IDLE WORDS

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. [Matthew 12:34-37 (NLT)]

sanfoin - Onobrychis viciifoliaSince we’ll be held accountable for our words, I wondered how many words that might be. In 1984, Gyles Brandreth claimed that by the time a typical American dies, he (or she) will have uttered more than 860 million words. Since Brandreth is an actor, writer, and Scrabble fanatic rather than a scientist, his number seems questionable. In 2006, Louann Brizendine claimed that women speak an average of 20,000 words per day while men speak a mere 7,000. Based on her numbers, in a lifetime of seventy years, women would have to account for over 511 million words while men would answer for about 179 million. While Brizendine’s qualifications as a neuro-psychiatrist lend credence to her statements, she provided no source for her statistics. Skeptical of her lopsided numbers, psychology professor James Pennebaker conducted a systematic study in 2007 that recorded the daily conversational word output of both men and women. He found that women averaged 16,215 words a day and men 15,669. Based on his numbers, both men and women will speak well over 400 million words in a seventy-year lifetime.

It’s no surprise that the biggest difference between sexes was the way they used their words: women used more pronouns and talked about relationships while men used more numbers and talked about gadgets and sports. Common among both sexes was that most of the words spoken were mundane and seemingly unimportant.

Nevertheless, come Judgment Day, we’ll be held accountable for all of our words simply because they reveal what’s in our hearts. Jesus’ warning wasn’t about blasphemy, a sin well covered elsewhere in Scripture; He specifically spoke of “idle” words. The original Greek phrase is rhema argon meaning unproductive, unprofitable, ineffective, empty, or careless words. Jesus seems to be speaking of the words that spill out: the spur-of-the-moment utterances, the unrehearsed speech, the words that reveal what we’re truly thinking, and the ones said under our breath so no one will hear. He’s speaking of the offhand remarks, insensitive comments, slips of the tongue, little digs, snide asides, thoughtless words, sarcasm, spite, and insult that come from our mouths. Remember—words have tremendous power. After all, God spoke the world into existence!

Our whole lives will come under review on Judgment Day—including those over 400 million spoken words along with the millions of written ones. How have we used our words? Have they wounded or healed, cut down or built up, disparaged or encouraged, cursed or blessed, rebuffed or embraced, insulted or honored? There are consequences to our careless and thoughtless words because our words reveal the true state of our heart! If what comes out of our mouths is faulty, our hearts are equally flawed.

Whether we speak 150 or 15,000 words today, may all of them be worthy of a Christ follower!

His heart cannot be pure whose tongue is not clean. [D.L. Moody]

But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. [James 3:8-12 (NLT)]

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HOLIDAY GATHERINGS

zebras - serengettiAvoid foolish controversies, arguments about genealogies, quarrels, and fights about Moses’ Teachings. This is useless and worthless. [Titus 3:9 (GW)]

Four years ago, our Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one, in large part to the celebration of my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday. While the results of the presidential election weren’t disputed four years ago, the political mood that November was just as divisive as it is today, making for some awkward and challenging gatherings. Today’s contentious political climate can be problematic at holiday get-togethers this year, as well. With the rhetoric even more heated, conspiracy theories running wild, and the prevalence of vicious postings on social media, even Zoom calls with family could be challenging!

Recognizing that the next several weeks will require diplomacy, tact, restraint, and a great deal of love, I thought I’d repeat the following devotion that was first published on Thanksgiving eve, 2016.

“Our days are few, and far better spent in doing good than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance,” were the words in my morning’s devotion by Charles Spurgeon. Although they were in reference to Paul’s words to Titus regarding divisive arguments in the early church, they are words to remember as we gather with family and friends at our tables tomorrow. Let’s face it, for the next several weeks, we’ll be thrown together with a wide assortment of people, all of whom will have at least one opinion that differs from ours. Moreover, while we share genealogy and genes with family members, we often have little else in common. Some people say Thanksgiving dinner without an argument or two is like turkey with no stuffing or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade without helium balloons. Nevertheless, I’m not so sure acrimony has to ruin our day of national thanks. Remembering Paul’s words to Titus can help us through tomorrow and the rest of the holiday season.

