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.



But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Our staff was challenged this past week with what anxieties and stresses Mary might have faced in her unique situation—pregnant, young, unmarried and living in an orthodox Jewish society—and how she handled them. Responses ranged from the frivolous, “Finding catering and wedding flowers in a strange place and the possibility of a shotgun wedding,” to real concerns such as having a baby without a mother or family members to help. After all, this was a young teenager who’d never been a mother, much less, the mother of Emmanuel, God with us.

The text in Luke (2:19, 51) provides insight to the strength that would carry Mary to Bethlehem, home to Nazareth, Jerusalem, various parts of Galilee, and finally to Golgotha: Mary treasured…these things and pondered them in her heart. What things might Mary have treasured? First, there was the visit from the angel Gabriel who announced that she would bear God’s Son and then the joyous affirmation by her cousin Elisabeth at her impromptu visit, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:44)

In wonder, Mary would gather the memories that would flood her young heart and carry her through a lifetime of awe and suffering with her child, Messiah. She would be amazed at the coming of the shepherds and their tale of angels announcing the birth of their Savior and later as the distinguished visitors from the East recounted their miraculous tale of following a star to find the new King.

Mary would marvel when the Baby Jesus was presented at the temple for two elderly people there would give thanks to God for allowing them to see the promised child.  Old Simeon even said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

When he became an adolescent, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem … and discovered on their return trip that Jesus wasn’t with the group. When they located him back at the temple, how baffled she was at the rapport her Son had with the scribes and teachers. Another wonder to treasure in her heart.

We don’t know all the signs and miracles Mary witnessed during Jesus’ short life, but we know she saw him turn water into wine and must have seen healings and transformations that came from Jesus’ ministry. After all, John said (21:25) that “if every one of [Jesus’ works] were written down…even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So all these things Mary treasured in her heart. And she pondered them. What did they mean and how would it all turn out?

At the cross Mary lived out a mother’s most severe pain, the unjust suffering and death of her precious Son. This would be the time for Mary to look inside her heart at all those treasures she had been storing—the miracles, the wonders, the promises. And these would be the things that would sustain her through that Black Friday night and those incredibly long days that followed.

But on the third day, “…blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises…” Mary would again see an angel, this time sitting on a stone inside her Son’s tomb with another message of Good News, “He is not here; he is risen.” And she would see her Son again, alive and glorified and ascending to his Father. Those promises she had remembered and trusted would carry her to Pentecost and on to see her Son, her Emmanuel, throughout eternity.

“…blessed is she who…believed.”


Father, give us just a modicum of the faith of Mary that we may follow you always until we, too, see you in eternity. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.



My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. I John 4:1 (MSG)


Recently, a friend received an angry email purporting to know defamatory things about a mutual friend. I was copied and troubled because the communication was totally based on hearsay. I talked with my friend about a response—how does one deal with someone who is totally convinced of his own opinion and not open to discussion? I said I’d be praying.
To my immense admiration, my friend wrote a grace-filled letter acknowledging the anger of the writer while thanking him for taking time to write. He went on to explain the truth as he had personally experienced it. I think that we both thought that would be the end of the matter. But it wasn’t.
A few days letter, my friend got a response and again copied me. In the response, the antagonist stated that there were things about this person that he hadn’t previously known. He went on to say that he probably needed to find out the truth for himself, and to my surprise, presented himself at the next gathering where the man being criticized would be speaking.
I introduced the two men, and I watched carefully through the evening for any reaction from the letter writer. Sure enough, there was applause at certain times, nodding of the head, and smiles. And he came back the next day with the same reaction. He even participated later during the Q&A session. Because his initial angry query was greeted with understanding, grace, and love, he came to see for himself. And because he was a truth-seeker, he didn’t just take the word of a detractor, he came to see, and he came to listen.
We live in a time of great division, confusion, anger, and frustration. Proverbs 18:17 says, “He who pleads his cause first seems right; until another comes and questions him.” We seem unable to converse with someone who disagrees with us or someone who may hold another opinion. How will we ever come together if we can’t speak with open hearts and open minds? If we can’t listen? If we don’t try to understand? What happens when we dare not question one another?
It’s time we returned to God’s mandate: loving him and loving our neighbors. And that includes the way we speak to and treat each other. And when we disagree, we learn the truth for ourselves, and we continue to relate in love. We don’t buy into second- and third-hand stories. We verify, and then we live out the truth with grace and love.


