Hello Siri

We sit in front of some type of screen for multiple hours every day. Whether it be a smartphone, navigational system, tablet, TV, or computer, our days revolve around these pieces of technology more now than ever before. Gadgets and their technology have become part of our daily lives. Maybe this technology can help us with our words and thus with our relationships.

I’m not talking about YouVersion, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube? I’m talking about Siri. Siri is the intelligent personal assistant on the iPhone that helps you get things done just by asking. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. I believe Siri could be a big help in interpersonal relationships, provided we seek her advice. For example,  this conversation between husband and wife.

Sarah: Michael, I have been thinking about this for some time and I believe we need some counseling.  I am willing to work very hard on whatever is suggested at the counseling sessions.
Michael: Makes scoffing sound. “I’ve got pretty much everything I need to patch this thing up right here at home. I do. So why pay a bunch of professionals that will rip us off and probably make you more needy than you are now. You just need to get your arms around your problems and we will be good. Of course, it is no wonder you have issues with your family. Siri, do you agree?”
Siri: Dude, are you kidding me…perhaps you should ….
Michael: I’m thinking this should be fixed in a week or so, or maybe I should scrap the whole thing and start over. Siri, make a note to see if the issues are solved on my calendar two weeks from today.
Siri: Michael, do you have a mute button? You really need to think first, talk second. Do do you realize that you could alienate or even lose the woman you love forever because of an all-or-nothing choice you just presented her with.  You gave her an ultimatum, that was not very….
Michael: Sarah, for one thing, stop talking during the commercials. With all that talking, I am unable to focus fully on the storyline or hear crucial parts of the dialogue.
Siri: What…are you kidding me!
Michael: Take the Papa John’s commercial Sunday evening. As soon as the ad came on, you started yapping about something you were discussing in small group and I totally missed what Peyton Manning said to Papa John. Siri, can you record the commercial next time it is on?
Siri: At least I have artificial intelligence…you on the other hand are an idiot.
Michael: And I hate the smell of Lysol around the house. And you use too much ketchup on everything. And I just can’t listen to any more Michael Bolton songs….
Siri: Sigh.

OK, you get the idea. Siri can’t fix our relationships, only God can. By asking God for constant advice rather than technology, we can put Him on the throne of our lives. As common as our relationship problems are, we often misunderstand what causes them to occur. Much of the time they come from hidden conversations and action patterns within us, not from the behavior or attitudes of others. The problem is we often don’t notice the role that we play. We can be more aware and wise when we invite God to be an active participant and guide.

How do we apply God’s wisdom in our words? A major part of using God’s wisdom in our words is to not forget God’s teaching and to put His commandments in our heart (Proverbs:3:1). If our mouths are to speak from the abundance of our hearts, then our hearts must have the right thoughts from which to speak. God’s Word provides this proper foundation.

It is the right first step. Just ask Siri, I think she will agree.

Discussion Questions:
1. Can we be completely objective in our relationships? If not, why not? Why can others see the problems ahead, but we cannot?
2. Do we have the ability to forgive others when their words or actions harm us? Conversely, can we admit our errors in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness from the ones we’ve hurt?
3. Do we seek to live in harmony with the people we have relationships with? Do we place the interest of others above our self-interest? Do we encourage others by pointing out their strengths, rather than criticizing their weaknesses?
4. Does your time commitments demonstrate that you value relationships over work/career/hobbies.

Learning My Words

“A giraffe has a black tongue twenty-seven inches long and no vocal cords. A giraffe has nothing to say. He just goes on giraffing.” – Robert Fulghum,

When Roy said on Sunday that we develop traits in 6th grade that carry forward, it reminded me of a book.

Approximately 25 years ago, Robert Fulghum published a book entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book became a number one New York Times bestseller. We were told to share everything, play fair, and take a nap every afternoon. Additional things to live by include, “don’t take things that aren’t yours,” and “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” Not all that the book covers is so pragmatic. There is the need to be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all impressed by that. That was the kid in us, to not really know how or why, but just to have wonder.

Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. It is hard to argue with any of those life rules. Once you’ve graduated from Kindergarten, and you have taken these rules to heart, you have a sound foundation for life and strong relationships.

I think most people would agree that life would be better if we had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if every government had the basic default of always cleaning up their own mess. And it is still true, that it is the best policy not to hurt people through our actions or our words. And that is never more true than in our relationships.

