The Bible is littered with admonitions about the tongue. There are so many ways to mess things up, but few things in life are as messy as the tongue. Nothing can torture so horribly over long periods of time as can the tongue. If you ever want to inflict fatal damage that devastates, controls, discourages and depresses all at once, then the tongue is your weapon of choice.
No wonder that the New Testament writer James felt so strongly about the tongue! Many would list the third chapter of the Book of James as among the most powerful statements on the human tongue in all literature. James 3 is like the virtual homepage of all biblical statements on the tongue with each phrase a hyperlink connecting to a vast network of scriptural references.
The thrust of James’ writing has to do with the tangible evidence of intangible faith. If your faith is real, James contends, your life will surely demonstrate that by your deeds. In James’ worldview (and the Bible’s) faith and works are two sides of the same coin. To put the opposite view simply, legalism is the heretical thought that we could gain God’s favor by means of our personal efforts. But God’s grace grasped by faith results in a practical and tangible outworking of that grace.
In this context James 3 is nestled. The person who has reached a degree of spiritual maturity will have a corresponding degree of tongue control. This is the reason for James’ warning in the first two verses of his third chapter. If you are a teacher, words are your medium, and you are a high risk to muddy waters with your mouth. Make no mistake about it! Even mature teachers of the scriptures are capable of all sorts of tongue abuse and misuse.
As one who has been teaching for a long time, I can promise you that there are many words I would love to cancel,whether in public teaching or private conversation. Once words have exploded out of the chamber of the human mouth, there is no stuffing them back in.
Who holds you accountable for your words? My wife is a constant source of accountability to let me know when words may have been misplaced or misunderstood. I am fortunate enough to have some very good friends and colleagues who also feel the freedom to call my attention to words that may be potentially malignant.
When you pray for God to guard your mouth, could it be that he often uses people to answer your prayer? Did you really expect an angel on your shoulder? Do you give safe people permission to challenge your words? Don’t just assume that someone will do that. Honestly, most people will let your mouth continue to run as you turn up the heat on the stew you are making. We need to let safe people close to us know that they have the freedom to call our words into question. A few well-placed warnings by friends are worth a ton of issues from getting way in over your head in conversation with people who will not hesitate to use your words against you regardless of your intentions or the context.
In the worst of cases, some insecure folks refuse constructive input and even intimidate those who would try in order to avoid the pain of exposing their lack of tongue control. I don’t want to be that person. I also don’t want to a person that allows friends to loosely throw words around without at least making the attempt to bring that danger to their attention.
Moving forward in life, I want to be even more laser-sharp in my use of words. I’m pretty sure that is going to involve fewer words.
This morning we opened an intensive module of the Spanish language Perspectives class here at Graceway. Approximately 60 students are here from all over the Spanish speaking world, including five from Cuba. The hunger for this course is great, enough to motivate these students to pay their expenses from their country of origin to come to Kansas City. Only six students live here in the United States. Almost all are pastors or other church leaders, and most have great influence over other leaders in their sphere of influence.
You have heard me speak of this course before, as we have done both an intensive module in English as well as the regular sixteen week version. If you regularly read this blog, you have seen me travel several times to Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico to teach lessons in Perspectives. I have also taught on ocassion here in the Kansas City area, including an introductory lesson just last Sunday night at Palestine Missionary Baptist Church. Graceway put up a good part of the funds necessary to translate this matieral into Spanish.
Why would I invest so much time teaching this course? Because I believe it is clearly one of the most effective tools to teach God’s global purpose and open people’s eyes to the natural flow of the Bible and help them find their place in God’s purpose.
We will be working eight hour days through next Tuesday. Pray for the students. Sitting through eight hours of classroom study is hard, but following this week they will have a good amount of reading and writing to do in order to get credit for the course.
Esta mañana comenzamos un módulo intensivo de Perspectivas en español aquí en Graceway. Aproximadamente 60 estudiantes están aquí de todas partes del mundo hispanohablante, incluyendo a cinco de Cuba. Hay mucho hambre para este curso, lo suficiente para motivar a estos alumnos a pagar sus propios gastos para viajar a Kansas City desde su país de origen. Tan solo seis estudiantes viven aquí en los Estados Unidos. Casi todos son pastores u otros líderes en sus iglesias, y la mayoría ejercen gran influencia sobre otros líderes en su esfera de influencia.