Father, your royal law of love never changes. Help us to reach out to those with whom we have differences; help us to listen; and help us to love. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.



“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24


I am part of a team going to explore Navajoland in response to an invitation of the bishop there. We will look and listen and learn from the Navajos and see how we can partner with them to do God’s work. In preparation for this marvelous opportunity, our team has been reading extensively and researching the history and culture of Native Americans.
To my distress I have read that:
“The Navajo’s concept of religion is so total that it can be said that there is no such thing
as religion in Navajo culture because everything is religious. Everything a Navajo knows—his shelter, his fields, his livestock, the sky above him and the ground upon which he walks–is holy. The Navajos for the most part, have long resisted Christianity. They look upon it as a ‘part-time’ religion where a man’s god is available to him for only a few hours on Sunday and then has to be sought out in a special house where his spirit dwells.” (Locke:  The Book of the Navajo)


Even though this may be a broad generalization, it seems that the Navajo are not the only ones who hold this opinion. These “part-time” Christians could be called “nominal,” Christians in name only or, perhaps, they are believers who have not yet been discipled. Nevertheless, that those who call themselves Christians do such a poor job of representing the Son of God, the Light, the Truth, and the Way is heartbreaking.


As true followers of Jesus, we are to lift him up so that when people see us, they glorify God. Our actions are to reflect hearts of love and integrity and bless and bring the life of Christ to our world, especially those around us. We have centuries of misperception to undo, and it can only be done by abandonment to Jesus Christ, scrupulously following the crucified Lord, and abiding in his resurrected life.  All the while depending totally on him…


Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a massive global turning to Jesus Christ through the witness of his children who are walking faithfully with him?


Father, forgive us for our selfish, flawed portrayal of our idea of Christianity. Convict us and work within us that those who do not yet know you might hunger and thirst for you because of the Jesus they see in us. Humbly, I pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.


The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8


How many times have you quoted Jesus’ departing words to his disciples, those words that were intended to strengthen and comfort them (and us): “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). When we’re children, we remind ourselves of this word so that we’re not afraid – Jesus is with me. And when we’re navigating the rough patches of adulthood, those words still keep us going. Jesus is with me.
But, truth be told, the tangible presence of our Lord is sometimes missing during the unexplained. We may not see him when we’re suffering injustice. When the pain pushes us to the point of despair, we may look around for Jesus and wonder about that promise.
I was thinking about this word of truth from Matthew, and it must be true because Jesus said it, and wondering how it could occasionally seem so baffling. There are times when we just don’t see Jesus. So how can he always be with us—even until the end?
And then I remembered something we often proclaim—we are the hands and feet of Jesus, and he lives in us. With the Holy Spirit and Jesus living in us we are to be the fulfillment of that promise to one another and to a very lonely world. We are to comfort, love, encourage, uphold, bless, heal, and be everything God would minister through us for the occasion.
In my international work, we send teams around the world, but it’s always to places where we have established “feet on the ground,” those people who represent us and speak and act for us. Just like that, we are God’s feet on the ground acting and moving and speaking for him. We are God’s reminders that he’s always with his children.
Yes, we are all to live by faith, and we realize his presence never leaves us, and he won’t forsake us. We practice abiding, living, and having our being in him. And we know that nothing separates us from his love (Romans 8:35-39). But if we are to allow him to continue to grow in us, we must obey him in making ourselves available channels through which his Spirit can flow and bless and refresh. And we are to be humble and receptive to the other members of Christ’s Body who are sent to walk with us.
Do you know someone who needs to see Jesus just now? Someone who would love to have him show up? Be there—for him and for them.
Sweet Father, thank you that all your promises are yes and amen. Help us to see our part in their fulfillment. We give you all glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:20


The Sermon on the Mount is the essence of Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel.  Many of the religionists of Jesus’ day found him annoying because he took the Law and applied it in uncomfortable ways.  Through the 1500 or so years since the Law had been given, the religionists had managed to twist and compromise the Law so that it would be easier to obey and more complimentary to their comfortable lifestyle.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Law focused on the outside—acts that could be admired as righteous or those acts that could be condemned as wicked and which rendered their perpetrators as outcasts.  Jesus made everything more difficult by interpreting the Law to encompass the motivation and the heart condition of its adherents.

