Sunday, February 11, 2018

Taming the Tongue

I wish everyone could have a "Jay Wolf" in their lives.

In this week's study, Poppy asked, "What negative or positive words have had a lasting impact on your life?" Being a glass-half-full person, I immediately thought of Jay Wolf and the positive words he spoke into the life of an almost-21-year-old during the summer of 1980.

I was a summer intern at Memorial Baptist Church in Metairie, Louisiana, and he was my "boss." As youth minister, Jay hired me to work alongside Kenny Culotta for 10 weeks in a summer that included a lot of pool parties and Bible studies as well as the obligatory mission trip and summer camp. Such good stuff! While I had been working with youth through the Youth Life ministry in Baton Rouge for the previous three years, this summer experience escalated my love for pouring into young people with the promises from God's word.

After each gathering (whether big or small), Jay always had a word of encouragement for me. Perhaps he saw the self-doubt that raged in my insecurity during those days. Or perhaps he is an amazingly encouraging person and always chose the route of "build up" and "benefit" that Ephesians 4:29 talks of. Either way, if you look up the word "encourager" in the dictionary, Jay's picture will be right there! He allowed his words to be used for good.

That's what James was wanting to highlight in his words on "the tongue" ... lots of potential for good and not-so-good!

What do we know about James? "It has been believed, since at least the third century, that the author of this book is James, the brother of Jesus. James probably wrote his letter to Jewish believers between A.D. 45-50. These early Christians has fled Jerusalem after persecution erupted following the killing of Stephen, which left them without direct contact with the apostles. Reports of their difficulties and struggles reached James in Jerusalem, and he responded as their pastor, urging them to make needed changes in both their personal lives and corporate relationships" (Speaking Wisely, 57).

In the first chapter, James introduces some thoughts on "the tongue" in verses 19-22 and 26, setting the stage for what he wants to say later. But for now, he points out that what it's better to listen than to jump to conclusions by talking and getting angry. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Interesting that he throws in the phrase "humbly accept the word planted in you;" in other words, your opinion isn't the most important thing ... God's is.

In 1:26, James boldly points out, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." Ouch! Strong words!

James jumps back on the subject in chapter 3 with a little more direction. Consider these points borrowed from Brent Alderman of the Capitol Commission:
In verse 1, we see a simple but strong warning to teachers. Be careful what you wish for: with privilege comes responsibility. We are accountable for what we say, for what we teach. Just the sheer quantity of our words can trip us up at times. In Mt. 12:36-37, Jesus said, "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Paul said it a little differently to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:15, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."

But not just teachers are accountable.
See it verse 2? We ALL stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

So what does "perfect" mean in this context? James says we ALL stumble, so it can't be perfect like we typically think of perfect. Consider the goal of every believer ... spiritual maturity. Paul talks about it in Ephesians 4 as what we're striving for ... in Philippians 1, he points out that this "perfection" won't be achieved until the day of Christ Jesus.

Winston Churchill said, "We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out." 

In verses 6-8, James describes the power of the tongue ... with potential for great devastation if not tamed. One commentator said the tongue has "inordinate influence for being such a small part of the body." James effectively used the metaphors of a bit in a horse's mouth, a rudder on a ship, and a spark to start a fire to show the huge impact of a small thing.

Anyone who has been horseback riding, especially as an amateur like me, appreciates the role of the bit in the horse's mouth. We may fancy ourselves cowboys, yelling things like "giddy-up" and "whoa," but it's really the tug on the reins that directs the bit that makes the horse submit to the rider.

Not being much of a sailor myself, I conjure up images of nautical calamities that could possibly have been avoided or minimized if someone were at the helm of the ship, looking ahead for danger and guiding the boat's direction. The Titanic is the most notable (more because of the movie) but I also think of the freighter that rammed into the Riverwalk in New Orleans a bunch of years ago because the captain was asleep and, by the time he realized he was off-course, it was too late to correct.

