held dear: Their power base. For if Jesus is king, the religious leaders were subject to him and suddenly, everyone was on equal footing.
To the religious leaders, this “turned the world upside down,” – their world.
It’s no wonder they were angry and jealous, creating mobs and making false accusations. They would do anything to protect their personal kingdoms.
For us and those we serve however, the good news is truly Good News. When we see Jesus as King, there is joy in knowing our King is one of reconciliation, hope and promise. Our King’s decrees aren’t those of a dictator (“Do this or else!”) but one of love (“Love your neighbor as yourself”).
And just like Paul and his friends, when we embrace this good news and share it with others, some—like in Paul’s day—won’t be happy. But if we’re faithful, we might see the results Paul did, where many choose instead to join with us in proclaiming the greatest news ever told.
“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19
Paul had an interesting take on what he looked forward to in the coming kingdom. His focus seemed to be less about him and more about those who mentored and strengthened. What was Paul’s hope? His Joy? His future crown? Those churches he planted and strengthened.
In the pregnancy help community, we may not be planting churches. But we are acting as the church, in many ways . . .
Paul mentions in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” Sometimes we overlook the importance of planting. We immediately wish to see fruit, but we will never see fruit unless we plant, plant . . . and plant again.
In our ministries, we do this in various ways. Sometimes it is through a kind word at the receptionist’s desk, or a word of encouragement in a private room. It might be through a moment in the ultrasound room when we say only, “You can do this. I believe in you, and God believes in you, too.”
If we plant enough, there will be fruit. And this fruit can be a Crown of Our Exultation we may not see in the here and now.
Just like Apollos in Paul’s letter to Corinth, we water—more than we realize. Remember that encouraging word? Sometimes it is a seed, sometimes it is water to the soul. When the abused or the hurting seek our help, the one need is water, which provides growth to a seed which is languishing in drought.
Each day then, we not only plant. We water as well. Enough water leads to consistent growth which we may see in our Earn While You Learn setting, a Bible study or when we spend time with our dads.
As we move toward the close of 2018, let’s keep planting and keep watering.
Paul had a hope and a joy. And, he looked forward to a crown of exultation. While we can’t properly define this crown, we do know everything in Paul’s life started with those he served.
We serve. We keep reaching out. And we believe somehow, what we do makes a difference.
If we stay committed, I believe there will be a moment we cannot quite fathom. At that moment, we will see everything God accomplished through us. When this happens, I’m guessing there will be the joy of surprise, and the realization that everything we hope for (and more) took place.
Perhaps it is just me, but when this happens for Paul, I can see him clenching his fists, then punching his arms in the air and saying, “Yesssss!” All the labor, all the sacrifice, all the prayers . . . coming to fruition.
If this can take place for Paul, why not us? As 2019 begins then, let’s grab some seeds. We’ve got a crown to win.
“And he said, ‘A man had two sons.’” Luke 15:11
The story we know as “The Prodigal Son” is only recorded by Luke, yet Jesus’ rendition of this parable is one of the most-loved of all.
We’ve heard this story so often, we might overlook some of it if we’re not careful. Even the beginning, because it is in the first phrase where we find who this story is all about: A Father. Jesus even says so.
The rest of the story is common knowledge, in and out of Christianity. A son tells his father he wants his inheritance now, then squanders everything before coming to his senses. He goes back and asks his father for forgiveness. The father not only grants the forgiveness but throws a party because his son has come home and is back in the fold.
There is a back story of course. The other son is not happy, because he’s hung around the home all this time and did what he was told (but probably with a poor attitude). He complains that his father is celebrating a loose-living son’s return. The second son wants punishment for the prodigal, but dad is simply thrilled to see reconciliation take place.
Back to the beginning. “A man had two sons.” In the day and time Jesus spoke these words, fathers ruled the roost. No son would speak to a father like the prodigal did. In truth, asking for his inheritance early, in this culture, was akin to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead.” Really, it was.
So here was a dad, being figuratively spat upon by his own son. The one he raised. The one he nurtured and taught. The one to whom he would one day give half of all he owned. Instead of experiencing the love of his son, this dad was rejected in the worst way.
For this father, his entire world was crashing down. But instead of anger or “laying down the law,” this father granted the prodigal’s wish.
The ending of course, is one of reconciliation. The son comes home and while his brother is less than thrilled with what transpires, the father—the subject of this story—could not be more excited.
