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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POSSIBILITIES

He [Jesus] asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? [John 6:5,7-9 (ESV)]

great egretTwo disciples, Philip and Andrew, are mentioned in John’s account of the day Jesus fed over 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. When Jesus asked Philip where they could find food enough for all of the people, the right answer would have been, “Lord, you have the power to feed them all.” Instead, Philip, who may have been the first century equivalent of an accountant before following Jesus, immediately did a feasibility study and figured the massive expense. Ignoring the solution standing in front of him, he only saw impossibility.

On the other hand, we have Andrew. Perhaps before becoming a disciple, Andrew was the equivalent of a corporate recruiter; Andrew looked for potential and promise. The first thing he did after deciding to follow Jesus was to get his brother Simon and bring him to the Messiah. When faced with a hungry crowd, Andrew simply scanned the countryside to see what assets were available. Even though he knew the boy’s lunch wasn’t enough to feed a multitude, seeing its potential, he offered what little food there was to Jesus.

One disciple saw why something couldn’t be done while the other saw possibility in a meager offering. Philip saw only what was missing but Andrew saw the assets around them. One said there wasn’t enough and the other, even knowing it wasn’t sufficient, offered what little there was and expected Jesus to make it enough.

Nearly three years ago, a handful of people gathered in a park gazebo and started a church. The Philip in us looked at what we had and figured it was impossible—too little money and too few people. Even though we knew it wasn’t enough, the Andrew in us heard Jesus’ call and faithfully presented what we had to Him. In Jesus’ hands, our insufficiency became more than enough. Even though COVID-19 has prevented us from meeting in-person since mid-March, we’re on solid ground financially and able to tithe our funds to those in need. Our on-line services and App have kept our church family connected and enabled us to spread the message to thousands all over the world. Perhaps it was for such as time as this that God took our not enough, multiplied it, and enabled us to feed so many.

When God calls us, we often answer His call by seeing only what we’re lacking—whether time, energy, experience, people, money, or something else. The question, however, isn’t how we’ll respond with so little but what God will do with what we have! God’s math isn’t like man’s. The One who multiplied five barely loaves and two fish to end up with food enough to feed a multitude can multiply potential in amazing ways. As Andrew did with the boy’s meager offering, let us offer what we have and trust God to make it sufficient.

When they laughed at St. Theresa when she wanted to build a great orphanage, and had but three shillings to begin with, she answered, “With three shillings Theresa can do nothing; but with God and her three shillings there is nothing which Theresa cannot do.” Do not let us imagine, then, that we are too poor, or too stupid, or too ignorant, or too obscure to do any real good in the world wherein God has placed us. [Frederic Farrar]

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV)]

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THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

nativity

Today is the Feast of Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. For me, this is the day the holiday CDs return to the back of the cabinet and the last of our holiday decorations disappear. The tree is stripped, disassembled, and crammed in its box and the ornaments, stockings, nativity scenes, and Christmas books returned to their plastic tubs. Once everything is packed up, we’ll haul the boxes back to the storage unit where they will remain until next November. Except for some left-over Christmas candy and a few spritz cookies, the only remnants of Christmas will be a few needles from the tree and bits of sparkle from the holiday flower arrangements that will elude my vacuum for weeks.

Although the outer trapping of Christmas will vanish, we must never let the message of Christmas depart from our lives. Christmas didn’t come in a box from Amazon; it came with a baby in a manger. Yet, Christmas really isn’t about a baby; it’s about a God whose greatness was reduced to a microscopic fertilized egg and born of a virgin. Christmas isn’t about a wreath hanging on the door or Christmas cards and carols; it’s about the love and sacrifice that led to Jesus hanging on a cross. It’s more than the Grinch, Santa, Rudolph, or Scrooge because it says that God’s love for us was so great that he laid aside His divine privileges to live and die as a man. Christmas isn’t about brightly colored lights or holiday candles; it’s about the light of the world. Christmas lasts more than twelve days because that baby’s name was Immanuel (meaning God with us). Jesus was with us then, as a man, and He continues to be with us today, as the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, after everything Christmassy had been crated and stowed, I discovered one small figure of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that I’d forgotten to put away. Rather than pack it up, I moved it to my desk where it remains regardless of the season. The outer trappings of Christmas won’t return for another eleven months but that carving of the holy family reminds me that Christmas doesn’t end on January 6. The message of Christmas must remain in our hearts all year long.

