And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, … and it is set on fire of hell. James 3:6  A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Ever been tempted to say the wrong thing? In the passion of emotion, words burst from your mouth that you immediately wish you could retract? Or hyperbole characterizes your speech? Or could it be that you can’t resist having the last word in an argument? How many ways can we offend with the tongue—a member “set on fire of hell.”
Do you remember the Jewish fable of the gossip who was taken to the top of a mountain along with his feather pillow? He was told to cut the pillow open and to shake it in the wind. Strong gusts carried the feathers near and far, and then the fellow’s rabbi told him to pick up the feathers. Of course, the man cried out that it would be impossible to find every feather. “And that’s just like the words that come from your mouth,” said the rabbi. The wind carries them hither and thither, and they can never be retrieved.
And then there are words of love and affirmation, of approval and admiration, of support and encouragement, and any number of words that bless. Those words are like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” We all love to hear these kinds of words.
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, had a little test (she called this the three sieves) for conversation: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Some things may be true or they may be kind but may be totally unnecessary to repeat. This last sieve may be the most difficult test to pass as it seems so easy to pass on information about another person that others don’t need. That especially applies to truth that would be hurtful if freely divulged.
But how wonderful to be able to shower someone with words that bless and lift. They don’t have to be profound or abundant. Just a few heartfelt words can make a person’s whole day—or bring healing to a broken spirit.
Let’s try, just for this day, to hand out “apples of gold” and then, tomorrow, to do the same thing until kind, true, and necessary words become our habit.


Father, it’s so easy to offend with the tongue. Help us to guard our words so that what comes from our lips blesses the hearer and brings joy to the heart. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.



Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:1

Ordinarily, I love surprises—like the time I walked into a hotel dining room and discovered that my children had arranged a birthday party for me with friends and family members. And the time our office manager called me in to say I’d be receiving a substantial raise. Yes, I love those kinds of surprises.

But there are also the other kind, and I know we’ve all experienced them. When my son and daughter-in-law came to see me in the middle of the day and were both unusually sober-faced, I knew something was wrong. They positioned themselves carefully on the living room sofa and made a grim announcement: my daughter had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Some surprises are breath-taking.

Without even thinking, a response burst from my lips. “God isn’t surprised.” Even before I knew all the details, years of study, observation and experience assured me that God always goes before us and meets us at every point of our journey. I might be surprised, but he wasn’t.

Jesus knows that none of us is clairvoyant and sees the future, which is a good thing oftentimes. He also knows that life can easily take us unawares and bring about disequilibrium, confusion, and fear. And he made provision for all that. Just look at some of his reassurances to his fledgling disciples and to us: I’ll always be with you (Matt. 28:20); I give you peace, don’t be afraid (John 14:27); I have overcome the world (John 16:33); the Holy Spirit dwells in and with you (John 14:16-18); no one can take your joy (John 16:22); come to me, and I’ll give you rest (Matt. 11:28). And there are so many more words of comfort throughout Holy Scripture.

So, how do we deal with unpleasant surprises? We cast them on Jesus; we trust him to take them; we refuse to retrieve those pains; we glorify God in the middle of the grief; and we move on. Just as my son and daughter-in-law and I took our hurtful news about my daughter straight to our Father. That was twelve years ago, and my daughter today is cancer-free.

And what, you may say, if my daughter hadn’t been healed? Or a myriad of other desperate prayers hadn’t been answered? God’s faithfulness would have remained, and he would have provided exactly what we needed to maintain our witness and trust in him. He does not fail. He goes before, behind, over, and under us so that even unhappy surprises don’t dislodge us from our trust in him.

Father, I still love surprises, even the small ones like an unexpected downpour. You are God and a loving Father and only do wondrous things that will always work together for good. Thank you. AMEN.