Jesus told this story to remind us of his Father’s love for us. We are co-heirs of this reconciliation. We should be ecstatic that our God would love us so much that whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve run off to, if we return to our Father he will throw a party in our honor.
It’s a great parable and we extrapolate many deep truths from this story. We share it with children in Sunday school. But do we believe it?
This is the question we face, because many (perhaps all?) of us have those moments where we seek forgiveness more than once for the same offense. We don’t believe we are totally forgiven. So, we ask again. And again.
Maybe we carry around our shame. We try to make up for our past decisions in different ways.
But once we’ve “come home” to the Father, perhaps the best and most important thing we can do is enjoy the party He throws in our honor. Whatever we are carrying around, let’s lay it down before the Father one last time.
Once this takes place, let’s accept the ring He gives us and get out our fork and knife. It’s time to enjoy the fattened calf and start the party. I think this is what God truly wants from us.
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually.” Acts 10:1-2
There are times in our when we see God working elsewhere, but for whatever reason He doesn’t seem active in our own life. Others appear to be in the middle of God’s work and us? We’re watching, wondering why we don’t seem to be included.
Whenever we find ourselves thinking, “God doesn’t notice me,” let’s remember Cornelius in the Book of Acts.
We know Cornelius’ story, but have we looked closely? Cornelius was a Gentile (non-Jew), an Italian centurion—a soldier. Even though he had no connections to the Jewish nation, he gave financially to the Jewish people, and in this narrative, Luke also points out he “feared God with all his household . . . and prayed to God continually.”
Yet, even as God worked among the Jews and we see God sending his messiah, Cornelius was not part of anything. He kept praying. Kept teaching his family about God. Kept giving. But day after day, nothing. We don’t see the Jewish people welcoming him as one of their own. Cornelius was on the outside looking in.
Though he wasn’t seeing tangible results from his prayers, Cornelius—out there on his own regarding faith—stayed committed. Still, we can forgive Cornelius if he ever thought, What about me, God?
Then one day Cornelius received a visit from an angel, who told him his prayers had not been wasted at all. “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God,” the angel told him. The angel then asked our friend Cornelius to send men out to find Simon Peter, and, smart man that he was, Cornelius obeyed.
We know the rest of the story. Peter went to Cornelius’ home, where a mighty move of God brought the Good News to the Gentiles for the first time. Cornelius—the man who stayed committed even when he could see no real results—was likely the first Gentile in the history of planet Earth to be able to call himself “Christian.”
What about us? Whenever we feel as if we’re on the outside looking in, let’s stay committed. Let’s keep praying. Let’s keep looking for God to make His move. Though we may not see the results today, the fruit of our devotion may be closer than we think.
“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Early in Luke’s narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the Sadducees had a problem. A fisherman named Peter stepped out and spoke to the people (Acts 2) and a stunning 3,000 people chose to be baptized in the name of a man named Jesus.
Just after this, Peter and John—these two average guys from Galilee—healed a man lame since birth (Acts 3). And, after Peter told the people how the man was healed, another 5,000 (and this is only counting the men!) latched on to this new movement.
For the Jewish leader leadership, this was a huge problem. Their hold on the people was disintegrating in front of their eyes. Thousands were walking away from them to follow a man Peter and his friends claimed God raised from the dead.
If the religious leaders didn’t do something—and soon—their entire power base would erode in weeks.
But what was the Sadducees’ biggest obstacle to stopping Peter, John and the others? It wasn’t the apostle’s education; the Sadducees were far more educated. Nor were the apostles trained well in Jewish law, traditions or the rites of the priesthood. Fact is, they didn’t know how to out-religious the religious leadership. They couldn’t sway anyone by claiming more knowledge or understanding.
Yet, the people marveled because this rag-tag group of apostles carried with them one characteristic which separated them from all opposition: They had been with Jesus.
What about us? If we want to reach a hurting world, knowledge has its value. Paul had knowledge and used his education to influence many, and even implores his protégé, Timothy, to “handle accurately the word of truth,” which implies educating ourselves (II Tim. 2:15).
Ultimately however, our greatest influence comes when others see we’ve been with Jesus. But let’s be real. This task is difficult in this crazy, social-media filled, informationally overloaded, busier than ever world.
We must take the time to stop, reset our minds and rest in Jesus Christ, or we will become just another voice in the noise of the culture.
As we go about our day, at some point let’s ask ourselves one question: “What is one thing I can do to be with Jesus?”
