Monday, February 27, 2012

Is My Faith Real?

14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?  15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.  19You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe—and shudder.  20Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?
21Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.  23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  25Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.             James 2:14-26  (NRSV)
Mirages are an interesting phenomenon.  They don’t only occur in the mind of a thirsty wanderer.  The scientific reasons have to do with a dense layer of hot air rising from ground surface, reflecting the image of distant objects. 
The problem with a mirage is that it disappears when you come up close to examine it.  It was only a reflection, not the genuine article.  There is no fountain of gushing, cool spring water for the thirsty traveler.  There is only more heat, frustration and despair. 
Just like mirages offer empty hope to a desperate traveler, there is a "faith" that never delivers.
The deception of a mirage-type faith is perhaps the saddest story of all.  So close to the real thing (like the traveler seeing the oasis), yet as far as forever from real, genuine satisfaction. 
There are many people in this country who will tell you they are “Christian”.  In fact a random sampling of Americans reveals something like 55% of adults who claim to be Christian.  The problem is that many are of the mirage faith.  If 55% of American adults were actually Christians, this country would be a very different place in which to live!
For some, faith is summed up like the animatronic figures at Disney.  When you walk up to the “Hall of Presidents” you can meet Lincoln, Washington – all of them.  They are so life-like, moving, talking; they stand up and sit down, gesture.  They move and talk like real people.  It is an amazing, lifelike engineering feat of computers and motors.  They look and act quite real.  They are not!  It is only the appearance of life on the outside.  Inside they are quite dead; they’re merely imitations of the real thing.
What makes the difference between mirage faith and real faith?  How can you tell if your faith is genuine?  James gives us the measuring stick:


There are many good translations of verse 14.  Mine would be:  "What is the use of declaring your faith to the world if your actions don't correspond?  Is that the kind of faith that saves?" 
James contends that True Christianity is when a person is willing to serve Christ on Christ’s terms!  "Mirage faith", on the other hand, only becomes involved to the degree that is comfortable. 
An old real estate sales maxim says that the first three principles of selling real estate are location, location, and location (in that order)!  For faith, the first three principles are involvement, involvement, and involvement - involvement with Christ daily, involvement with His church daily, involvement with His world, sharing His love.
We are converted to Christlikeness according to v.15, 16.  Jesus spent His life serving, giving and telling.  On a desert hillside Jesus fed thousands with a few sardines and pieces of bread.  That was no mirage; it was an act of genuine faith. 
He wrapped a towel around his waist and washed 12 sets of filthy feet. That was no mirage; it was an act of faith in the principles of servanthood. 
On a hill outside Jerusalem He died an agonizing death.  It was more than just being an example....He became the gospel, living it out in faith, defining the meaning of love.  It was the ultimate expression of receiving the Father's word, and submitting to His will in deed. 
Genuine faith reveals itself in deeds of love.  What could it possibly mean to ACCEPT Christ, if not to accept His lordship over your life; to accept His defining the meaning of your life? 
Genuine faith reveals itself in deeds of love.  Once you nail down that principle you find there is an incredible bonus to giving your all to Christ.


Verse 26 (faith without works is dead) is the key to this principle.  James uses the negative to illustrate the positive.  He tells us a very simple but accurate fact.  The body without spirit is dead...So is our faith without works. 
That fact teaches the opposite also: When the body has a spirit it is alive.  When faith is not a mirage there will be loving deeds sprouting out of that faith; the faith is alive and pulsating.  It is like the budding limbs on a young tree.  The sprouts on the limbs don't cause the tree to be alive; they simply announce the reality that there is life. 

Like a tree producing fruit

A friend of mine owned an orange grove in McIntosh, Florida.  His family room had a huge window that overlooked his life's investment.  After the freeze in December of '83, he told me that the only trees that would survive were the ones that were producing fruit.  The rest would have to be plowed under. 
But what tree will be alive, and never put forth leaves, or fruit?  If it is truly alive, it must!  Yet it is true that there are many folks today who are never putting their faith to the test. No faith means there will be no fruit!
 James’ teaching doesn’t leave room for that:
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
Simply saying you are a Christian, and associating yourself with a church does not mean there is genuine faith.  There’s got to be more…