All of us have dropped our anchors on certain issues and we’re not about to change our opinions on those. Let’s honor the rights of others to drop anchor on their beliefs, as well. There are, however, far more issues where, rather than dropping anchor, we could tie up to the pier and quietly listen to the person berthed across the dock; we just might have more in common than we realize. Fearless listening occurs when we’re not afraid to truly hear another person’s point of view.

Keep in mind that holiday get-togethers are not debate stages or battle grounds and a friendly discussion should remain amicable. Although a friendly discussion is never about winning, I have one friend who actually prepares for disputes by packing news articles supporting her viewpoints in her purse and suitcase. Although out-of-tune pianos can be tuned, some minds can’t be changed and it is foolish to even try. Moreover, even when people have well-founded opinions, many differences will never be reconciled. Wisdom is knowing when to stop a discussion and true wisdom is knowing enough not to start!

We will gather with twenty-eight people tomorrow and seventy-five the following day. In spite of the old saying never to talk about religion or politics, considering the recent election, there is sure to be discussion of at least one of those topics. In addition to people with diverse (and strong) opinions, any holiday gathering has its share of conspiracy theorists, whiners, complainers, nitpickers, and over-indulgers. Getting through a holiday dinner can be like traversing a mine field!

Being a vegetarian, I’m used to politely saying, “Thank you, no,” when the shrimp, turkey, gravy and sausage stuffing are urged on me. Being a follower of Christ, I’ll silently say, “Thank you, no!” every time an opportunity for dissension, anger, criticism, pettiness, or insult comes passing my way. I’ll also pray a lot! Personally, I’ve found, “Please, God, put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth!” to serve me well.

Blessings, peace, and joy to you tomorrow!

Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether. [Charles Spurgeon]

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone. He must be a good teacher. He must be willing to suffer wrong. [2 Timothy 2:23-24 (GW)]

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STORIES

Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren. [Deuteronomy 4:9 (MSG)]

Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. [Psalm 145:4 (MSG)]

Hedge bindweedStories—everyone loves a good one and we all have stories to tell. My children loved hearing their Grandpa tell stories of boyish pranks like stealing watermelons and tipping over outhouses but it wasn’t just his tales of mischief they enjoyed. They relished hearing about him working on the farm, playing basketball and wrestling, working his way through college, having a victory garden, and starting a business. The stories we never heard, however, are the ones I wish he had shared: the stories of his faith journey. He was a Christian, yet I don’t know how he came to be such a man of faith. I know he met his wife at a church social and they both attended the Lutheran church in our town, but that doesn’t tell me when and how the Holy Spirit truly entered his life. It doesn’t tell me about the times he might have doubted or been afraid or the times he knew without question that God was holding his hand or had answered his prayers.

Accounts of faith journeys are some of the best stories we’ll ever hear. It’s not just from pulpits or lecterns that I’ve heard people chronicle their faith journeys. These stories came from people just like you and me: people who openly shared their wounds and scars and the way God changed their lives. They spoke of mental illness, alcoholism or physical abuse or told of losing a loved one, their health or even their faith. I’ve heard a Gideon tell how the Bible guided him to Jesus, an addict tell how a 12-step program brought him to Jesus, and a minister tell about his time in prison. I’ve heard people tell of reaching the depths of despair when they thought life was impossible and others tell of miraculous healing. These stories had little or nothing to do with what church they attended; they had everything to do with what God did with, for and to them. They were the testimonies that came from their tests and the messages that came from their messes and I am thankful to those who shared their lives so openly.

After ridding him of demons in Gerasenes, Jesus told the once possessed man to return home and tell his story. Can you imagine what it was like to hear his testimony or the testimony of Paul when he told of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus? Can you picture what it was it like to hear Peter speak of walking on water or Bartimaeus tell of regaining his sight? The woman caught in adultery would have had a powerful testimony to the forgiveness of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to His resurrection. Granted, not all of us have stories as remarkable as theirs, but we all have stories about the way Jesus has touched our lives and we don’t have to be missionaries, ministers, or Biblical scholars to share them. We are, after all, disciples of Christ!

What’s your story? Who should you tell?