Me han oído hablar antes de este curso, viendo que hemos hecho un módulo intensivo en inglés y también la versión normal de dieciséis semanas. Si lees este blog con frecuencia, sabes que he viajado varias veces a Costa Rica, Perú y México para enseñar lecciones de Perspectivas. También he enseñado a veces aquí en la zona metropolitana de Kansas City, incluyendo una lección introductoria justo el domingo pasado en la Iglesia Bautista Misionera de Palestina. Graceway invertió la mayor parte de los fondos necesarios para traducir este curso al español.
¿Por qué he invertido tanto tiempo en este curso? Porque creo que es una de las herramientas más eficaces para enseñar el propósito global de Dios y abrir nuestros ojos al flujo natural de la Biblia y encontrar nuestro lugar en aquel propósito global divino.
Estaremos estudiando ocho horas al día hasta el próximo martes. Oren por los alumnos. Participar en ocho horas diarias en el aula es difícil, y después tendrán mucho leer y escribir para recibir crédito para el curso.
Maybe you thought I had given up blogging or gone a Face Book fast. Nothing like that! I’m just coming out of a terribly busy time of travel that has left me feeling like I have just been spit out of a whirlwind (whirlwind, not whale). I made two posts in October. Yes, the month was like a whirlwind. I can’t really say I feel much like Elijah or Job that also had their whirlwind experiences. Maybe Dorothy woud be a better comparison.
Let me catch you up on what’s been happening. It’s not like I think my life is important enough for anyone to really care what I’ve been doing that’s kept me so busy, but people do ask. So, selfishly, I’ll answer here so I only have to explain once. Then, maybe I can get back to finding some intelligent or even spiritual-sounding to share.
I’ll arrange the month of October by geography and give you a brief description of why I was in those particular places. I know I travel a good deal, but I normally try to space it out far better than I did this past month. Poor Cheryl has pretty much had to run the household by herself and doesn’t even have much sympathy for me because, as she says, I do this to myself. She’s right. I don’t mean to, but stuff happens, ya’ know.
San Jose, Costa Rica – October 7-10
The Perspectives class is gathering momentum in Costa Rica. I had the privilege to teach the first lesson of this amazing class just a few years ago, even before the material had been translated into Spanish. The idea of Perspectives is that each lesson has a different professor and I love to be one of the 15 or 16! With the material undergoing final revisions before publication, as I returned to Costa Rica this time, the course is being offered in three cities simultaneously, a different city each night Monday through Wednesday. What a blessing!
Macedonia – October 14-17
Home for just a few days, I took off on Monday, October 14th for the Republic of Macedonia, a country that was part of the former Yugoslavia. There, a Latin America couple is working to represent God’s love in an area that desperately needs that love. The nation is bitterly divided between Macedonian Orthodox and ethnic Albanian Muslims. This fierce standoff is only the most obvious part of a layered and complex region where different ethnicities have been warring and sparring for centuries. I had no illusion that I was going to walk in with all the answers to resolve this historical conflict. My job was to meet with a group of sincere leaders who are working to communicate the love of God and to discuss with them from the scriptures what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of others. Part of spiritual growth is learning to love and respect all peoples of the world and treat them with due dignity and respect in the name of Jesus Christ. The challenges in that beautiful country are plentiful, but there are signs that God is moving among his people.
Paris – October 17-23
From Macedonia, I took a short flight to Istanbul and from there to Paris, arriving early Thursday evening the 17th. The group from Graceway would arrive very early Saturday morning and I had a good deal to do to get ready and prepare for them. I have taken a number of small groups to Paris over the years and have always enjoyed taking them on a short tour of some key locations of the French Reformation, as well as helping them experience the standard tourist sites of this gorgeous city. With a small group we can see more in three or four days than many others can see in a week or more. But, I had never had the faith/courage/whatever to think of taking a larger group. Paris is simply overwhelming! I see many tourists struggling just to figure out where to go and how to get around. For some strange reason, I found myself in Paris waiting for a group of 19 to arrive. Gulp!
I have to say that it all went well. We did an orientation in September before leaving and everyone did a good job of following instructions and keeping up. To do what we do we have to go, go, go! Most of the group was from Graceway, but two couples joined us in Paris from Springfield and another couple from Louisiana. I think that most of us learned some important lessons about life, Paris and God’s global purpose, but we also had a blast! Hmmm. I just may try this again next year and offer the Paris extension to my annual Amsterdam seminar.