For example, in Matthew 5:21-42, Jesus begins each new topic with something like, “You’ve heard it said [in the Law]…but I say…”  Where the Law says don’t commit murder, Jesus says don’t even be angry with someone or call him demeaning names.  Where the Law says don’t commit adultery, Jesus says don’t even think wrong thoughts about a woman.  Jesus is looking at the heart condition that initiates the sinful behavior.

Sometimes we’re not far removed from those hypocritical Pharisees who seemed right on the outside but were filled with unrighteousness on the inside.  We have to be convinced that the thing of most concern to our Father is our personal relationship with him by which everything else is determined.  If our heart is right, our attitudes, our words, and our behavior will be right.  We will act out of who we are and not who we pretend to be.

Remember that old metaphor about the cup of tea?  When the cup is agitated, only what’s inside will come out.  When Jesus fills us, any bumps along the way allow him to spill over and saturate whatever and whomever is around.  No pretense necessary.



Lord, change our hearts constantly; fill us with your Spirit; and cause us to glorify you in all we think, say, and do.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


And a little child shall lead them.  Isaiah 11:6



Have you learned to be careful what you say around children?  Their hearing is remarkable, and their memory is even more astonishing.

I have two friends who are faithful ministers of the Word in another country.  They have taught their two boys by example to love the Lord and to be obedient to his teachings.   And now they have two little disciples who diligently live out the Gospel in their daily routines.

Matthew is seven years old and is enrolled with his brother in a local public school.  One day during the lesson, his teacher became frustrated with one of the students and finally said to him, “You are stupid.”  At this, Matthew stood and told the teacher that she had said a bad word when speaking to his friend and that she could no longer be his teacher.  I imagine the teacher, already distressed, was further upset when Matthew continued.  “You must apologize to this boy and ask his forgiveness for saying this bad word.”

When the teacher saw Matthew’s intensity, she asked the student to forgive her.  She said that he was right and then suggested to the class that this event not be repeated to anyone.  Of course, that was not to be with a group of second-graders.  Matthew went home and told his parents about the disturbance in his classroom, and the following day, my friends went to visit the teacher.  They explained that they were entrusting their sons to the teachers for the majority of the day and expected the teachers to be examples.  They knew the teacher had asked forgiveness, and they assured her that they, also, had forgiven her but reinforced the importance of her role modeling to all her students.

When I heard the story, and knowing Matthew and his brother as I do, I reflected on my own parenting, even my own personal witness.  How bold am I, how bold are my children and grandchildren in standing for truth?  Is truth so important that I confront error when I see it or do I tolerate unkindness or bad language or injustice rather than making a scene?  And how consistent is my life that my words reinforce what I live out every day?  Matthew was respectful when he stood up to denounce what he saw was hurtful and “bad,” but he was also willing to take the consequences for his public witness.

What can, what will I do when faced with abusive language and behavior?



Lord, make me and all my family such lovers of Jesus who is the Truth, that our lives reflect truth and that our mouths respectfully confront error.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  Ephesians 6:11



This morning in chapel the Bishop gave a whole new twist to the analogy of God’s armor.  Remember, there’s the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, and the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word.

The helmet of salvation guards our thoughts and protects the mind so that it processes and applies God’s truth.  We typically wear belts around the middle parts of our bodies for aesthetic and practical reasons.  Truth is both beautiful and holds all our theology together.  A breastplate, righteousness, protects our hearts from all the things that can spoil and destroy the life of Christ within.  We walk in peace as God’s children, and God’s Word, the sword, is two-edged—both protecting and reprimanding us.