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love. …
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
[A. Katherine Hankey]

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn’t let him. Jesus said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” The man went back and began to preach in the Ten Towns area about what Jesus had done for him. He was the talk of the town. [Mark 5:18-20 (MSG)]

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IMPEDIMENTS OR AMBASSADORS?

Celebrate your hope; be patient in suffering; give constant energy to prayer; contribute to the needs of God’s people; make sure you are hospitable to strangers. [Romans 12:12-13 (NTE)]

Don’t forget to be hospitable; by that means, some people have entertained angels without realizing it. [Hebrews 13: 2 (NTE)]

blanket flowerThe story was told of a devout Christian woman who, after moving to a new town, visited the local church: the Church of Holier than Thou. When the children’s choir sang the prelude, she was so happy to hear their angelic voices that she applauded at the end of their song. An usher came up and whispered in her ear, “Ma’am, we don’t applaud in this church.” She apologized for the disturbance and the service continued. When the pastor gave his sermon, she was so moved by his words that she shouted out an “Amen!” in response. The usher returned to her side and again sternly instructed her, “You’ll have to restrain yourself here in the Church of Holier than Thou.” Chagrined, the woman promised to behave and the service continued. The choir rose and sang a beautiful medley that included God of our Fathers and How Great Thou Art. Overcome by the words of praise, the woman shouted out “Hallelujah” and “Praise God!” at the song’s conclusion. The usher strode up to her and said, “Lady, you’re causing a disturbance. You’ll have to leave!” The poor woman responded, “I just couldn’t help myself; I was overcome by the joy of the Lord!” In a huff, the usher responded, ‘Well, you sure didn’t get it here!”

A good friend preached several times at our Colorado church and even served briefly as a pastor for a local parish when they were without an ordained minister. This man, filled with joy in the Lord, is a mature and knowledgeable Christian, but that wasn’t always the case. When he became a Christian many years ago, he was totally unfamiliar with the Bible and didn’t even know there were several different translations and publications of this one book. He couldn’t understand why chapter and verse had to be mentioned when just a page number should do. What would have happened to him if he’d attended the Church of Holier than Thou (or others like it)? I think God might have lost a child to disillusionment and doubt.

One friend told of an experience while searching for a church. She’d just settled into the pew when an irate couple told her she had to move because she was in their pew! When we first moved here and were “church shopping,” we attended a madrigal dinner at a local church in hope of meeting members of the congregation. In spite of getting there early and the large number of empty chairs, we had trouble finding a seat because everyone seemed to saving those chairs for the people they already knew. Sadly, I’ve seen the same thing at Tuesday Bible study when a newcomer has difficulty finding a place to sit among all the empty (but saved) chairs! Although the church is supposed to be a place of welcome, it frequently isn’t.

It has been said that there are two reasons people don’t become Christians. First, they haven’t met one. The second reason, of course, is that they have! What kind of Christians are we? Are we impediments or ambassadors? Are we filled with the joy of the Lord or are we holier than thou? Do we welcome others to worship and study with us? Are willing to enlarge our circle to receive someone new? If Jesus stopped by, would He have trouble finding a place to sit?

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. [Shane Claiborne]

Welcome one another, therefore, as the Messiah has welcomed you, to God’s glory. [Romans 15:7 (NTE)]

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” [2 Corinthians 12:20 (NTE)]

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THE PROVERBS 31 WOMAN

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. [Proverbs 31:10-12 (NLT)]

osprey pair - rookery bayProverbs 31 is said to have been written by King Lemuel. We only know that Lemuel was “the king of Massa,” possibly an Arab king, his name means “devoted to God,” and his words were written somewhere between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Attributing his words to counsel from his mother, the first nine verses sound like the sort of thing a queen-mother would tell son about government and the dangers of wine and bad women. Verses 10 through 31, however, are an acrostic poem outlining the qualities of the ideal wife.

Lemuel’s mama would have been a hard mother-in-law to please because the woman described in Proverbs 31 could be called Wonder Wife. She seems to be a cross between Shark Tank’s Barbara Cocoran, Martha Stewart, Little Women’s  Mrs. March (Marmee), and Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. Rising before dawn and burning her lamp late into the night, the Proverbs 31 woman juggles family, home, business, and charitable activities effortlessly and without benefit of carry-out, Amazon, Instant Pot, car pools, complaint, spa days, naps, or any help from her husband.