Amsterdam, October 23-30
On Wednesday the 23rd we hopped a train through Belgium to Amsterdam. That’s a nice experience in itself. A few hours later we found ourselves in one of my favorite cities – Amsterdam. For almost 30 years I have been taking groups to Holland to teach on God’s global purpose, culture, ethnicities and transcultural understanding, the history of biblical Christianity and how the arts reflect culture. This is about 12 hours of classroom instruction interrupted by very purposeful sightseeing and pure unabashed fun! Over the years this trip has taken on a life of its own and I am constantly amazed at the many lives that have been enriched and altered by this common experience. It is a trip that makes me very tired, but I never get tired of it. Does that make sense? We returned to Kansas City on the evening of the 30th, just in time for Halloween the next day.
Toccoa Falls, November 3-6th
So, I had a couple of days to clear my head and on Sunday morning it was great to be back home at Graceway. I can’t describe how much I miss Graceway when I am gone. Then, right after the last service I was on my way to airport yet once again. This time I am writing to you from Toccoa Falls College in Northeastern Georgia where I am the lecturer at a Fall lecture series here at the college that goes back decades. I am giving all 5 lectures in the series as well as teaching some classes and a luncheon for local pastors tomorrow. I come home Wednesday night to stay a while. I am SO looking forward to that!
Thanks to those of you who actually read this lengthy and personal post. I’ll try to get back in the writing groove. It may take a while to ramp up. Honestly, I’ve been tired and just needing to take any free time to rest up. But, watch out! I’m getting my second wind! I just hope it’s not a whirlwind.
This really happened. I’m not frustrated: I’m mildly amused. I’ve learned to expect such things.
Yesterday morning I had a 0600 flight on my way to San Jose, Costa Rica to teach Perspectives in a three city loop. Settling in to my usual seat on the little Embraer jets that United flies out of Kansas City, everything was going well so far except for my ability to keep my eyes open – normal.
Boarding my connecting flight in Houston everything shows on time. Life is sweet. About 5 or 10 minutes have passed from the time we should have been shoving back from the gate when the pilot announces that we do not have the proper papers filled out for immigration arriving in Costa Rica. They’re on it, no big deal, we’ll be on our way shortly.
Another ten minutes or so pass.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Strangest thing happened. As we were waiting on our immigration papers, we happened to notice here in the cockpit that we have two panels where there should only be one. Have no idea why this is so, but we can’t move until we get maintenance to verify which one is the functioning panel and then they will have to put a note or something in here not to use the other panel. We’ve called them, they’re on their way and this should only take a very few minutes. I hesitate to say how many minutes because sometimes airplane minutes are not the same as normal people minutes.”
I receive push notifications from both the airline site and a travel app on my smartphone. Every few minutes my phone is beeping with delay notices coming in. More and more airline minutes pass. It’s now well over an hour since we should have left. A few folks are getting antsy, especially those with tight connections.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain again. Well, they keep telling me it will just be a few minutes. We have now been over an hour and a half at the gate and that means that according to your airline passenger rights you have the right to get off the aircraft and wait in the boarding area if you so desire. Again, they tell me that they are just a couple of minutes from getting this thing resolved. But, you do have the right to deboard.”
The flight attendants are obligated to repeat the message back to us. Then, the token Spanish-speaking flight attendant says the same thing once more in Spanish. Got it!
Hmmmm. This ought to be interesting. A minute passes, then two. A lone individual makes her way down the aisle toward the door. “Don’t forget to take your boarding pass with you,” says the flight attendant.
One person’s action has encouraged a couple of more. They sort of hesitate a bit as they come forward. Suddenly a couple of drips turn into a flood! Oops! I didn’t mean that as a commentary on the first couple of people to come forward. I just meant to say that soon half the people on board bailed.
Within 5 minutes of the last people off the plane, they start coming back. Of course! Apparently the problem is truly resolved and we can now take off. I am very impressed that the same people who took so long getting down the aisle earlier, are so much faster this time!
The main cabin down is shut and we begin powering down our electronic devices – anything with an on/off switch. You know the drill.
We wait. It can’t be long.
“Uh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain once more. I’m beggining to think that this flight is snake bit! The good news is that our cockpit issue is truly fixed, we have the necessary immigration papers and you people did a fine job of getting back on the aircraft. The bad news is that one – ONE – one person did not get back on and we can’t find that person. We are paging the individual but there is no trace. Ever since 9/11 the air world has changed forever, and this means that by law we can’t fly with bags on board unless the owner of the bags is also on board. So, as I speak, our crew is beginning the process of taking all the luggage out of the underneath storage until we find the bag or bags of the individual who chose not to reboard. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience but there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. This is the law. You also had the right to deboard according to federal law. I’m really happy you have rights, but since we have all these new rights our flight delays are much longer than they used to be.”