Forest fires in California, Colorado, and even Tennessee are huge examples of the devastating consequences of neglected sparks left accidentally (and sometimes intentionally). One writer described those who don't tame the tongue as "spiritual arsonists, lighting careless fires that cause widespread destruction."
Mary Kassian in Conversation Peace explained that "in the ancient world, swords were the most common weapons of war. The Bible tells us that during war, the Hebrews would make swords from their plowshares (Joel 3:10). A plowshare is the cutting edge of  plow -- the agricultural tool that cuts furrows in the soil and prepares the ground for planting. The word plow literally means 'to open up the soil.' ...The edge of the plow cuts through the ground like a rudder cuts through the water. It was this cutting edge that the Hebrews used to make swords. When peace returned, the Hebrews hammered the swords back into plows (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3). The edge that killed the enemy in times of war was the same edge that, in times of peace, provided the Hebrew community with food. The sharp edge had two functions" (14).

In James 3:9-12, the writer points out that our tongue can also have two functions but not as purposeful as the plowshare: praising and cursing. His brother Jesus basically called out the Pharisees for this in Mt. 12:34, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

It is this hypocritical pattern that gets us in trouble over and over. Alderman noted, "If we have a desire for God and his ways, we will avoid speaking in a way that betrays our faith. Hearts changed by the gospel will have observable fruit (including words) that is not hypocritical.... The heart is the key."

How important it is to know -- no, not just know but to process -- the potential we have for both using our tongue for good or for evil. What filters will we put in place to keep this from being our downfall time and time again? Poppy's questions should get us thinking:
  • Why are praising God and cursing man incompatible for Christians?
  • In what everyday circumstances might you be provoked to curse someone?
  • When you are tempted to react this way, what changes in your thought patterns, attitudes, or behavior would help you resist?
Back to Conversation Peace (28-29):

"The mark of a good captain is to identify when the vessel is off course and make adjustments. In identifying the areas in which your speech needs adjustments, you are taking the first step toward getting back on course.

"If you look at a Canadian dime, you will find an image of Canada's most famous sailing vessel, the Bluenose. The Bluenose was strongly constructed to weather the rigorous challenges of North Atlantic fishing, but it was also built for speed. In 1921, she captured the International Fishermen's Trophy in a fierce competition between the best schooners in the word. She remained undefeated throughout her eighteen-year career.

"The captain of the Bluenose faced the same challenges of every seaman: wind, waves, squalls, storms. sandbars, reefs, and treacherous rocky shorelines. But he knew how to harness the Power of Navigation to guide his ship to victory. If you follow God's plan for your speech, you, too, will weather the rigorous challenges of life's sea, harness the Power of Navigation, and cross the finish line in victory."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Busy Two Years

Has it really been two years since I uploaded a post? That's not good. So much has happened. So much swirls in my brain. Why am I not writing it down here? I've written some in my "Today is Going to Be a Great Day" journal but I want to do better posting here, when appropriate.

I came online to begin capturing thoughts from my new Disciple U Bible Study, "Speaking Wisely." We're using Poppy Smith's book of this title and are excited (and nervous) about working through this topic!

Week One (January 24 ... which we started a week late due to SNOW days!): Introduction

I set up a window on the stool as a prop to go with introductory statement in the book: "Words are like windows, giving others a glimpse into your heart. Words express who you really are, what you think, and what you cherish. They reveal your joys, heartaches, attitudes, and beliefs. Based on what you say and how you say it, others can sense whether you are a safe, loving, and supportive person, someone they can trust to speak wisely to them and about them. The opposite is also true" (p. 1).


1. Coming out of the Personal Holiness study

Last semester we worked through Rhonda Kelley's study on Personal Holiness. It was a tremendous overview of how God is calling us out to be holy just as He is holy. It seems that on the holiness journey, it's our words that trip us up more often than we expect. And according to Luke 6:43-45, "No good fruit bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.... The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.... For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." If our words are reactionary, unnecessary, defensive, or offensive, what is this saying about our hearts?

2. Coming into a year of living out our Pastor's challenge to love God, love people, make disciples, and make a difference.

Love God: How are our words related to loving God? Is He changing our speech? Are we letting Him? Does our speech reflected our hearts for God?