Our answers may vary, depending on our personalities. But each of us has an answer which is best for us. Once we receive our answer, let’s do that one thing—so that others may know, “This person has been with Jesus.”
by Kirk Walden Advancement Specialist
“So from that day on they planned together to kill him.” John 11:53
What was the moment when the religious leaders decided to take the life of Jesus? Oddly, it was just after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus saved a life, rescuing a good man from the grave . . . and the miracle was too much for the scribes and Pharisees. They convened a council to discuss the matter and said, “If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
The central issue? Raw power. If they allowed Jesus to continue doing good, no one would look upon them with awe and reverence. Jesus would take their place. The chief priests and Pharisees would no longer rule the people; Jesus would take pre-eminence. And they couldn’t stomach the thought. Too much—their riches, their livelihood and their places of honor—was at stake.
So, they plotted to kill Jesus. All because he rescued a good man.
Things are no different today. Many of us are trying to do something good—rescuing the innocent from death—and there are those who wish to eliminate our voices, our ministries (“fake clinics,” anyone?) and our effectiveness.
They mock us; and they demean us. Though we find it hard to believe any of them would kill us if given the opportunity, is it so far-fetched to consider? If we were in Jesus’ world, where show trials could be convened against anyone the powerful deemed a menace, do we believe the results would ultimately be different?
Jesus’ response to this plot however, is a teaching moment for us. For one, Jesus continued to serve and to teach his disciples. When Jesus was confronted with betrayal, instead of rebuking Judas, Jesus simply said, “What you do, do quickly.”
When faced with false accusers, Jesus was never defensive, always holding fast to the truth. And on the cross, Jesus asked forgiveness for those who sought to kill him.
In Jesus’ day, the rich and powerful thought they won a victory when Jesus went to the cross. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, the cross was the beginning of a mighty movement still growing today.
What about us? When the powerful—with millions of dollars, paid-for lobbyists and PR machines running 24 hours a day—come after us, how do we respond? Like Jesus, we can respond with calm, with truth and with love.
When we do this, the world takes notice. And a movement—one of life and hope—continues to grow.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
The other day I was tasked with keeping the scorebook for my son’s 8-Under baseball game, where the coaches pitch, the ball gets tossed all over the place and somehow, the umpires keep track of it all.
Keeping the scorebook is not difficult in this league. It’s a chore in “real” baseball, because scorers must track “official” hits, decide on errors, describe every out in detail (but with numbers only) and more stuff I can’t fully explain.
For instance, if a major league player hits the ball to the third baseman who bobbles the ball before making a throw and the runner reaches first, it’s scored E5 (Error on the 3rd Baseman). In our league, if all ten (we need an extra) players in the field throw the ball over each other’s heads for 15 minutes and the runner—exhausted—finally reaches home, it’s a home run. Easy peasy.
My job as a scorer then, was simple. All I had to do was track who made outs, and whether a kid got around the bases for a run. That’s it. No errors, no fancy scoring. If at the end of the game my book matched the score book for the other team, all was good. No nuance in this league, believe me.
Sure, when errors are made, the kids are corrected. But we’re not tracking this stuff. We’re just happy they are out there. We’re happy they are playing.
Our game is about encouragement, hits and scoring. And even the word “hit” can have a different definition. Heck, when my kid hits the ball, we’re cheering whether he is safe at first or headed back to the dugout.
One night, the only time he connected with the ball it rolled a few feet into foul territory. He told me later, “I got one hit tonight!” Good enough for me. We’re flexible in 8U baseball.
Which tells me something about God. If we—being the somewhat decent parents we are—are such encouragers, what about God?
Sometimes we see Him as a taskmaster, recording our sins and constantly chiding us for our failings. It’s as if we see Him with a score book, noting nothing but errors and—to take Isaiah 64:6 out of context—seeing anything good we accomplish as nothing but “filthy rags” in His sight.
Yes, we make errors. And a good parent gently corrects a child who makes a mistake—either in the field or in life. But we don’t spend much time keeping track. We focus on the good, celebrating those times when our child hits the ball or performs an unselfish act.
Maybe God is more like a good parent than we realize. Perhaps He is cheering us on, even amongst our errors, urging us to “Go!” and change our world.
One kid on our team cries every time he doesn’t make it to first base. His head drops, he drags his bat back to the dugout and then collapses on the bench in agony. Each time this happens, a coach tries to cheer him up and get him “back in the game.” Almost always, it works.
What about us? Do we focus on our failings?