Blaise Pascal, one of the great mathematicians and philosophers of our time described it this way: “Few friendships would survive if each one knew what his friend says of him behind his back. I lay it down as a fact that if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world.” And you can add to that spouses, sisters, brothers, co-workers etc. Words are harmful. And unlike in Kindergarten, where we as kids forget about something said or done several minutes later, we as adults tend to hold onto the hurt and use it as motivation for rebuttal and/or revenge.

The truth is some things are better left unsaid, because harmful words have long lasting consequences. If they are unkind or untrue, you want them to take it back, but it never works. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. There is grace and forgiveness, hope and reconciliation, but once those words go out, you can’t retrieve them. And it is a whole lot easier not to say the words in the first place than to do the damage control of covering your tracks and trying to make amends.

Everything you need to know is in Robert Fulgrum’s book somewhere. Take any one of those items and put it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if all governments had, as a basic policy, to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. Or, if we never learned to use the tongue as a weapon, and better yet, we forgot a conflict a minute later like we did when we were in Kindergarten.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Discussion Questions:
1. Would you want a friend/relative to know what you say behind his or her back?
2, What is the major obstacle to harnessing your words?
3. What is the first small step that would make a difference in your ability to control your words?
4. Pray and ask God to give you the tools and the development to think before you react, and to improve rather than harm your relationships through your words.

Small Changes Can Change Everything

“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” – Warren Wiersbe

“Marty, I have enjoyed this series, but as much as I have tried, the small changes don’t seem to be making much of a difference in my habits or in my words. I just don’t see much change.”

I understand. We often look around and things seem static. The task seems too large and the journey too long. The preliminary steps we take in that direction don’t seem to make a difference. We feel like we make little to no progress. It is easy to get discouraged and begin asking yourself “why bother?”

Isaiah 55:10-11 tells us: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Isaiah is reminding us that God is at work. Wherever the people of God go, change happens. Sometimes it is slow. I heard a quote that said basically, “We don’t wait well. We’re into microwaving. God, on the other hand, is usually into marinating.” Change is not always so slow, although it can seem that way.

In Sunday’s message, I talked about the analogy of life to a race. You can train hard and thoroughly prepare for a race, but when the gun goes off, you never know how you’re going to feel or what will happen. Chances are you might get to a point when the “race” isn’t going the way you thought it would and you wonder why you would ever do something like this. The Bible uses the specific metaphor of a long distance race. The nature of the Christian life is not run in a sprint, but it is run with a steady and strategic pace over a lifetime of endurance. Running requires faith that holds onto God’s promises despite life’s circumstances. Though circumstances can be bleak and seem fruitless, with this metaphor believers are encouraged to press on with an anticipation that there is a finish line with rewards.

Many of you have been running the race since the beginning, some of you have just joined, some of you are going at an incredible pace. And some think your not really prepared for the race ahead. We are here for a reason; to be committed to being the people that God wants us to be. This is where faith and trust comes in. T.F. Tenney once said, “Lets keep the main thing… as the main thing.” The main thing is to lean on and to trust God. Regardless of where we are or what we may think at the moment, God is working. The Spirit is moving. Change will happen if you stay the course you have started.

I find it helpful to capture my “focus for the year” in a word, so that I can stay focused on one main thing all year. This year, my word was “small” based on Matthew 25:21 which says: ”The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (NLT)

After praying and seeking the Lord, this was the word that kept sticking out in my mind. So I went with it. It really helps me to keep me focused me on doing the small things well. When things get a little busy or overwhelming it is the word I can return to and find clarity and direction. As you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to form your character at a deep, sustainable level. It’s not the size of the ability, but the faithfulness of the servant that is most important.

Discussion questions:
1. Do we have a hard time accepting God’s timing? Does it seem too slow or too fast?
2. What can we do to accept God’s timing?
3. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” What are some of the impediments that cause us to take our eyes off of Christ and entangle us while running the race? Can habits distract you? What about a lack of discipline?
4. Is there anything from this series you would like to talk more about? Anything you didn’t understand?
5. How can we as a Northstar group strive to persevere in this race together? How can we be praying for you specifically?.

Start Small Changes in a Small Group

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25.

The idea of “not neglecting to meet together” means that we are gathered together regularly for corporate worship on Sundays. That is what people would think. And certainly that is important. But the verse also says to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. With our Sunday service times, space constraints, and time restraints, it is hard to stir one another up to love and good works. Basically we need more than one place for meeting together. We need additional avenues and opportunities for building community within the church.

