The Importance of Words

In our Sunday School class we have been studying the book of James. James has a lot to say about our words and how we use them. For example:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:10

The implication is that we should weigh our words carefully because they can do great damage, to others and to ourselves.

On the other hand, the book of Proverbs tells us:

“A word aptly spoke in like apples of gold in settings of silver…” Proverbs 25:11

Think before you speak and use your words to bless and encourage. Words can make somebody’s day. They can lift spirits. They are a gift from God when used appropriately.

“Words are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil–into the world.” Abraham Heschel

For more about words see these posts:

Two New Words

When Words Matter Most by Cheryl Marshall & Caroline Newheiser–Book Review

More Words

Humility and Grace

This morning during my devotional time I was struck by these words from the book of James:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

When we are truly humble, we begin to realize how much we need God. We may have plenty of “good” ideas, but we really have very little power to bring them to fruition. We must humbly rely upon God. When we admit our helplessness, we begin to see God as He really is– the source of all good things. We become truly thankful for all that we receive from Him — which is everything.

Too often, in our pride, we see God as our helper. Even in our prayers, we call upon Him to do what we want, what we think is best. Instead, in humility, we should be asking Him for the privilege of playing a small part in His plan. After all, Jesus Himself tells us:

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I’m trying to pray this way — but it isn’t easy. I want to open my heart to God and to others; to excise pride from my life, so that God’s grace will abound. We’re still in the season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance, for fasting. Let’s all spend some time fasting from pride. It’s a worthy goal.

For mor about pride see:

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza– Book Review

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges–Book Review

Wisdom and Humility

The Tongue, Again

Looking back over my posts, I notice that I have often written about the tongue — maybe because the sins of the tongue are so numerous, and so easy to commit. We’ve been studying the book of James in the Sunday School class I’ve been attending, and so the subject has come up yet again. In chapter three we read:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

This text tells us that we can use our tongue with for good or for evil. We need to be intentional about what we say because words can edify or they can destroy. This quote from my morning devotional reading emphasizes this principle.

“If it be lawful and expedient to speak, speak those things that may edify. An evil custom and neglect of our own good often makes us set no watch before our mouth. Yet devout discourses of spiritual things further our spiritual growth, especially when persons of one mind and spirit are gathered together in God.” From Of the Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis

So, choose your words carefully, and surround yourself with those who do the same. The life you build up may be your own!

For more posts about the tongue see:

Hold Your Tongue!

Live at Peace/Tame Your Tongue

Zip It by Karen Ehman–Book Review

New Month/No Theme?

Hello readers! Normally every other month has a theme, but this month I decided to have no theme again. Why? Well, my study life and faith journey has been VERY eclectic. Our Bible study has been looking at the book of Revelation; in Sunday School we’re reading the book of James. I’ve been reading a book about prayer, and another about Puritan women. I’m preparing for a Lutheran Via de Cristo retreat, and as part of that process I’ve been considering personal piety and all that means. There are simply too many topics at work in my busy brain to limit myself (and any other authors) to just one! So this month, expect a wide variety of topics. We’re just going to see where God leads us!

This month also falls during the church season of Lent, a time when we should all be particularly prayerful. You may be attending extra church services, fasting, or spending more time examining your Christian life. Please send us your comments, as the Lutheran ladies would love to hear your story. Our wish is to be Christian women, learning together.

For more about Lent see these posts:

Henri Nouwen on Lent

A Lenten Message Part 1

A Lenten Message Part 2

Self-Control = Waiting

I’ve started reading through the book of Titus as part of my morning devotional time. This morning, as I read through Chapter 2, I was struck by how often Paul uses the word self-controlled. As he instructs Titus about the behavior that should be encouraged, he says both older and younger men should exercise self-control, and older women should teach self-control to younger women. Then he goes on to say all Christians should:

… live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ …”Titus 2:12-13

My Bible dictionary defines self-control as “the exercise of restraint and discipline over one’s behavior.” This was important at the time for a number of reasons: the early church was made up of both Gentiles and Jews, people with differing customs and traditions; it also existed in a hostile pagan environment. Christians were bound to come into conflict with one another, and with others. Yet, it was important that they make a witness worthy of their Savior. Why would anyone believe them, or want to join them, if they exhibited the same bad behavior as the culture around them? Guess what, this is still true today!

The thing is self-control usually involves waiting. If we react quickly to an insult, a slight, and unpleasant person, our response is usually sinful, because that is our default position. Our sinful nature tells us to strike back, to speak up, to defend ourselves. Self-control doesn’t mean being a door mat, but it does mean taking some time to respond in the correct way — with gentleness and respect. So if you’re confronted with a difficult situation, take a breath, pray and take this advice from James:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

Just wait!