Love people: What does this look like? How do we love people with our words? Jack Hudson posted a significant story on his Facebook page on January 15 that begins with the quote "A shut mouth gathers no foot."

A lady tells of a lesson her mother once taught her. One day, when this lady was about eight years old, she was playing outside next to an open window. Inside a neighbor was confiding a personal problem to her mother. After the neighbor had gone, the mother realized that her little girl had heard everything that had been said. She called her daughter in and said, "If our neighbor had left her purse here today, would we give it to anyone else?" "Of course not," the little girl said.

Her mother went on, "Our neighbor left something more precious than her pocketbook today. She left a story that could make many people unhappy. That story is not ours to give to anyone. It is still hers, even though she left it here. So we shall not give it to anyone. Do you understand?" The little girl did. And from that day on, whenever a friend would share a confidence or even engage in careless gossip, she considered what they said to be their personal property and not hers to give to anyone else.

This old saying bears great truth: "If you don't have something good to say about someone or something, don't say anything at all." Proverbs 13:3 "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction."

Make disciples: What does this look like? How can our words 'make disciples'? The most obvious answer is that we can use our words for God's good ... pointing others to the cross.

I was most impressed with a video my friend Lindsay Venters posted that shows a young girl sharing her faith using a three-circles strategy: People, this is so impressive. Sure, she's memorized a witnessing plan but she's doing more than memorizing. She's sharing it. This video has over 2,000 views (probably half from her parents and/or church, but still!). Do you know how to share your faith as articulately as this child? If not, then join me in getting better at using words to make disciples!

Make a difference: The world is full of enough trash talk. It needs to hear words with a positive difference. I love this story about "being a Doris." ( Synopsis of the story: Doris always answered the phone -- no matter who was calling because, well, she didn't know who was calling with no caller ID back in the 1980s -- "God loves you, This is Doris." Doris used her words to remind people they were treasured by God and who doesn't need that?

3. How are we going to do this?

In a recent reading of the first part of Psalm 119, I was reminded that the only way to get this "speaking wisely" is to be in the WORD. Living the Word. Obeying the Word. Speaking the Word. Not because it comes naturally but because I intentionally choose it. Best part is I don't have to make it up as I go along. I just need to follow what it says. That's the key to the "blessed" life.

Communication process is tricky. There's a sender encoding a message and receiver decoding a message. Best case scenario is that the message is heard as intended and feedback is given to confirm this. Of course, life is full of muddled scenarios instead of best case ones, so we've got to keep learning how to use our words carefully and purposefully. Thank the Lord for this study!

During the course of this semester, we'll attempt ...
  • to be women whose words "build up" and "benefit" others (try to memorize Ephesians 4:29 in your favorite translation).
  • to be women whose words "window" the heart of God, reflecting the good things stored in our hearts (Luke 6:23)
  • to live "blessed" lives (as described in Psalm 119).
Finally, check out the song "Words" by Hawk Nelson ... he nails the dichotomy of words and the choices we have to make as we use them!

They've made me feel like a prisoner
They've made me feel set free
They've made me feel like a criminal
Made me feel like a king

They've lifted my heart
To places I'd never been
And they've dragged me down
Back to where I began

Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

You can heal the heartache
Speak over the fear
(Speak over the fear)
God, Your voice is the only thing
We need to hear
(We need to hear)

Words can build us up
Words can break us down
Start a fire in our hearts or
Put it out

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You
(Back to You)

Let the words I say
(Let the words I say)
Be the sound of Your grace
(Sound like Your grace)
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You

I wanna speak Your love
Not just another noise
Oh, I wanna be Your light
I wanna be Your voice

Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You
(Back to You)

Let the words I say
(Let the words I say)
Be the sound of Your grace
(Sound like Your grace)
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You
(Back to You)

Words can build us up
Words can break us down
Start a fire in our hearts
Or put it out

I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Not good at goodbyes

Pondering the thought of leaving 'home' after 22 years on campus

I’m not good at goodbyes.

I like to meet people, make them feel welcome, and look for small ways to invest in their lives. I prefer to have an abundance of time to do this, rarely giving thought to the day we will be geographically separated.