To not drag this out any more, after a mere 20 minutes or so they found the bag and we were, indeed, on our way. The flight attendants announced that because we had to endure the delay, the captain had authorized free access to the in-flight entertainment for the entire plane, not just first class. Wow! With this sort of generosity it’s no wonder some of the airlines have been in financial difficulty!
The tense atmosphere in the cabin was now relaxing. Everyone was scrunching around in his or her seat and settling in to their movie of choice. Just about the time the movie plots were developing …
“Ladies and gentlemen, there are four or five video screens that are not functioning properly and the captain will need to reset the entire system so that everyone can take full advantage. We apologize for this inconvenience.”
Will this be the day that my flight will crash?
Well, we did make to Costa Rica and, despite the considerable delay I made it to teach on time. Is there a moral to the story – other than don’t fly unless absolutely necessary? I suppose one could say that before you exercise all your rights, think it through completely. For sure, don’t be the one person who fails to reboard!
For the past couple of days I’ve been waiting for confirmation before sharing the news with you. Now, it’s official. By the grace of God you, Graceway, gave more than our goal in order to begin translation of the New Testament for the Namkeli people of Western Africa, beginning with the same Gospel of Luke we have been studying on Sunday morning. At this moment the amount received is right at $220,000, significantly above the goal of $200,000.
Pause and reflect for a moment. From the beginning, we committed to giving a tithe (10%) to address needs in our local community. We did this because we believed it the right thing to do, and because we want to focus on addressing issues of injustice without regard for geography, or thoughts of near or far, us or them. So, after setting aside $20,000 for our own community, we are thankful to be able to send a full $200,000 to the Namkeli project. God is good!
And, we already know of more funds that will coming in over the next few weeks. This means that there is still time to give if you so desire. As I said last Sunday, this is the beginning, not the conclusion. We will do our best to give you updates from time to time about the progress of the translation project. This is a long process, and we are trusting to be able to eventually see the entire New Testament translated. Other churches and individuals may wish to join in at some point, but we could very well come back in the future to raise more funds to finish the project.
Not only do we want to see the Namkeli project through to completion, we want to be able to take on the translation of scripture into other languages as God leads in the months and years ahead. Would you please pray about this? This just seems like such a natural fit for Graceway to do, not as a replacement for the other efforts in which we are engaged, but as one of those initiatives we can do together as a church family.
I would also ask you to pray about something else. Graceway leadership has a strong conviction that we want to be a model and encouragement to other churches to join the effort to translate scriptures into the languages of those who have never heard the Good News. The lack of availability of scripture in at least 1967 languages is what I have been calling the Ultimate Injustice. There are so many, many injustices in this fallen world, and followers of Jesus Christ must address them courageously and sacrificially. In order for our efforts to be sustainable, however, the word of God must be available and accessible to be sown in human hearts.
You stepped up to the challenge, Graceway. I must confess my fears, doubt and lack of faith along the way. Not that long ago you gave generously to remodel our gym into a modern student center. Not that long ago we sent out approximately 3oo people to a struggling suburban church and took a pretty good financial hit, as many of those who went out were mature givers. While we rejoice in being able to give of our people as well as our financial resources, and while God has been faithful to continue to bring new people into our assembly, the reality is that it takes time for folks to get connected and learn to share in the giving. I firmly believe that as we focus outward toward those who have never heard, that God will be faithful in continuing to develop us into even more of a generous church.
Let me point out something else. We get excited to be part of special projects like giving scripture to the Namkeli, and well we should. But I want you to know that your regular giving is what enables Graceway to be fully engaged on several different fronts simultaneously. On a local level we are able to be difference makers in several areas of society. Globally, your giving makes possible sharing our leaders and trainers, coaches and teachers for Christian leaders in a number of different places and among a number of groups of people. Some of you participate in these efforts to partner with believers from our own suburbs and inner city to the slums of Mumbai and the deserts of North Africa. Our goal moving forward is to continue spending less on ourselves and more on getting God’s word to places it has never been. Your faithfulness is the fuel that drives this by the grace of God.
One of my favorite passages in the context of what I’ve been saying here is when Paul is addressing similar issues with the church in Corinth. In his second letter to Corinth, Paul says that God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may abound in every good work. Together, you and I have experienced this biblical reality. Thank God, and thanks to you, Graceway, for allowing God to use you in this noble way.