Perhaps God focuses more on our scoring than on any errors we make. When He closes the book on our day, it may be true that we bobbled the ball of life and threw it the wrong direction. He will correct this at the appropriate time. But I wonder if He turns to His Son at His right hand and says, “Wow, he sure hit the ball on that one play, didn’t he?”
And maybe, like an 8U baseball parent, He smiles.
But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus—Luke 6:11
We know wherever Jesus went, many loved him and followed. But some—almost always the cultural and religious leaders—despised him no matter what he did.
In the verse above, the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogue were filled with rage because Jesus did the unthinkable, healing a man’s withered hand . . . on the Sabbath. How dare Jesus do such a thing? Couldn’t he have waited until Sunday?
No, Jesus could not wait. He had a point to make. Over the years, those in charge of all things religious had been adding to the law of God, creating extra rules regarding what it meant to “keep the Sabbath holy.” These rules were relatively easy for those in authority to keep; they didn’t have to worry much about tending flocks, finding food and getting oxen out of ditches.
But for those under their religious authority, keeping all the man-made Sabbath rules was an incredible burden.
Jesus then, asked a question when he saw the man with the withered hand. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it?”
Like every one of Jesus’ questions, this was a good one. It boxed the religious leaders in a corner, pointing out the hypocrisy of their thinking.
Therefore, they were “filled with rage.” To Jesus, it was not surprising to see leaders of his own culture angry with him. He appealed to normal people, and this was too much for them to stomach.
Today, it’s no different. In our culture the “leaders” are those who preach to us about what we must think and how we must behave. They are in Hollywood, the media, and some are in the political realm. They tell us we are to bow down to gods like “choice” and “tolerance.”
Over time, these leaders created their own commandments; commandments which seek to impede—or even stop us from reaching those who need all of us in the pregnancy help community. According to these commandments, we are to cease talking about faith. And, we must desist from speaking honestly about the wonder of human life.
As those who serve in the pregnancy help community, we understand the opposition Jesus faced. Like him, we ask ourselves, “Is it lawful in our society to do good? To save a life?”
Our answer is always “Yes.” Because just like Jesus, we realize there is never a wrong time and never a wrong situation . . . to do good.
“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11:31
We all probably know the story of Rahab the harlot. As a quick refresher, Joshua sent spies into the city of Jericho to check out the city Israel was to conquer. Rahab, a woman of ill repute, took in the spies and when the King’s men asked her to turn them over, she hid Joshua’s men in her attic. Then, she lied to the king’s men, telling them the spies “went thataway!” Off the king’s men went, never finding the spies.
A short time later, the army of Israel marched around Jericho for six days. On the seventh, they blew the trumpets and the walls fell.
Rahab’s faith—a belief that the spies were men of God—saved her and her family. This led to a series of amazing events.
Here’s a question: “What would have happened if Rahab obeyed her king instead of taking her step of faith?”
The quick answer is, “Well, God would have worked it out another way.” Maybe this is correct. But we don’t know this.
What we do know is; a woman who was likely at the absolute bottom of the social ladder, who was likely mocked by the very men who accessed her services, who was labeled in the most hurtful way . . . suddenly faced a choice and an opportunity.
She could choose to obey the authority she knew (her king), or she could choose the God she did not know. She decided on a leap of faith.
Hundreds of years later, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews still called her “Rahab the harlot.” So no, she didn’t lose her label. But she did gain entrance into what we now call, “The Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.
Rahab’s choice led to the conquering of Jericho. Which led to Israel’s rise as a nation. Rahab’s choice also led her to marry Salmon, which led to the birth of Boaz. Boaz married Ruth, one of only two women to have books of the Bible named after them. Rahab, Ruth and others created the generational line leading to the mighty King David. And King David led to . . . Jesus.
One choice. Just one. By a woman with everything stacked against her.
Two thoughts to keep in mind.
One, the clients and patients who come in our door may have everything stacked against them. But one choice—just one—can change everything. Let’s always remember this.
Two, what about us? We all wonder at times, “Can God work through me?” I don’t write the following to diminish Rahab, but her being labeled a harlot is a lesson that God uses the unlikely. Regardless of our pasts--whether better or worse than Rahab’s--God seeks those who will seize the opportunities He gives.
Rahab seized her opportunity and her moment of faith changed the scope of human history. Why can’t this happen when the unlikely person walks in our door? And why can’t this happen with us, his unlikely servants?
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