For more about the book of self-control see these posts:

Producing Fruit

Trust God’s Process

wiser by Dilip Jest, MD., with Scott Lafee–Book Review

Perpetually Discontented

Discontentment seems to be a constant of human life. I guess it can be a good thing in some cases. If we’re not satisfied with our health, we may be motivated to exercise, eat healthy foods, and so on. If we’re unhappy with our spiritual life we might begin to spend more time in bible study and prayer. If we have an inventive bent, being discontented may lead us to imagine and produce a better product. Unfortunately, most of the time being discontented doesn’t work for our good. As James put it,

“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:2

Think about Adam and Eve. They had everything a human being needed to be happy, but it wasn’t enough. Then came Cain and Abel — Cain killed his brother because he envied the approval Abel received from God. So, as you can see discontentment may damage our relationship with God and with others. It can quickly lead us into sin.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” James 3:16

What’s the remedy? A change of focus. We need to stop looking at ourselves (what we want, what we think will make us happier) and at others (those who have something more or better than we do). We must focus on what God has given us and be thankful. We must also unselfishly rejoice in what God has given to others. If we follow the way of love described in 1 Corinthians, we’ll be content. Our relationship with God and with others will be better, our health will improve (because we’re not angry or worried) and we’ll be happier.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

For more about contentment see:

Content in All Circumstances

Good Stewards are Content

Truly Blessed

James Chapter 5–What Stands Out

Well, I’ve made it to the final chapter of James in my lectio divina study. Here’s what stands out to me:

You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” James 5:5a

When I compare my life, and the things I own, to others around me, I like to imagine my lifestyle is modest. However, the truth of the matter is:

*My husband and I own two cars

*We have a nice condo in a quiet neighborhood

*We buy pretty much whatever we want at the grocery store

*We have a tidy sum set away in our retirement accounts

*We go on vacations and other trips a couple of times a year

*We go out to eat several times a month

*We have a closet full of clothing

To most of the world, somebody like me, somebody with a pretty “average” life in the United States is living in the lap of luxury. Most people in the world live in poverty. 85% of the world live on less than $30 per day, two-thirds live on less than $10 per day, and every tenth person lives on less than $1.90 per day. In each of these statistics price differences between countries are taken into account to adjust for the purchasing power in each country. In addition, many of the consumer goods we enjoy (things like clothing, electronics and even chocolate) depend upon the work of people who are either enslaved or forced to work in horrible conditions.

I feel guilty and I should. However, I’m not sure what to do about it, or how to change things .I can only rely on the forgiveness of God and His mercy.

 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.””

 Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?

 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:25-17

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

I’ve been making my way through the book of James, reading in a slow, meditative way. I’m up to Chapter four and what stand out is this:

“… you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” James 4:14

If you’re anything like me, you spend quite a bit of time worrying about the future. Big things like — Will I stay healthy? Do I have enough savings put aside? Small things like — What will I make for dinner? Do I have time to fit my exercise minutes into this busy day? Planning is good, but I can get carried away, becoming tense and anxious about things that I can’t control or things that really aren’t that significant in the long run. It distracts me from the present, and from the thing or things God wants me to notice right now.

Instead, James goes on to say, we our plans must leave things in the hands of God. We should say:

If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15

Many things happened during the past year that we couldn’t have predicted– a world wide pandemic? Church services on Zoom or Youtube? Virtual classrooms? Not to mention sickness and death suddenly becoming a real possibility. Who would have guessed? How could we have been prepared? It’s been stressful, and many are still anxious and depressed.

The only way for me (and you) to have peace is to put our trust in the One who made heaven and earth and holds our lives in His hands. Whatever the future holds, He’s with us.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

For more about trusting God see these posts:

When Things are Unclear–Trust God

Trusting Your Leader

Grow Through Surrender and Trust

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

In my lectio divina reading of James, I’m up to chapter 3. Here’s what stands out to me:

“The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6b

James already warned us that we should be slow to anger (James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?) and now he is telling us what may happen if we don’t think before we speak. I’m particularly struck by the phrase “setting on fire the entire course of life.” A cruel word cannot be called back, and it can burn bridges for life. Family members have become estranged, friendships have ended, divorces have been set in motion, all because of unwise words spoken in anger.

Hateful words are destructive. They do not come from God. In many places the Bible tells us to encourage, not discourage. Relationships will be more pleasant, conflict will be avoided, and life will be happier, if we watch our words. It’s a no-brainer, but one we all seem to find hard to observe.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

It shouldn’t be that hard. Listen to James and use your kind words! It will make your life better.

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:20-22

The phrase that stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of the second chapter of James was: “his faith was made complete by what he did.” When we come to belief in Christ, it’s the beginning of a process — the process of sanctification. In many places in the New Testament, we are told that our faith will transform us. For example:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Our faith is not a simple philosophical assent — it’s meant to take over our way of thinking, and also our way of behaving. Here’s a comparison for you. A while back, I took a “Prevent Diabetes” class at the local Senior Center. One of the participants came to every class. She learned about counting calories, portion control and exercise. She believed what she was taught — but she never put what she learned into practice. At the end of the year, she had made no progress toward her goal of lowering her blood sugar count. Simply sitting in class week after week didn’t get her the results she wanted. She didn’t really get with the program.

God has a program too, and it’s very simple:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.(and) … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mark 12:30-31

The emotion of love is not complete until we follow it up with loving deeds. So, make sure your faith and actions work together. You’ll be pleased with the results, and so will your Father in heaven.