…the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Patrick, my pastor, and my son Chris are two of the best examples I know of holistic fitness. They work out regularly, stay in and practice the Word, and have healthy diets. I also exercise and eat a generally healthy diet, but I’ve never, ever, in my wildest imagination considered myself physically strong or to be emulated in any physical sense.
However: I’ve discovered the keys to another kind of persevering strength, and they always work. Our minds, bodies, and spirits are integrated making us a whole person fit to do and be what God has for us each day. I am not speaking here of emotional or medical “highs” that are completely dependent on circumstances or chemicals. God has given us important principles that can be activated for practical results.
Here are a few reminders. Reader, be aware: They take time, and they move the focus from ourselves to him. “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 Have you ever noticed how depression, anger, or negative emotions sap your energy and block your aspirations? Put those aside and persist in moving back into God’s presence that’s described as “fullness of joy.” Take time to access his joy and find yourself strengthened for whatever your task may be.
“…be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.” Ephesians 6:10 If we recognize our lack of strength for any trial or need, we can humbly call on the Lord for his strength that never fails and is always adequate for the day or situation.
One of my favorite verses comes from Deuteronomy 33:25—“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Have you ever felt like pulling the covers over your head and declaring time out? The night was too short or the day will be too unpleasant. Think about this wonderful word. Whatever the challenges of the day, no matter the difficulty of the assignment or heat of the trial, God will give us the strength we need for that day. Not tomorrow’s needs or yesterday’s; God gives us what we need for the day (daily bread).
In Isaiah (41:10) we read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” There’s no need for us to ever be weaklings in God’s strength if we rely in him and not in ourselves.
I could go on: Philippians 4:13, Isaiah 40:31, I Chronicles 16:11, Isaiah 40:29, Habakkuk 3:19, and even more. God is everything we need and gives us what we need to serve and follow him, so let’s cast off weakness and be strong—in him.


Kind Father, it’s so easy to fall into the temptation of being weak when we look at our human frailty. Shake us to remember whose we are and cause us to access our strength in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.



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)

What if everyone in the whole world—kings and presidents, corporate leaders, tribal chiefs, priests and pastors, parents and children, everyone—heeded the above injunction? What if YOU and I looked at this list and committed ourselves to obedience? From this point on, we will think only about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy.

Proverbs 23:7 says we are what we think about. A quick inventory over just the past couple of days finds thoughts of past failure, memories of slights, concern over ministries… But I also see thoughts of incredible gratitude, God’s faithfulness, his abundance, his loving care, his mercy, and joy in the relationships he has planted in my life. Can you imagine what life would become if only the true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy thoughts were allowed to remain and even to saturate every tiny cell in our brains? The way that would affect every aspect of our being—our relationships, our work, our health, our future…

Some of God’s promises assure that we are kept in perfect peace when we keep our minds on him (Isa. 26:3). Couldn’t we all embrace 24/7 perfect peace? That’s peace all the time. And that’s a promise—from GOD. If we believed and activated the mind of Christ in us (another promise—I Cor. 2:16), we’d live and act differently. Talk about transformation. And that peace from God guards our hearts (emotions) and minds (Phil. 4:7), keeping us stable and calm whatever the journey brings.

I don’t see the Scripture talking about denial. I believe these encouragements are meant to keep us from camping in negative territory. We’re just to pass through those places that cause pain and grief, acknowledging, addressing, processing, and then move forward into the next part of our unique pilgrimage. We intentionally embrace the healthy, positive thoughts that spring from abiding in Christ and intentionally reject those lies that frequently tempt us and tear at the work God is doing in us.

It appears that we are very much responsible for what we allow to remain in our heads. Paul tells us that we are changed by changing our minds (Rom. 12). We’ve got to choose to fill our minds with things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. We must “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2), things that make us negative, doubtful, fearful, anxious, unloving, and so on. Essentially, we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Cor. 10:5).

Can you imagine what would happen if, from this point forward, you and I choose and discipline ourselves to think in the way God has told us? I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

Father, knowing our fragile makeup, you give us strong words of encouragement for living godly, joyous, peaceful lives. Now help us to discipline ourselves to access all that you have for us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.