When we talk about community we are talking about Northstar Groups for the most part. Without smaller communities, sitting in circles, not rows, it’s nearly impossible to obey God in all things. Don’t believe me? Then read this verse and tell me how we can do what it asks us to do. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The NIV says “carry” while The Message instructs us to “share their burdens.” Among many commands we are told to “love each other,” “pray for each other,” “encourage each other,”  “serve each other,”  “teach each other,” “accept each other,” and be “devoted to each other.”

That is why we spend so much time as a church staff working on Northstar Groups. Biblical community is the principle, and small groups is just our contemporary way of practicing the biblical principle. It’s critically important because we want each member and regular attender to experience real biblical community. If you are not, you need to be involved.

The subject of community is never far from my mind. Actually, it’s been on my mind for years, and although we make progress in this area every year, I still come to the conclusion we can do more.

People have told me that being part of a group was incredibly freeing and life-giving.  That at no other point in their spiritual life had their opinion been truly valued like with that group.  At no other point had they felt so closely connected relationally to people headed in the same direction toward Jesus as they were. People have told me that if it hadn’t been for that small group, they would not be the person they are today.

It can be a life changing experience, one where you can really get to know others and let others into your world. My question is why so many people choose not to avail themselves of the opportunity to do life with other Christians. I know there are logistics and timing and interest challenges. But, I believe we have a group for everyone.

Our current teaching series is about Small Changes and Big Differences. I believe with all my heart that if you take the small step and join a Northstar Group, it will make a very big difference in your life.

Join a Northstar Group today.

Discussion questions:

1. What is the principle reason you have not attended a Northstar Group? Is it enough of a reason to not participate in deep, sustained connections with other believers?
2. Do you believe you can experience authentic biblical community outside of Northstar or other groups?
3. If you attend a Northstar Group, give an example of how your community has recently encouraged you or helped you change something in your life.
4. Give an example of how you have recently helped, encouraged, challenged or prayed for another member of your group.
5. Pray and ask God to guide you to the best group for you.

Keystone Habits

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” –  Charles Duhigg

In the message on Sunday, I referenced a book by Charles Duhigg entitled “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” Duhigg studies the science of behavior, focusing particularly on habits. His premise is that in essence, our entire lives can be summed up by our habits, those things we do incessantly, day in and day out. From brushing our teeth, to the places we shop to the way we eat, sleep, work and play, our habits define us. Good habits, done over a long period of time, have incredible results. Bad habits, even little ones, done over a long period of time have the power to destroy us.

It is hard to argue with Duhigg’s assertions. I would suggest that the key to changing your life is to change your habits, but this is easier said than done. In the book, researchers studied people who underwent radical and enduring lifestyle changes and found that the secret nearly always boiled down to what is known as a single keystone habit.

As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, a keystone habit is a single habit which, when implemented, has a ripple effect or compounding effect on other areas of life. In other words, we change the most when we change one habit that will ultimately impact other areas of our life. Sounds a lot like the series Small Changes Big Differences, doesn’t it?

As we have said through this whole series, don’t set far flung and overly ambitious goals. I would like to be like the apostle Paul, but that won’t happen this year or even in this decade. Instead, we need to focus on one goal, that if we accomplish over time will have a ripple effect in other areas of our lives. In other words the small steps we take this year should be focused on a keystone habit. Don’t look for quick wins because they don’t bring about lasting change.

OK, Marty, what are the keystone steps in your mind. I will answer that, but if you thought about it for a few minutes you would have probably come up with the same list. Here are the habits which I believe will make a big difference in our lives:

1. Attending church and Northstar group weekly.
2. Spending time with God in His Word and prayer daily.
3. Serving in a weekly ministry.
4. Giving back to God at least 10 percent of my income.
5. Going on a short-term mission trips.

These five habits are so much a part of me I take them for granted. They have shaped who I am and what God has done in my life. However, they didn’t become habits overnight. It took time, in fact years. So, I would suggest you concentrate on number 1 on that list until it becomes a habit. If it is already a habit go on to number two and so on. Do that and I believe your life in several years will be radically different than it is today and bring lasting spiritual growth and change in your life.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are the keystone habits in your life? What should they be? How do those keystone habits intersect with discipline?
2. How would your life be different if you developed the daily habit of reading the Bible?
3. Do you attend Northstar Groups whenever possible? Do you tithe? Do you pray as frequently or as fervently as you would like? How do we develop the discipline to make those things a habit?
4. One of the keystone habits for church members is inviting unchurched members to attend church. Is that a habit of yours? If not, why not?