May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope; The spirit of Christmas which is peace; The heart of Christmas which is love. (Ada V. Hendricks)

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:6-11 (NLT)]

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FEEDING HIS SHEEP

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” [John 21:17b (NLT)]

skateboarding steamboat SK8When we spent our winters in the mountains, we often provided dinners for a local skateboard ministry. Offering a safe and sober refuge (along with the love of Jesus) to the area’s teens and young adults, this SK8 church defies definition. It’s an amazing combination of indoor skatepark/teen rec center and non-denomination Christian ministry where unconditional love mixes with rad skate ramps, both grip tape and Bibles are plentiful, conversations range from ollies and railslides to John 3:16, 360s and service projects are regular events, and, while you may hear some Christian rap or metal you’ll not hear bad language.

If the Christian church is a hospital for wretched souls, then SK8 church, with its goal of reaching “the lost, broken, and addicted with the love of Jesus,” is a MASH unit for them! Most of the youth have troubled pasts and few come from faith-based homes or with any knowledge of the Bible. Many, however, have transformed their lives as they have come to know Jesus through this ministry.

Last week, after receiving their year-end update, I thought back to our experiences with these youngsters as we dished up pulled pork or sliced ham on Thursday nights. The ministry began almost sixteen years ago when a young couple brought burgers and hot dogs to the local skatepark and shared both bread and the Bread of Life with kids who were desperately hungry for both. When winter’s snow made skating impossible, they opened their home for those dinners and the Word. Within five years, they had a building and built an indoor skate park. SK8 church now offers after school open skating, tutoring programs, counseling, recovery meetings, weekly Bible study, and five mission trips a year, along with middle school and high school/college/adult ministries that include weekly dinners (and God’s word). They recently expanded their ministry with a satellite skatepark/rec center/skate shop in a nearby town.

Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and three times Peter said he did. After each affirmation, Jesus either told Peter to feed or to care for his sheep. Feeding the sheep literally meant to take them to pasture and caring for the sheep meant to act as would a shepherd. That charge, however, wasn’t literal nor was it meant just for Peter. It applies to every one of us who claim to love the Lord. Rather than pasturing and shepherding sheep, we are called to feed God’s children His word and to care for them by guarding, guiding, nurturing, and restoring them along with seeking the lost and bringing back those who’ve strayed.

When they started SK8 church, that young couple’s only qualification was their love for Jesus. Nevertheless, they took Jesus’ words to heart and literally fed those youngsters dinner along with God’s word. Granted, feeding and caring for His sheep won’t always lead to a major ministry and 501c3 standing as it did for them but it should lead to some action on our part.

Sometimes, feeding His sheep is as simple as a platter of sliced ham or a tray of brownies! Our pastor tells of a woman at a previous church where he was the youth pastor. Well into her eighties, she faithfully appeared at the weekly youth meetings wearing noise reduction ear muffs (because of the loud Christian rock) and bearing a huge tray of home-made brownies. She may not have liked the music, but she loved Jesus and His lambs. The teens knew the special ingredient in her brownies wasn’t chocolate; it was love!

As we begin this new year, let us think of ways that we, too, can feed and care for His sheep.

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)]

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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – NEW YEAR’S DAY

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (MSG)]

Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past. [Henry Ward Beecher]

zebra longwingSeveral years ago, one of my children asked if, with the benefit of hindsight, would I do it all over again—leave school, get married at twenty, have three children, and be a stay-at-home mom. Admitting that I had no idea what marriage and motherhood entailed when I did it, I would have enjoyed having had a life of my own, a career, and an opportunity to live without parental responsibility. Nevertheless, I added, in spite of the sacrifices, challenges, and trials over the years, I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve lived or the children God gave me for anything.

