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.


By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory. I Timothy 3:16


I’ve always loved mysteries from Poirot to Miss Marple to Sherlock Holmes to J. B. Fletcher. And, of course, there’s Father Brown.  On family visits to London, we never miss a viewing of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap that has run continuously for over 60 years.  I just love searching for clues and putting them together to finally discover what should have been obvious from the beginning, if one had eyes to see (or ears to hear).

So, with all this experience in the format, why am I so often slow in understanding what Jesus told his disciples about life in the Kingdom? He even said that “it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…,” so I’m certain it must be true. (Matthew 13:11)

I heard lots of things in Sunday school such as give Jesus all your worries (I Peter 5:7), don’t be afraid (I Timothy 1:7), God will supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19), God will make you what he wants you to be (Philippians 2:13), and on and on. Essentially, I learned that everything I will ever need in my lifetime has already been given me by my heavenly Father. And the same applies to all his children.

Here we’ve lived with a plethora of words that are waiting to become activated by the Living Word. He’s promised, but we have to access. Isaiah even warned us (45:15) that God hides himself. Curious, isn’t it? In other words, God’s just not handing out truths and transformation as a weekend special. He’s waiting for those who are intent on digging out the mysteries of the kingdom; those who are willing to take him at his word; and those who will take breathtaking leaps of faith. Makes no sense at all, Lord, but you said it, so I’ll try it. We soar out into the abyss in complete surrender and find that underneath ARE the everlasting arms.

And that’s the way the mysteries are solved. Every time we get a road block in life, we search for the clues, and we untangle them. Lord, what are you saying here? What am I to do? We obey, and the way becomes clear. We continue in obedience, and understanding follows. It’s really that simple. It’s always been so. “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In ALL thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

Mystery solved.

Father, remind us that you give understanding as we rely totally on you. Following Jesus is not as hard as we make it. Help us to just give up. 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.


I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.  II Timothy 1:12b  (KJV)



At the outset of a New Year, it seems good to consider the security of our families and ourselves in this rapidly changing cultural, political, and spiritual environment.  As the gatekeepers of our households, how will we guard and provide for the welfare of those we love?  How will we keep them safe?

In the Middle Ages it was common for the nobility to erect towers as part of the fortification of their castles.  These towers, called keeps, were built of wood or stone and often served as places of last resort when outer defenses fell to attackers.  From Ireland to Wales, throughout England, France, and Spain, there remain vestiges of these early structures.  Tourists love to explore the ruins and imagine the stories held secret in the decay.

While physical security may not be the primary danger to present-day western families, at every turn there seem to be assaults upon our core beliefs, family values, institutions, and even our way of life.  Today’s parents of young children and teens have to be especially “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” in dealing with today’s threats (Matt. 10:16).  Information (and mis-information) barrages all of us relentlessly, while political correctness is a constant challenge.  It’s critical to our spiritual health that we know how to discern and keep ourselves and our loved ones.

The word keep can be used both as a noun and as a verb with God’s Word giving us plenty of indication of his and our responsibilities in this keeping relationship.  To begin with, there are numerous injunctions of what God expects of us, his covenant people.  For example, we are to keep his commandments (Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 7:12, 29:9; I Chron. 28:8, John 14:15, 23), and in exchange, he promises to keep us, show us mercy, and prosper us (Deut. 7:12, 29:9; II Chron. 6:14).  In Psalm 91:11 God says his angels will have charge of us and will keep us in all our ways while Proverbs 3:26 says that he will keep our foot from being taken, referring to physical (and spiritual) protection.  (The 91st Psalm, sometimes called the Soldier’s Psalm, is often prayed for those on the battlefield.)

While I appreciate the promises for mercy and physical oversight, I particularly relish those verses that refer to mental, emotional, and spiritual protection.  God has promised to keep us in his perfect peace when we trust him and stay focused on him (Isa. 26:3).  This supernatural peace that cannot be understood (because it only comes from God) will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).  It follows, then, that remaining at peace is a product of abiding confidently and securely in Christ.

And if we ever get concerned about losing our place in him, Jesus prayed that his Father would keep us from evil (John 17:15).  Of course, we have to exercise our own will and cooperate with his leading, but he can be trusted to do his part.  Finally, Jude 24 describes Jesus’ power as able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.  That is the ultimate protection, and these verses are only a smattering of God’s expressions for guarding, for keeping, his children.

They are good words to ponder for ourselves and to teach our children and grandchildren as we go forth into this New Year:  obedience and trust results in being kept.  Just like those families in the Middle Ages, we, too, can run to our strong place of safety and protection—but ours is one that never fails.


Father, thank you for so many precious promises that give us life and hope.  May we glorify you as we trust your keeping power.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.



We love him because he first loved us.  I John 4:19


Joseph lives in another country and is a convert from another religion to Christianity.  His story is most instructive.

Joseph was a well-known religious leader who was skilled in debate and an articulate speaker.  One day two Christians appeared at his door.  His sister answered the door, and they told her their business, which baffled her.  She rushed into the salon where Joseph was seated and said, “There are two Christians here, and they want to talk to you.”

Initially, Joseph refused to see them, but on a mischievous whim, he told his sister to show them to the salon.  He knew he could cut them to pieces with his words.  Two very shy Christians stepped boldly into the lion’s den, into Joseph’s salon.  After Joseph welcomed them, the two men said, “We just came to tell you that Jesus loves you.”

Joseph was shocked.  Everyone knew who he was, and they knew of his militant faith.  How did these Christians dare to come tell him about Jesus?  Then Joseph began to ask the young men theological questions to which their only answer was, “We don’t know.  We only came to tell you that Jesus loves you.”  Again and again, Joseph barraged them with words.  They could only repeat their original statement, “We came to tell you that Jesus loves you.”  The men finally left, probably feeling completely dejected and total failures.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Joseph couldn’t stop thinking of these low-status, ignorant Christians who dared to come to his door to tell him that Jesus loved him.  He began to wonder, Have I ever talked to anyone about my faith?  The obvious answer was no.  Joseph began a search to discover what it was that gave his visitors confidence and courage to speak about Jesus.

Initially, Joseph’s research led him to non-Christian material that proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ divine Sonship.  And then he was drawn to reading God’s Word.  One day he said, “I am a Christian.”  And from that point on, he consumed the Bible and pursued fellowship in a local Christian church.  Today he is a powerful Christian evangelist.

Just because two young men boldly shared the Christ who had radically changed their own lives…  Two young men who probably left Joseph’s house thinking that they had failed their Lord…  Wondering why they had ever thought they might make a difference in Joseph’s heart…


Father, thank you for the people who spoke your love to us.  Make us bold to share your love and your Good News with those in our world.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.


May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

Have you ever heard the children’s nursery rhyme that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” This was first cited in 1862 and was an encouragement to ignore taunts and criticism intended to wound. That may be very well in a rhyme, but the truth is that words can hurt. Poet Will Carleton wrote, “Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead, but God himself can’t kill them when they’re said.”

Our words are expressions of the heart and the mind. As God’s children, we are called to let [our] conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt… We can use words of grace that bless the hearer and season them with salt to avoid corruption and to bring reasoning to the discussion. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we thought before we spoke and if we prayed that whatever came from our mouths would encourage or build up or in some way bless our hearers?

Father, begin with me. I want my tongue to be an instrument of blessing and not cursing. I yield my whole self to you to be your instrument of grace, truth, love, and peace. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.