What Do You Want Most?

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”  – Samuel Johnson.

What do you want most out of life? Or let me ask ask the same question a different way. What do you treasure most? If I asked that question of everyone who is a member or regular attender of Northstar, I would get a variety of answers. A preponderance of the answers, however, would be success in long-term goals involving: my relationship/walk with God, family, home, financial success, community, generosity, integrity, and wisdom to name a few.

But if we are honest, we may also want to deal with the negative in our lives. The things in our life that are in the crevices we try to ignore. Most of us have things that are buried in hidden crevices. We try to ignore them, but if we’re honest, we have to admit they’re there. We’re not even sure what those crevices contain. Is it a lack of faith? Is it doubt? Is it the memory of a time when we didn’t do what we know was right? They are always there, lurking in the background.  We can work and try all our lives, but we can’t seem to reach them. What we want most in life is to rid ourselves of these things that we believe could be impeding our relationship with God. The reality is we can’t fix these things on our own.

The reason I believe this series, Small Changes, Big Difference was so important is that we can clean out the crevices, whether they are habits, or lack of discipline or whatever, and get what we want most. Wherever you are in your walk with God, it is the end of a chapter not the end of the book. There are more chapters in my life to be written. And where you now is not how the story really ends. It is a lifetime process. It is never complete in this life. God won’t stop until the job is done.

What happened in the past is in the past. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. Today, you can turn the page and take the small steps to improve your relationships on this earth and your relationship with God. So, today, strike up a conversation with God. Tell Him what you want most, and ask Him for His help to get you there. And then trust Him to unfold His plan as He sees fit. I remember the Garth Brook’s song about how some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. Remember that God doesn’t answer prayer our way, He answers them His way which is always better. He will address your habits, good and bad. He will help you with your lack of discipline or build on the discipline you have. He will help you clean out those crevices.

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Note the last four words: “He will do it.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, based on the complexity of our habits or the depth of our crevices. There is no hesitation, or doubt of any kind. Not “He may do it” or “He might do it” or “He could do it” or “He will do it if he feels like it.” Not even “He will do it if we do our part or we are worthy.” Just a simple statement that God will do it without the slightest reference to anything on our part. Change happens when God has a strong hold on us.

We may chafe, doubt and even worry about our lack of progress. We may even think of giving up. But God does not change. God is at work in your life. He will not stop until the job is done. He will do it.

Discussion Questions:
1. Am I failing at this Christian life? Am I succeeding? How do you measure success or failure?
2. Do you believe “He will do it” as 1 Thessalonians says? How has that belief manifested itself in your life? Where have you seen real change in your life since becoming a Christian?
3. How would you rate yourself in being a disciplined person?
4. What do you want most? What do you need to do now to have what you want most?
5. What habit would you change if you could? Why?

Habit forming

“We become what we repeatedly do.”  Sean Covey

A habit is an action we do regularly, often without thinking. It’s just what we do. If we do an action and it feels good or we get the results we want, then we often repeat it over and over. Some habits are beneficial and some can be detrimental. If it’s detrimental, it’s usually called an addiction. If it’s beneficial, it’s called a good discipline. Our day is full of small little “habits” that we do unconsciously. Some of us are habitually tidy, or messy, or early, or late, or rude, or courteous, or happy, or angry. At the end of the day, I believe the direction of your life is being determined by the habits. They become who we are.

2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us: ”And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I think we can agree that being transformed into His image requires changes in our lives. That is the purpose of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps we make them because the new year provides a discernible opportunity for new beginnings. Perhaps we make them because they give us hope that the coming year will be better than the previous year. Thus, with eager hearts, honorable intentions, and high hopes, we make our resolutions. Unfortunately, all too soon each year, most of these resolutions are broken. The resolution to stop smoking goes up in smoke. The resolution to start exercising runs out of steam. The resolution to lose weight is eaten away. The resolution to save money is spent. The resolution to read the Bible fails to open the cover or the app.

The reality is that resolutions always involve change, and change is never easy. Our old habits die hard. Usually, we require some compelling reason before we truly make change in our lives. For example, being served divorce papers creates the impact and instigates the commitment to make lasting change in marriage.

This difficulty we have in effecting change makes even more amazing the transformation that Jesus Christ can bring. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus provides for us the ultimate opportunity for personal change. When we come to Jesus and ask Him to become the ruler of our life and to forgive us of our sin, He forever changes us. We pass from death to life, from darkness to light, from fear to freedom.