When we came back to NOBTS in 1994 for my husband Allen to join the faculty, we began spending time with several student couples who were studying youth ministry. The fellowship was sweet and the energy of the mentoring relationships was reciprocal. However, when graduation rolled around for these couples, I found myself feeling frustrated and cheated. “God, why did you bring these precious people in our lives only to take them away?”

After another cycle or two of this, the rhythm became more natural and I found myself excited for students as they graduated and looked forward to the next thing God had in store for them outside the confines of the seminary gates and the burdens of relentless course requirements. Needless to say, I’ve said goodbye to quite a few in the last 22 years on campus.

Now it’s our turn to leave. This is not a leaving we have planned for years and years. It’s not one we anticipated like one does graduation. But it is one that has us looking forward to what God has in store outside the gates of this amazing institution. And, while we’re leaving behind the 504 in a physical sense, we will certainly stay connected with continuing opportunities to teach internet classes and in weekend workshops and seminars.

Some parting thoughts:

·         Wherever you are, be all there. When the search committee at our new church interviewed me, I was asked if I would miss NOBTS. I responded, “Of course, I will. We’ve been back in the city almost 22 years. It’s where I’m from and it’s where I raised my family. I put down roots and grew in so many ways. I love my job, my church, my city, and my school. How horrible it would have been for me to sit here and say that I wouldn’t miss it! If anything, this tells you that wherever I am, I plan to plug in and ask God to use me fully.” Please do the same.

·         Don’t miss the people. These words are challenging to me since I am a task-oriented person. My office mates will tell you that I am good at pulling off events and setting up systems. But I know, if I’m not careful, I can miss the people part of an event or system. So, let me encourage you to be careful. You’re surrounded by amazing people here on the NOBTS campus. They’re in the offices, bookstores, and coffee shop. They sit beside you in class and also stand in front of you in those same classes. Their personalities may be different from yours but they’re still valuable and important to know. Glean from their wisdom and experiences. Gleaning doesn’t mean taking it all in. As my son once said, “Chew the meat and spit out the fat.” Every person has something to offer. Find it.

·         Go ahead and smile. I know. Your mind is on a million different things but, gee golly, when you pass someone on the sidewalk, go ahead and smile. Sure, it may not be your primary personality trait to be outgoing and perky. But smile anyway. I’d rather NOBTS be known as the quirky seminary full of smiling Christians than a bunch of other taglines we can think of ourselves.

·         Find someone you can be real with. Transparency and honesty have been big buzz-words on campus this semester. No one denies that it’s hard to spill your guts to someone when that spilling might cost you your job, your ministry, and maybe even your family. But, perhaps, if we could allow ourselves to get into ‘real’ relationships along the way, then we might avoid a “Deepwater Horizon”-sized oil spill. However, if you find yourself between a rock and a hard place already, please, please, please phone a friend. In other words, grab a human being and offer to buy him/her a cup of coffee/tea/cola for a few minutes of time. Don’t assume this human being has all the answers but, chances are, he or she will know who to point you to.

You will continue to see us around campus for another month or so. Allen (the original Dr. Jackson) will be leading Youth Ministry Institute during the first January workshop slot. If you’re youth-ministry-minded, you should figure out how to be a part of this! It’s full of good information and quality networking opportunities. Then, after a little vacay to get our minds and bodies refueled, we’ll pack up the house and head east. Please take any and every opportunity to stop by the office or even the house to offer a hug and a hand but, just remember, I'm not good at goodbyes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Except that Jesus ...

There's nothing extraordinary about a rainy day in Georgia. Or about looking at even more houses. Except that Jesus is in all of it.

In Matthew 4:18-22, I'm re-introduced to several of Jesus' earliest followers, all of whom were fishermen. They were born in a fishing village and taught to fish by their fathers as was the custom of their time. There was nothing extraordinary about Simon and Andrew or James and John ... not their names, not their hometowns, not their livelihoods. Except that Jesus handpicked them to follow Him and they did.