Like seed from a farmer’s hand

Jesus told a parable about seed that was scattered.  True, some of the seed grew and took hold in good soil.  But there was some (much) that only sent down a shallow root, and when the shoot came up it quickly withered and passed from the scene. 
You see that played out many times over in churches across the nation today.  A person makes a "profession of faith"...but it is only a mirage.  They never bother to send down deep roots, joining in the Bible Study program of Sunday School regularly, or worshipping often.  They starve that little seed to death and the faith possibility becomes another statistic of back-door syndrome. 
It takes a mature tree to bring worthwhile fruit.  You cannot expect a seedling to bear crops; but seedlings that won't grow aren't worth the effort to water, feed and weed. 
The point is not vague here.  James is telling us that unless we are willing to grow in Christ, allowing the faith to become works, we are the false professors.  Our faith is empty, dead, without hope! 
You may be a long-time church member, or have never joined a church.  Frankly, church membership is not at question here.  I met a man once who reportedly was a member of the church I pastored.  He hadn't worshipped there in many years.  I was his pastor, and had never met him. 
He told me his philosophy was to "do as much good to as many people as he could...and even though that didn't include going to church, he and 'the ol' Master' had a real good understanding about it."  Pious-sounding words from a church member?  More like a smoke screen for the reality of wanting to be free enough to answer the "call of the Bass and Rainbow Trout" on Sundays. 
There is a balance between "faith and works" that will make a true believer want to be close to his Lord in worship.
The rituals you went through to join a church identified you with a local body of people; and that is good.  I recommend it!  But it is the deeds of love, born of an "alive faith" that identifies you with Jesus and the Father.  It tells the others if His Holy Spirit is within you. 
How can I know I have a genuine faith, and not a mirage?  How can I be sure?  Look at the examples James gives: 
Abraham was justified... (that means God accepted him) on the basis of his faithfulness.  God asked Abraham to burn the bridge behind him, leave his home and follow God out to the wilderness.  Abraham said, "Alright, I'll go." 
That was faith.  But it was the loading of the camels, the endless ridicule he endured that was works.  I can picture the scene: Abraham and Sarah packing up the family stuff, and the neighborhood wag leaning over the fence; "Hey, Abe...Don't you know there's snakes out there in that sand?  I know another fool that went out there without a map.  He never came back.  Abe, maybe you'd better reconsider this."  But he went.  Faith came alive in deeds. 
Another example was Rahab the harlot who burned her bridges behind her.  When the children of Israel were marching her way she made the decision to throw in with God's people, and she helped the reconnaissance team Joshua sent. 
Think of the scene inside the walls of Jericho that night.  "Sister Rahab, are you nuts, girl?  Here we are inside the most fortified city in Canaan.  Those silly Jews don't know how to fight; all they can do is walk around the outside.  You'd better reconsider this; the city fathers aren't going to like it when they hear you've been helping those spies." 
But Rahab hung in there, and those silly Jews kept on marching seven days around the walls of Jericho.  And then 7 times on the 7th day....and the walls came down.  The faith of Rahab, a common streetwalker, is chronicled in her genealogy in Matthew's gospel (ch 1).  Rahab's grandson was named Jesse who had a son named David, King David.  And out of the lineage of David was born a king in a manger... Jesus.  Rahab had faith.  She put it all on the line in deeds.

How can you know for sure that your faith is alive? 

Throw yourself wholeheartedly into deeds of loving service to others.  I guarantee you will know inside of a month what is genuine and what is mirage.  Where do you start?  Begin with forgiving your neighbors, and fellow church members. 
Ø Start to give OF yourself, instead of concentrating ON your own needs.  That is the model Jesus gave us. 
Ø Start to depend on the Father to supply what needs to be given.... Don’t concentrate on what you don't have to give. 
Ø But, most of all...Do Start!
Near the end of the Civil War one of the northern generals was instructed to back off – to retreat and wait.  He wrote to President Lincoln, I believe if the battle is pressed now we will have the surrender of Lee within a month.  Lincoln simply wrote back, Then let the thing be pressed!  It was a final turning point in the war. 
How can you know for certain that your faith is genuine, and not a deceiving mirage?  Let the thing be pressed.  Get yourself involved in loving service to others.  JOIN IN...GET BUSY.  A true conversion in faith will take over your life, your family, your pocketbook, and you'll never feel so alive! 
Are you alive?  Or does the world seem dead-end with only struggle in sight?  Do you find no joy other than gratifying your desires, collecting toys and trophies? 
Do you ever have questions about the strength of your commitment to Christ?  Occasionally a person will get involved in a church, and there’s no change.  There’s no joyful satisfaction to being involved in the things of God.  The problem there was the “cart before the horse.”  You can not work yourself into having faith. 
Faith is a gift from God.  I invite you today to make a commitment in your heart to the Author of faith, Jesus Christ.  Then the works – the good deeds you do – will be a matter of joy, not a matter of trying to work your way into heaven.  It can’t be done!
In this church we offer you an opportunity to press the thing, to make an outward sign of your inward commitment.  That's where good works begin. 
Come in this invitation time to offer yourself as His SERVANT.  If you're ready, we are ready to join with you..... gladly. 
And I can guarantee, on the promise of God's Word that if your faith is genuine in coming, it will not be a mirage, it will lead to a trail, like tracks in the sands of loving deeds, pleasing to our Father in heaven. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Royal Law of Love