Fortunately for us, God is not finished making changes in our lives. He is an agent of change in each of us. Whatever Jesus Christ reigns, He changes. He makes it to be more like Himself. The most effective way for us to see lasting change in our lives is through increasing our intimacy with Jesus Christ and our commitment to Him being Lord of our lives. As we do that, He will transform us.

Here’s the point. If you truly want to see positive change in your life this year, you need to first let Christ reign in your life every day. Real change is an inside job, and only God can work from within.

Discussion Questions:
1. How painful do you think it would be if God literally used a chisel to make us the way He wants us?
2. How would you rate your readiness to implement the daily disciplines that enable you to make the changes that will draw you closer to God?
3. What should you change in your life (either add or drop from your life) in order to deepen your relationship with Jesus? Are there areas in your life that you have not yet submitted to God?
4. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Pray and ask God to help you make the small changes that affect where our heart loyalties lie.

Spread the Word

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I’m a little concerned that if you have been religiously following the devotional this week that you may be afraid to open your mouth. You probably are thinking about putting an “out of order” note on your tongue and leave it at that. But, while we do need to control it and it has the capacity to cause harm as James tells us, the tongue can also bless you and be a blessing to others. If we guard our words, they in turn will guard us.

He you ever read or heard Winston Churchill speak? Winston Churchill knew the power of words. In speeches, books, and articles, he expressed his feelings and laid out his vision for the future. His wartime writings and speeches have fascinated generation after generation with their powerful narrative style and thoughtful reflection. His words gave the British people hope in some pretty dark times during World War 2.

There is much to be gained from keeping your tongue or using it for the glory of God. Not the least of which is praising God. Psalm 92:1:“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High…” Express our faith as in Romans 10: 9-10: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Pray and pour out our hearts to Him. Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

We can also use our tongues to build up and encourage one another. That is one of the reasons we meet together every Sunday and each week in our Northstar Groups. Ephesians 4:29 states: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” We can be positive, inspirational and encouraging. And in days like these, there are many times when each one of us could use an encouraging word. The world that we live in today tends to be negative and the news and media reflect that. As Christians, we don’t try to sugar-coat reality, but we point people to a Savior who is the answer to the problems of this world. And that is something to be positive about.

Taming our tongue is something that will definitely take time and we will have to go through a season of pruning, improving, and changing because there are so many aspects and dimensions to this topic of taming our tongue, that we have been dealing with this week.

Guard every conversation and speech that you expose yourself too. Do not entertain anything that does not glorify God or edify people in or around you. Put your eyes on Jesus and begin holding onto His promises for your life. Surround yourself with godly friendships and relationships that can help you pursue Him. That is how you can cut off the root of every wrong, negative and ungodly speech that comes from our tongues.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you believe the tongue has as much power for good as for evil? Why or why not?
2. Give an example of where the tongue was used for good today? What can you glean from that example?
3. The tongue can reveal who you are as a person. Reflect on what you have spoken today. What can you learn about where your heart is based on your conversations?
4. Christians have been referred to as leaky buckets – once we have been filled by God, we have to continually seek him for fresh fillings of His Spirit. What do you need to do to be “re-filled with the Holy Spirit?”
5. What are some simple rules that you can follow to control your tongue? What do you think God is prompting you to do to take the next step in “taming your tongue?”

Hold Your Tongue

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” – Psalms 19:14

I feel this devotional may create some unease or even some apprehension. Even so, I think it is important we don’t use being a Christian or Christianity as justification for harmful, or as I described them in Sunday’s message, life taking words. Let me explain. History is replete with examples of people who caused great harm through their words under the guise of religion.

David Koresh was the American leader of the Branch Davidians religious sect, believing himself to be its final prophet. Revelations of wrongdoing provoked the historic 1993 raid on the center by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the center, where Koresh and 75 others were found dead after the fire.

Now I grant you that this is an extreme group and what they do under the guise of following God is an extreme example. We don’t have to go to that extreme to be judgmental and even harmful in what we say as Christians. But each of us as followers of Jesus have to be careful that we do not harm others with our words because we are Christians.

Let’s face it, there are times we open our mouths and wish we hadn’t.  Often we are trying to stay morally anchored but can’t resist the urge to get on our soapbox. Or the countless other incidents when Christians open their mouths because we believe we may be right, although we are not always right, doesn’t mean it needs to be said or we are the right person to make a moral judgment call.