Except that Jesus ... I pray that as I get hung up with details of house hunting and moving and then trying to balance all of this with finishing well at the seminary, I will remember that, if not for Jesus in the center of it all, it would be nothing extraordinary. As a matter of fact, it might feel like unnecessary (and overwhelming) stress in my already-stressed life.

I was also distracted by the report in verse 22 that when Jesus called James and John to be His disciples, "immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him." Again, I am struck at the huge discord this must have struck in this family ... even if they were devout Jews ... even if they were looking out for the Messiah. This father surely had plans for the family business that included his sons taking over in a few short years. Except that Jesus invited them into an extraordinary mission!

Oh, that my day -- my life -- would be open to the "except that Jesus" moments and callings!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

More than a dot-dot-dot

Thursday morning my devotion had me reading Matthew 1:1-17. When I saw the scripture reference, my spirit immediately whined as I thought, "Good grief! Really, Beth, the genealogy section?" [Beth = Beth Moore whose Portraits of Devotion I have been going through off and on this year.]

The Spirit quickly rescued my mind and prompted me to pray what I should always pray (but, true confession, don't) before jumping into scripture: "What do you want me to see in this scripture that can help me know You and/or myself better today?" And then I started reading ... in the Holman Christian Standard version. So instead of a bunch of "begats," I got the verb "fathered."

And as I read through an awful lot of fathering names, I was struck by how many names I did not recognize from other stories in scripture. Sure, the big names are there: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, Solomon, and even some of the bad guys. But who in the world are Ram, Nahshon, Shealtiel, Azor, well, you get the idea!

And, once again, perhaps because I'm in the middle of a transition that will take me from a place of responsibility to a place that hasn't been defined yet, I resonate with the unknowns. Thank you, Matthew, for not skipping over their names with dot-dot-dots.

Beth's emphasis on this text was a little different. She wrote, "To me, Christ's flawed family history serves as a continual reminder of the grace of God in my life." She added, "God chose David. On the surface, it made no sense. But God doesn't work on sense; He works on grace. God called you, and God called me. He knew what He was doing."

Flawed and unknown. A good description of me. Forgiven and listed in the Lamb's book of life. An even better description. Thankful and humbled that I am more than a dot-dot-dot. But only because my heavenly Father gave me His name, stamped me with His purpose, and directs me as I lean on Him and not my own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I'm Going to Lesotho

I'm going to Lesotho. There's a lot about it that doesn't make sense. For example, the trip falls between the end of my job at NOBTS and our move to Dunwoody. I should be using that time to pack and unpack, say goodbye and say hello, and basically transition.

When the trip was first announced, the move was not on the table. So moving forward made sense. I had talked and prayed about going to Africa for several years (Ghana? Nigeria? Botswana?). When Liz & JB moved to Lesotho, they were emphatic I should go visit. When Allison and Brett moved there, my heart tugged even more. Then the church scheduled this trip, and I knew I was in, trusting the Lord to shut down my ability to go on the trip if I shouldn't. So far he hasn't!

Tonight I went to the first planning meeting and I am really excited. Even a 17-hour plane trip is not squelching my desire to go (but, yes, I am very concerned about this)! The team consists of Andrew Crosby, Bob Moore, Holly Dalferes, Virginia Johnson, Jordan Stewart, and me. What does God have in store for all of us? Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Wedding day for Chris and Vanessa

Today's happenings were scheduled around the Chris Shaffer-and-Vanessa Bolden wedding at 2 p.m. at Martin Chapel. After knowing Chris first as a student and then as a co-worker, this was certainly an event I wanted to attend.

It was a very sweet service, officiated by Dr. Mike Edens and Dr. Harold Mosley, both of whom are Chris' personal friends and co-ministers ... and thus felt comfortable adding little 'funnies' during their respective parts.

Vanessa and Chris spent most of the service looking at each other as though neither could believe it was finally happening. But it did happen and now this precious couple is married.

I don't know their whole love story (see if you're interested). But I do know that I met Vanessa via her employment application last fall and was excited to invite her to work in the Dean of Students office as Student Life assistant. Chris was apparently excited about it as well because, shortly after the start of school, he asked her out to spend time together. And the rest is history!