That’s perspective, singular, not Perspectives, plural, as in the well-known course on the world Christian movement. Just last week I announced to my Spanish-speaking friends here that we will be offering the Perspectivas course in an intensive module this coming November. But, that’s not what I want to talk about.
I just want to put some things into perspective. Many of you know that we are trusting God this month to raise $200,000 to translate the Gospel of Luke and as much more of the New Testament as possible into the Namkeli language of Western Africa. There are still 1967 langauges without a single verse of scripture. Raising $200,000 to translate scripture is a daunting, yet noble goal. I wish we could take on evern more languages, but we have to take it a step at a time.
Let’s put this into a bit of perspective. I’m writing these words on a Saturday evening from my house. On Friday nights we can hear the firework display at Royals Stadium loud and clear. When neighboring Arrowhead Stadium is occupied we see the glow of the lights from our front porch. Right now the entire city is abuzz for the Chiefs and Cowboys game tomorrow at high noon. It’s been quite a while since Kansas Citians have had reason for optimism past the opening day of the season. We won our opener in Jacksonville, so we are certifiably stoked and ready for some football!
I was thinking about perspective this afternoon. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a Chiefs’ game, but I can remember that they don’t give the tickets away. To take a family of four to a Chiefs’ game is a sizeable investment. I have no idea how much a “normal” ticket costs to a Chiefs’ game. There are all sorts of executive suites and the like, and I’m sure I wouldn’t even want to know how much that costs.
So, I was thinking … how much money will be spent tomorrow at Arrowhead? My mind started spinning to the degree I was fearful I would blow a fuse. If I knew, it probably wouldn’t register – kind of like the national debt.
What about parking? How much will people spend to park tomorrow at Arrowhead? Jumping on the Internet I went to the official Chiefs’ site to discover that parking a regular car on the parking lot at Arrowhead runs $27 these days. That does not, of course, take into account the buses, both public transport, special Chiefs’ buses that people use to tailgate and limosenes. This is also not to mention that many, many people do not want to pay $27 to park, and so they park in lawns and driveways that people open for the ocassion, most of them charging a mere $10 or so.
According to public records, Arrowhead Stadium can park 19,200 cars. When I drive by after church tomorrow every one of those spaces will be taken and hundreds of cars will have paid their $27 to spill out onto the surrounding grass. Let’s make this easy: 19,200 X $27 = $518,400. In case you’re counting, that’s two-and-a-half times what we are looking to raise over the course of five Sundays. This is just what some working, middle class people will pay to park.
Very little of eternal consequence will happen at Arrowhead tomorrow. One team will win and the other will lose. Most people will have a good time. That’s about it. Few lives will be forever transformed because of the game tomorrow.
If we can translate God’s word in Namkeli, an entire society stands the chance to experience life-transforming power. The consequences are eternal in nature. Taking into account we have a generous matching gift of $100,000, that leaves the rest of us scrambling to come up with the other $100,000. Doing a quick division of the number of human bodies at Graceway tomorrow morning, do you think it is reasonable to think that we can give approximately a bit less than $50 per man, woman and child over the course of five Sundays? Is that asking too much? I really want to know. Is that too much to expect?
This is a not a ploy to make anyone feel guilty or to deny any earthly pleasure. I love to go Chiefs’ games! I just rarely have the opportunity. I buy expensive coffee on an almost daily basis because I enjoy it. I probably spend over $50 a month on coffee! My wife and I drop some good money to go to concerts and plays because we enjoy it. I don’t feel badly about that. I certainly don’t feel guity. But I can tell you this, we have very intentionally limited our life style, the type of house we live in, avoided going into debt and made other choices to be able to give generously at the same time we enjoy our blessings. And we have a very nice house, car, clothes, etc. We do not suffer for anything. We’ve made sacrifices in life, but we are not currently in a season of sacrifice. We’re really not.
Having been in Arrowhead on multiple ocassions, I know that very, very few of the 80,000 fans there tomorrow would consider themselves to be rich. “I’m just a working person,” most would say. “The rich people are in those luxury suites.”
Most of the working folks at Arrowhead tomorrow will be dropping literally hundreds of dollars for a few hours of entertainment. I am all for it! Seriously. We are all blessed to be able to do this in a world where one third of all people live on less than $2 a day and 80% live on less than $10 a day.
Yet when two thirds of the living languages on the planet still have not a single verse of the Bible, are we too ambitous to think that in a local church we could trust God for $50 for each member of our family in a month? Is this really too much to ask? Or, has the American church lost all realistic perspective? You tell me.