Because I don’t spin wool, sew clothing to sell, plant vineyards, or make our bedspreads, I used to feel a twinge of guilt whenever I read Proverbs 31. There are weeds in the garden, fingerprints on the walls, stains on the carpet, and my kids often outgrew clothes before I got around to sewing on a missing button! These words, however, aren’t about specific activities, they are about values. In these twenty-two verses, rather than a to-do list, we find the qualities every woman (and man) should want to emulate. She is virtuous, trustworthy, strong, supportive, enterprising, resourceful, compassionate, industrious, energetic, considerate, generous, honorable, and wise and we don’t have to gather flax, weave our own cloth, dress in fine linen, or get up before dawn and prepare breakfast to be any of those things! In actuality, the Proverbs 31 woman is the epitome of the ideals found throughout the book of Proverbs. She is what true wisdom looks like in real life (or real life more than 2,000 years ago)!

Some women find this chapter objectionable with its somewhat dated sentiments. Let us remember that these verses are from a time when the highest compliment a man could give a woman was that she was a perfect homemaker! Although mothers have been advising their sons about the kind of woman they should marry for centuries, some scholars think these verses actually may be King Lemuel’s tribute to his mother: a woman of “noble character.” In fact, in many traditional Jewish homes, these verses (known as the Eshet Hayil) are sung or recited at the Sabbath meal Friday nights as a way for the husband to honor his wife and show the family’s appreciation for all she’s done for them. Rather than a list of wifely duties, these words are a song of praise!

Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. [Proverbs 31:28-31 (NLT)]

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NEVER OBSOLETE

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. [Isaiah 46:4 (NLT)]

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. [Anonymous]

Grandpa J

Several years ago, a friend’s spry 94-year old mother emailed the family about having forgotten her elbow brace on the way to the exercise room in her senior residence. After returning to her apartment and donning the brace, the woman took an inventory of the other pieces of hardware she needed to get through each day. Along with the elbow brace, she wore bi-focal glasses, two hearing aids, a knee brace, two sets of dentures, two orthopedic shoe inserts, and one doe-skin support for three toes. Even without inventorying the number of medications that were part of her daily regimen, she observed that “it’s not a simple management situation” to keep track of it all. Feeling blessed that she didn’t need a cane and walker as did many her age, she closed her message by reminding the younger family members to take care of themselves. She continued her optimistic outlook and daily exercise routine until she went home to the Lord just a few months before her 100th birthday. Her light-hearted email remains a serious reminder that time takes a toll on our bodies.

Within my circle, many have reached the age when God has started to recall some of their parts. A few are nearly  bionic with their titanium plates, pacemakers, implanted cardioverter defibrillators, replacement heart valves, intraocular lenses, artificial hips and knees, or portable oxygen concentrators. As my mother-in-law observed in her 102nd year, “Old age is not for sissies!” Indeed, it presents a fair number of challenges. Nevertheless, as long as we’re still breathing, we should be in good spirits and thankful. Old age is a gift from God and one denied to far too many of our friends and family. It is a privilege not a punishment, an opportunity rather than a misfortune, and a blessing not a curse.

Even though we slow down and start wearing out as the years progress, God (who is older than time itself) remains the same and is constant in His care for us. He doesn’t stop working in our lives because parts of our bodies have ceased to function properly. He doesn’t put us out to pasture because we can no longer carry a load, consign us to the trash heap because we have some broken parts, or scrap us because we’re out of date. In God’s eyes, no matter how old or run-down His children are, no one is considered unusable or obsolete! He is as close to us now as when we took our first breath and He’ll be right beside us when we take our last one. God carried us as children and He will continue to carry us until He recalls our worn out bodies and takes us on our final trip home.

Before we take that last journey, however, there is still work to be done in God’s earthly kingdom. As long as we are breathing (even if we need an oxygen concentrator to do it), there is someone somewhere with whom we can share God’s love and good news. Just don’t forget your elbow brace or cane on the way out the door!

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!” [Psalm 92:12-15 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

Today’s picture is of my father-in-law—a man who never grew obsolete. Even though his physical strength waned, his spiritual strength never did and he continued to bear fruit until he went home at age 96.

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