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  6But you have dishonored the poor.  Is it not the rich who oppress you?  Is it not they who drag you into court?  7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.”  Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.       James 2:1 - 13 (NRSV)
This morning we are going to continue with James’ helpful, practical letter of advice to the followers of Jesus Christ.  We are going to look into the ugly face of prejudice and favoritism.
James was a blue-collar kind of pastor; his knees were callused from praying.  I think James would have liked Hettie Green.  Hettie Green was a millionaire.  She lived in seclusion; she was a hermit.  She had only a few friends and an ugly mongrel dog that kept biting the few friends she did have.  One of them said, "You've got to get rid of that dog."  Hettie refused.  She said, "That dog loves me and he doesn't even know how rich I am." [1]
Prejudice, whether it is towards a mongrel dog, pedigree cat, the rich or poor, young or old is not a pretty sight.  It is also not an acceptable trait for someone who claims the name Christian. 

The Problem of Favoritism 

Reading the passage is simple enough.  James says a church service is in progress.  Two guys show up at the same time; one is a winner, the other a loser!   Which one gets the attention? 
Evidently, the church in Jerusalem, pastored by James, was having a problem understanding that catering to the rich and powerful, while neglecting the needy was wrong in the sight of God. 
What exactly IS wrong with it?  Note the problems of favoritism:

#1. favoritism Shames the Poor

There were not many chairs in the synagogues.  To offer someone a chair, with a footstool, was a high honor.  To make someone sit on the floor under the footstool was a slap in the face.  It said you considered that person to be of little value.  How inappropriate in a setting where the gatherers were all people for whom Jesus died.  Jesus doesn’t consider any of us worthless!
One day Jesus sat watching people go into worship.[2]  In that culture the offering was given as you walked into the synagogue.  There were huge jars at the entrance, and you were supposed to throw in your coins.  Jesus could tell when the widow put in her two cents.  The little coins made a distinctive sound – very different from the clanging of a rich man’s huge gold coins.  Their method of receiving tithes and offerings was designed to allow the rich to brag, and to shame the poor to remind them of their place.  It is a form of prejudice and oppression.  It’s still going on today. 
A second problem…

#2. favoritism stunts spiritual growth

Calling attention to a person’s wealth – or lack of wealth – in any way is a detriment to Christian growth.   In Matthew (26.11) Jesus informed us we would always have the poor to which we must minister.  It is the churches calling to help the needy.
Today there are preachers of the PROSPERITY GOSPEL who will inform you that it is God’s WILL for you to be healthy, rich and wise (especially if you send them a hundred bucks for their prosperity!). 
That (so-called) “theology” teaches that you are somehow deficient in faith if you’re poor.  That is a severe hindrance to genuine spiritual growth.  It smells like smoke because it came right out of the pits of hell!
The unquestioned teaching of Jesus is that it is the poor who have to walk by faith a whole lot more than any of us with money in the bank!  The poor aren’t busted in faith, just in money!  Calling attention to wealth leads people to believe they’re of less value in Christ if their portfolio is puny.  A third problem…

#3. favoritism Divides the Body of Christ 

In the days of the early church, Peter went down to check out the Galatian believers.  Most of them were Gentiles; Peter was a Jew.  Jews normally considered Gentiles on a par with pond scum.   Peter, however found a great revival going on, and stayed to enjoy the fellowship.  He joined right in the party and celebrated.
But when the church folks back home in Jerusalem sent a delegation to check on Peter, suddenly his Jewish bone kicked-in, and he withdrew from fellowshipping with the Gentiles, the Goyim.  He flip-flopped with his favorite-playing, and it split the church!
Playing favorites will do that!  Like circus elephants, we’re all tied together, tail-to-trunk!  You run one over with a truck and you will affect the whole herd! 
Remember – the church is ONE body, and the body of Christ was not meant to be divided!
It is possible to be a believer and not act like it…and that is sin!  And that is the problem with favoritism, prejudice and selfishness.
What does the Lord say to do about it?  He told his half-brother James to remind us about the Royal Law of Love. 
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  James 2:8  (NRSV)
This is the substance of James’ thesis, and that so-called “royal law” runs throughout the scripture: 
2 The rich and the poor have this in common:
the LORD is the maker of them all.   Proverbs 22:2 (NRSV)
15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.                    Leviticus 19:15 (NRSV)
So…what does it look like when we live according to the royal law of love?  Consider:

The Demands of “Royal Law” Living

Jesus taught the royal law with a story recorded in Luke 10:30-37.   It is the story of the Good Samaritan.  We lose some of the force of the phrase “Good Samaritan” because, in our culture, Samaritans are always good.  You do something nice for someone stuck on the side of the road and you’re a Good Samaritan. 
In Jesus’ culture, however, Samaritans were not good people, they were considered mongrels – half-Jewish, half-Arab; they were hated by both Jews and Arabs.  You weren’t even supposed to look at a Samaritan.  Yet Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman at a well; by Jewish standards she was a loose-living, sexually-“liberated” mongrel. 
But Luke records this little story of a GOOD Samaritan.  Jesus makes the mongrel a hero, and the religious Jewish leaders are the mongrels!  What does that teach us?  It teaches us at least four lessons about loving under the “royal law” of Jesus…

#1. Love People Even When It’s Unpopular

In Jesus’ story, a Jewish man travelling to Jerusalem is robbed, beaten, thrown in a ditch and left for dead.  Two very religious people (in fact preachers) on the way to temple, notice their Jewish brother in the ditch.  Both of them concoct good religious reasons why they can’t do anything for the poor guy, and just walk on by, leaving the man in his pool of blood, broken bones and bruises.  A Samaritan man is the last to come by, and, without a pause, goes more than the extra mile to help the Jewish victim. 
Now, in our culture the Samaritan is a hero, but nobody hearing Jesus tell that story would have cheered for the Samaritan; at best they would be confused.  The Jews would’ve hated the Samaritan just on general principles – just for being alive; he was a filthy Samaritan!  The Samaritans would have despised him for having anything to do with Jewish bigots; a little like if Jesse Jackson decided to join the Ku Klux Klan! 
So, there isn’t really a hero with a white hat in Jesus’ story; just a guy who helps a stranger when his friends wouldn’t, and Jesus’ strange question – who was the victim’s neighbor?  Simple, right?
The point is, no matter if it’s popular or unpopular, love people anyway.  Someone will always disapprove; they can only see through prejudiced eyes.  But God will approve because He sees your heart.  Love people even if it’s unpopular, and…

#2. Love People Even When It’s Inconvenient

There is no “good” time for ministry.  The opportunity to minister and love others is something that comes upon you.  The Samaritan was on a business trip.  He was in the land of people who hated him but found it convenient to do business with him.  He was there to make money, not help the local Jews who were tossed into the ditch by bad guys.  This ministry opportunity looked an awful lot like a detour, an inconvenient interruption in his business day.
The religious leaders saw it that way; they had to be somewhere else – church meetings, whatever.  Both had stuff to do too – the Samaritan was just a bit more ready to love.  If you’re going to live by the royal law of love, you need to be ready when God is! 
Love people when it’s unpopular, inconvenient, and…

#3. Love People Even When It’s Unprofitable

It cost the Samaritan to care for the man in the ditch. 
·        He put the Jew first; he walked and his victim rode. 
·        When they got to town, the Samaritan paid for the man’s room at the inn and medical care. 
·        He even promised to pay more if that’s what it took.
Love is costly; if it isn’t, it isn’t love!  And great love is very costly.  If you doubt that, go back to the Gospels and check out the cross.  It cost God a whole lot to love your sin away.
We love when it’s unpopular, inconvenient, unprofitable, and…

#4. Love People Even When It’s Uncomfortable.