When we are children, we love to play dress-up.  My granddaughters have all enjoyed taking various pieces of clothing from my closet and dressers to play grown-up.  They imitate me and their mothers.  Play is a child’s work to help in developing character traits and personality.  When our children and grandchildren wear our clothing, they are processing through play what they will become.

So here we get to the armor.  The whole object of our Christian journey is to glorify God and to become like Jesus.  How better to do that than to dress like him?  Jesus IS our salvation, our truth, our righteousness, our peace and has taught us to use that sword in growing into his likeness.  The more we wear the armor, the more it becomes like a second skin, and the more we become like Jesus.

The armor of the Lord not only helps us to stand against the wicked intentions of the devil, but it assists us in being transformed more and more into the image of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  If you’re not wearing it, stop everything, and go put it on right now.



Father, show us the joy that awaits us as we are changed into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ.  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)


I think one would have to be emotionally insensitive or blind and deaf not to notice the negativity that permeates today’s society.  It’s in the media, in social interactions, in institutions, in business dealings, everywhere.  And it seems impossible to escape.

During this Lent season, have you ever been tempted to take a fast from the daily news reports?  It’s worth a try.  You can swear off cable news, but then you’re attacked by texts and mobile broadcasts.  Not one network specializes in sending out good tidings.

God has a remedy in Philippians for the constant deluge against our peace of mind.  He tells us what to think about:  true, honest, just, pure, lovely things and those things that are good.  Things that are worth thinking about.  Such a litmus test would be invaluable to our mental health.   Is this true, honest and just?  Is it pure, lovely, and good?  If not, kick it out.

Paul also says that we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).  We don’t have to tolerate all the nonsense that flies at us nonstop.  We can and must make our thoughts obey Christ—conform to his standard of truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, and goodness.  We are to capture our thoughts and not allow them to take us captive.

One of my friends told me the old adage about the birds:  You can’t keep them from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.  It’s time to take control of our thoughts.


Thank you, Father, that you have a remedy for everything that disturbs our peace.  Help us to guard our minds and to screen those thoughts we allow into our heads.  We want “the meditation of our hearts” to be acceptable in your sight.  In Jesus our Lord.  AMEN.


The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.  Amos 8:11, 12.


In England “just one tenth of the nation’s Christians attend church, and churches are now closing faster than mosques are opening.”  (UK Times Online 2007)  In 2010 the Pew Research Center data…highlighted the degree to which the European population reported no religious affiliation:  France (28%), Germany (24.7%), Italy (12.4%), Netherlands (42.1%), and the United Kingdom (21.3%).  By contrast, 16.4% of the United States population is unaffiliated with any religion.

Notwithstanding, is God’s Word being spoken or read from our pulpits and in our Sunday school classrooms every week when we gather?  Are we, instead, feeding hungry souls with philosophy, ideology, or humanism instead of the Bread of Life that alone can satisfy human hearts and lives?  How can we expect to reach our goals of universal peace without including the Prince of Peace; of empowerment without the Spirit who strengthens us to do all things; of sustainability without calling on the Rock who is the eternal foundation?  And however will we know eternal life without encountering the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)?

Yes, there is hunger, even starvation for the Word of God.  Sometimes it seems we offer cotton candy when people are craving bread.  For our own sustenance, are we seeking opportunities to grow spiritually through the Word?  I am often amazed that “cradle” church-goers haven’t yet established the practice of daily Bible reading that’s so essential to nurturing our spirits.

In Psalm 119, traditionally attributed to David, the writer enumerates the many blessings accrued to the one who loves God’s Word, who enjoys it, and who walks in its statutes.  God’s Word is “a delight,” it “preserves,” it “gives hope,” it “is precious.”  If you haven’t feasted on the 119th Psalm recently, take time now.  You will be fed.

The time of Lent is a wonderful time to begin to experience God’s presence through the daily discipline of reading and meditation on his Word.  And we can learn, like Samuel, to say, “Speak, for thy servant heareth” (I Samuel 3:10).



Father, arouse us to the need for your Word in our lives and in those around us.  Cause us to share the Bread of Life and Living Water rather than temporary platitudes that don’t speak to the deep desires in our souls.  Awaken us to the desperate hunger around us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.