You are talking to a friend before church and you point out that somebody you both know is too liberal for your taste. The person who they are speaking about may never hear what is said, or it may get back to them at some point. Either way, the tongue in this case is not being used as God intends it to be used.  There are many other examples of things Christians say in homes, coffee shops and outdoor settings across the country and world. After all we are Christians and we are here to help. And we are armed with the gospel and biblical truth. That does not mean we don’t need to have a firewall on our tongue to stop us from using words that create death in others.

Scripture is pretty straightforward on this subject. Ephesians 4:29-31 speaks to this: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.”

I know how easy it is to let loose with a crushing verbal blow.  I know just what words and phrases can cut to the quick; if most of us are honest, we probably use them with alarming regularity. But now I am trying to start small and using my words for the positive, not the negative. My witty yet biting banter, or gossip, or harsh words did nothing for God or the Gospel when I was hurting people rather than helping them to find healing in Christ Jesus. I cannot, for the life of me, understand what makes us say some of the hurtful things we say.  We are not called by the living God to be hurtful, but to reflect his grace and love.

One more thing to think about. It seems to be all the more prevalent now that we do not need a face-to-face with the person to say harmful things or to get on our soapbox. Now we can write them online, post them to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and stream them on comments sections as if they are not directed at another person, and therefore, not really hurtful.  Well, they are. Not only are they directly painful, but they are painful to read even when they are not directed at us.

It is quite a challenge to tame the tongue as James 3 indicates. Yet, as Christians, we need to watch what we say so Jesus will be glorified through our lives. Matthew 15: 10-11 says, “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Discussion Questions: 
1. Imagine if we could erase the reputation of Christian soapboxes and become known for our love and co-work with Christ’s redemption in His world. How can our words help that happen?
2. How different would your life be if you clothed yourself in love rather than in anger or being holier than thou?
3. Set aside some prayerful moments to ask the Lord to search your heart, and help you in the areas of the tongue.
4. Read Romans 12: 17-18. How does this apply to the words we speak?

Slip Of The Tongue

The tongue is an interesting organ. For starters, here are a few cool facts you may have never known about that tongue of yours: One taste bud has 50-100 taste cells. No single cell can identify both sweet and bitter. The tongue heals faster than any other part of the body. The human tongue is as unique to you as your fingerprints, since it comes in various shapes and has a variable number of taste buds. Almost half of all the bacteria in your mouth live on your tongue. Your tongue never stops working; even when you sleep, it is pushing saliva into your throat.

But we also learned how James warned us about this delightful instrument. I think we have all learned some of the lessons James is talking about when it comes to the power of our tongue. One of the primary themes that we have been discussing this week in the daily devotional is how to control this delightful and complicated speech instrument.

I have never met the President of the United States but, I have met my fair share of important people, at least significant in my eyes. A strange things happens. I am on my best behavior. I listen intently so I can respond correctly. I think before I speak. I choose my words carefully. I do whatever I need to do to keep from putting put my foot in my mouth.

The question is do we afford our Heavenly Father the same respect and consideration and in His case reverence? After all, God is the creator of the universe and His son came so that I might have eternal life. After all, my tongue is not actually my tongue. This tongue of mine was purchased with a heavy price on the cross. And because I have been set free, fully redeemed from sin, the rights to this mouth are relinquished as I hand them over to the King of Glory. So why is showing reference to God with my tongue so difficult?

We have been answering the question of “why” this week.

The answer to why is that we are incapable of responsibly stewarding the tongue without Jesus. I can create a world of havoc and destruction, not only in my own life but in the lives of others. Rather than building up my fellow neighbors (including myself) or giving the Lord His rightful praise, I complain, criticize and even slander those I deeply care about. And more importantly, these are people that God deeply cares about.

Yes, we need God’s involvement. Jesus is like a refreshing dose of holy mouth wash. He cleanses my mouth so that it may operate as a vehicle for praise, love, encouragement toward our heavenly father, His followers, and those He seeks to save.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why can we control our words around important people but not to people who are important to God?
2. How should our love for a generous God lead us to value loving and truthful words?
3. How do you assume responsibility for every word you speak?
4. Why is it difficult for individuals to tame their tongues by themselves? Is it easier to control harsh words within the church family? If not, why not? What is the role of the community in fostering truthful, loving, and wise speech?
5. Pray and dedicate your heart and tongue to God each day.