The Samaritan could not have been very comfortable with what he did when he took the first step towards that ditch.  I can imagine the conflict unfolding in his mind –
·        What am I doing here?  I don’t even know this guy.
·        Man, this Jew smells…don’t they ever wash?
·        My wife is gonna kill me, this money was for her new coat.
But this is when the royal law of love kicked-in.  The Samaritan must have looked in the man’s eyes.  He didn’t see a Jew, or the cost; he saw a man – a fellow human being who was going to die unless someone helped.  He looked past what human reasoning would dictate about how a Samaritan should treat a Jew; he thought about how one human being should treat another.
Favoritism and prejudice are sinfully wrong.  It shames the poor, divides the church and stunts spiritual growth.  Living as a follower of Jesus Christ means a higher road, looking up, loving.  It means loving according to the royal law – when it’s unpopular, inconvenient, unprofitable and uncomfortable.

how can you live like that?

Can we talk?  You and I have our “comfort zones”.  In all candor the Samaritan’s comfort zone most likely meant he did not LIKE the Jew; but he did LOVE him.  But then, Jesus never said you must “like” one another.  In fact, he said we must LOVE one another.  This is a difference as big as the Grand Canyon.  We must be more like the Samaritan who risked all to love someone who – by all rights in that culture – would normally be his enemy.
We get it wrong in the church when we confuse “loving” with “liking”.  Jesus never said you would “like” the church either!  In fact, he said just the opposite; he said that in this world we would have trouble[3] and that following him would be like picking up a cross[4], picking up your electric chair and walking into the death chamber.  That doesn’t sound like a picnic, does it?
But then, why are so many church people nice, and winsome and kind?  It’s what happens when you choose to live by the royal law of LOVE; not the royal law of LIKE.  People love, and it changes them.  More appropriately, you choose God, and when you let God love others through you, God changes things; and the first thing he changes is you.  It’s the way He set things up in this universe.  That’s what James was telling us – mercy (God’s mercy…and ours, if we will live by the royal law of love) triumphs over judgment. 
If mercy is ever to triumph over judgment in your life, it will not happen because you’re good, or you do good stuff.  It will be because you stop trying to be so nice and do what everybody wants you to do, and you throw yourself unconditionally under the bus of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Let his mercy triumph!
And then….and only then, you will begin to love unconditionally – no matter the cost.  And you will see how God changes you and you’ll see the difference – in you AND in other people around you. 
Let mercy have you.  And then watch mercy triumph! 
May it be so in your life!

[1] Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
[2] Mark 12
[3] John 16:33
[4] Matthew 16:24

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Power Under Control

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.  27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.       James 1:26 - 27 (NRSV)

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.  For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?  No more can salt water yield fresh.                                          James 3:1 - 12 (NRSV)
The power of words…
21Death and life are in the power of the tongue:
Proverbs 18:21a (KJV)                     
James called the tongue a raging fire, totally unable to be tamed.  In his opening statement of the chapter he cautions believers to not enter a ministry of teaching lightly.  The tongue is a dangerous weapon, and there are lives at stake.
James tells us the tongue is like the rudder on a big ship, or a bit in the horse’s mouth.  It is a small thing, behind the scenes, yet the most powerful muscle in the body.  It should be used for the highest of purposes!

Use your words to TEACH

George Lucas is Star Wars’ creator.  He was given a lifetime achievement trophy at the Academy Award ceremonies in 1992.  In accepting he said, I've always tried to be aware of what I say in my films because all of us who make motion pictures are teachers, teachers with very loud voices.[1]
We are all teachers, and we are teaching all the time.  Jesus said you shall be my witnesses (Acts 1.8).  When I attended New York Institute of Technology, I had a creative writing teacher who encouraged me greatly.  I turned in a bad essay – it was full of big words to impress my teacher.  It was poorly conceived, badly composed, and grammatically a stench in the nostrils of all my English teachers combined.  She handed it back to me without a grade.  What she did say was, How about choosing a subject about which you know something?  Write it plain, so I’ll understand it.
     My teacher wasn’t interested in my vast vocabulary – she wanted to help me grow as a writer.  So I went back to the drawing board.  I turned in a story about our church youth camping trip.  It was ok – even a bit sappy.  But her words, written in red on that paper are forever an encouragement:
Russell – this is more like it!  This is good – you should really do something with your writing – submit it to a publisher.
I don’t know how I ever got the courage to submit anything to a publisher, but the mere fact that I ever did is because of a teacher whose name I can’t even remember; her words taught me to try.