Later, I thanked God for not telling us the future or giving us do-overs. Knowing how difficult life is and all that can go wrong, we’d be terrified to do anything. Moses might never have signed on had he known leading the Israelites was a forty year project and that he’d never even step into the Promised Land. Mary might have refused the angel had she known she’d have to flee to Egypt or watch her child die a gruesome death on the cross. Would Paul have become an evangelist if, when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, he’d known ahead of time about the brutal whippings and beating, shipwrecks, hunger, poverty, arrests, imprisonments, and betrayals he’d endure for the Lord?

Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Far too often, this is a time of regrets and wishing we could start over again. We’re sure that, this time, we could do it better than the first go around. Granted, if Esau had hindsight, he might not have asked for that lentil stew and, if David had known the ramifications of bedding Bathsheba and killing Uriah, he wouldn’t have brought her to the palace. Had they known how it would end, Sampson wouldn’t have dallied with Delilah and Sarah wouldn’t have given Hagar to Abraham. Be that as it may, there is no doubt they would still have made mistakes, just different (and possibly worse) ones.

I remembered my son’s question when we did our annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart character) gave up his dreams to fulfill the dreams of others and, when life goes seriously awry, he wishes he’d never been born. After an angel shows him what life in his community would be like if his wish came true, George realizes what a wonderful life he actually had. As for me—someone else had that exciting professional life about which I once dreamed when I was a girl. Instead, God blessed me with a good man, three wonderful children, great in-laws, five delightful grands, and a life of real purpose, love and joy.

Are there parts of the past that, if given a choice, we’d have skipped? Of course! We all have endured heartache, trials, pain, loss, and wounds we never would have deliberately chosen. Moreover, we all regret things that we’ve done or left undone and the hurt we’ve caused others. Yet, our experiences, both good and bad, are what made us who we are today.

While God doesn’t let us hit the rewind button and start the same life over, he does give us a whole new life when we accept Jesus. Because of God’s grace and forgiveness, the old life is over, done and gone, and a new one has begun. For a Christian, because of God’s grace, every day is a new day, the beginning of a new year, and an opportunity to love better and live wiser than we did yesterday. Instead of regrets on this, the first day of the year, let us have faith—not in the new year but in the One who makes all things new. It is, indeed, a wonderful life and it can only get better. Thank you, God!

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year; it is that we should have a new soul. [G.K. Chesterton]

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. [Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)]

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PASS IT ON

Christmas lightsThe Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

Last year, our entire family celebrated Christmas in the Keys and we were able to worship together Christmas Eve. Typical of most Christmas Eve services, everyone received a small candle when entering the church. At the end of the service, the lights were dimmed and the first person’s candle was lit from an altar candle. As we sang Silent Night, the flame from that first candle was passed to the next person and continued to be passed from person to person until everyone’s candles were burning brightly. It was a tiny church with about one hundred worshippers. Nevertheless, even though each individual candle gave off only a little light, by the time the song was finished, the sanctuary was 100 times brighter than when we’d started.

While listening to praise music today, I heard an old favorite from my Girl Scout days: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser. The words, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” got me thinking about those candles. When we light a candle, we can pass along the flame without our own light diminishing. In fact, as the light gets passed along, it only gets brighter! Just as the flame of a candle doesn’t weaken as it is spread around, neither does love—it simply grows larger and stronger. While having more children may lessen the amount of money we can spend on each child, it certainly doesn’t lessen the love we have each one of them. In fact, our love increases so that we still can love each child as if he or she were our only one. That’s how it is with our Heavenly Father’s love; His love is limitless and He loves each and every one of us as if we were his only child.

This year, my family was separated by thousands of miles and we only saw one another on Zoom. Instead of going to a church Christmas Eve, we attended church on our computers. No flames were passed from person to person and no candles illuminated a darkened church as we sang Silent Night. Nevertheless, it only takes a spark to get the fire going and we don’t need a candle’s flame to spread the blessings of God’s grace and love. Let us remember these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” It can’t extinguish God’s love, either!

The candlelight from last year’s Christmas Eve service was limited by the number of people in the church but there is no limit to the brightness that can be brought into this dark world by Christ’s church. What if every one of us took the light of God’s love with us and passed it on to all who cross our path? Remember, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going!”

I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top;
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on. [Kurt Kaiser]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. [1 John 3:23 (NLT)]

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