Use your words to LEAD

     As in teaching, leading is always happening too.  Leading, good or bad, is a matter of the example we set by our response to the world around us.
After three years of researching gossip, Indiana University sociologist Donna Eder has identified an important dynamic involved in gossip.  Eder discovered that the initial negative statement was not the starting point for gossip.  The critical turning point was found in the response to the initial negative statement.  "She's a real snob," is not the start of gossip.  It's when someone else agrees that the gossip fest begins.
     Eder found that the key is whether or not a negative statement is "seconded".  If a second is provided, gossip ensues.  If not, the conversation changes direction.  "No one ever challenged an evaluation that had been seconded.  Conversely, no matter how cutting the remark, an immediate quibble from a listener could send talk into a less critical direction."
The moral:  you can abort gossip-bound conversations by quickly affirming the person being targeted for negative comments.  Want to know what to say when someone starts to tell you gossip:
"I don't want to hear it;
I don't even believe what they're saying about you."
We have been led with words.  Consider Patrick Henry's resounding: "Give me liberty or give me death."   Remember Nathan Hale's vibrant words: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."  Who can forget JFK's inaugural speech and the words: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."  Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring words "I have a dream" from the Washington D.C. Plaza mobilized the black community four decades ago; those words still ring in our ears.  Words such as those changed the course of history. They challenged our souls and spirits, and as a result we will never be the same.
Words can do the same for people and their perception of themselves. They can be used for good. They can be used to inspire, lift up, motivate, instruct, and empathize.[2]

Use your words to HEAL

Finish this statement with me – Sticks and stones may break my bones, but                             will never hurt me.  You and I know that is not true.  There are people in this room right now that can tell you in a moment the hurt they have received in their lifetime – from words either carefully aimed to wound, or words carelessly dropped that stung just as badly.
A child has a fragile makeup emotionally.  Our words, or temper out of control for just an instant can deliver a blow that will cause a lifetime of punctured dreams and hopes.  We, with our words, can drive someone down a pathway of doubt and second-guessing.
On the other hand, we can speak words of kindness.  The right words can heal a brokenness in someone else.  Once, during a particularly difficult time in the life of the church I was serving, I was discouraged – about ready to give up.  Missy Coleman, (God’s gift of a surrogate Grandmother to me) caught me in the church hallway, took my by the hand, stared up at me with those soft eyes, wisdom-creased face and said in that deep South Georgia comforting kindness:  It’ll be alright….just you wait ‘n see. 
Missy’s words didn’t end the struggle in that church, but it put my heart back together.  And that ended the struggle in me!  I didn’t quit.  Missy gave me the courage to go on.

Use your words to SAVE

When you go to the doctor, sometimes he will ask you to stick out your tongue because he wants to examine it.  He can tell a lot about what’s going on inside you just by looking at your tongue.  The Great Physician can also tell if there is a revival or a riot going on – by your words.
Selwyn Hughes is the author of Everyday Walk with Jesus.  In an interview he told about his grandfather. 
In 1904 Wales had a great Holy Spirit revival when a hundred thousand people were converted in six months without any preaching, just God coming down, touching peoples' lives.  The miners underground would suddenly stop working and cry out to God to become converted.  In schools youth and children would have their heads on the desk weeping, and the teacher, often a Christian, would pray with them, leading them to Christ.
Such was the impact of this movement of the Holy Spirit (this awesome flood of God that was going through Wales), that many of the drinking saloons, the public houses closed down; the magistrates had no cases to conduct.  After six months they were given white gloves as a symbol of the fact that they hadn't worked for six months.
One of the men who was converted in that revival was my grandfather.  He was a miner.  His job was leading the horses that pulled the tubs of coal from the mine.
My grandfather was a blasphemer and had a filthy tongue.  The way he used to train his horses was by swearing at them.  Then he got converted, and for days the horses didn't know what to do because he wouldn't swear at them.  They had to learn a new language.  So even the horses knew there was a revival going on because the change was so dramatic. 
My grandfather then led my mother to Christ.  My mother led my father to Christ.  My father led me to Christ.  So I see myself as a product of that revival.[3]
Paul said we should examine ourselves (1 Co 11.28).  In our context we should call it a tongue checkup. 
n    Are your words teaching valuable character?
n    Are your words leading in positive pathways?
n    Are your words healing?
n    Are your words being used by the Holy Spirit in saving?
If your answers do not satisfy you, here’s how to change:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.       Philippians 4:8 (KJV)
The tongue is your most powerful muscle.  To have it under control this way is to follow Jesus.  May it be so!

[1] Edwin A. Roberts, Jr., in the Tampa Tribune, April 5, 1992.  Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 8
[2] Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn In a sermon, Sticks And Stones,
[3] From an interview with Selwyn Hughes, author of Everyday Walk with Jesus Growing Churches, Spring 2001, p.12