Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2016 (Page 1 of 3)

Friend of the World? (2)

O PreacherPerhaps I made grace sound cheap with the final thought of my last blog:  “This,” I wrote, “is Gospel:   simply a humble confession from my heart that signals my desire to turn from sin is enough for God to pour in his always-greater grace.”  Just so there’s no misunderstanding, here’s a classic quote from German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer to which I say a hearty AMEN! And which I hope clarifies I’m not for cheap grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy  for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Hopefully with a clearer understanding of grace, we turn to James 4:7-10 where James delivers several strong imperatives . . .

So then, submit yourselves to God (4:7a, TEV).

”  . . . then” connects this imperative to what preceded:  But the grace that God gives is even greater. As the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (4:6, ESV).  In other words, since God gives grace to the humble, “submit yourselves to God.”  The Greek verb is often used of submission to human authority.  James, then, is urging his readers to humbly submit themselves to the authority of God who opposes the proud but gives grace (“generous, active, effective help far beyond anything we deserve or have right to expect”–Adamson, The Epistle of James) to the humble.

God’s  grace is for the one who humbly submits to him.  Muslims (“those who surrender or submit”) may understand that better than Western Christians who re-made God into a cosmic-helper!  He is that, but only to those who bow and kneel.

 Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (4:7b, TEV).

This world is the devil’s realm (“the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”—1 John 5:19, ESV).  Pride is one of his primary projects.  We are“lured and enticed by our own desire” (James 1:14, ESV);  but the devil stands in the bleachers cheering us on.

How to resist?  Perhaps by a humble submissive prayer like this:   “God, I admit my pride-problem.  By your grace, I turn from it.  Please help me now live and speak with humility and lowliness.”  Before such prayer and presence, the devil will  run.

Come near to God and he will come near to you (4:8a, TEV).
“God goes out,” Jewish rabbis taught, “to those who approach him.”  So 4:8a was familiar language to these Jewish Christians.  But, we mustn’t attach any merit.  God doesn’t “come near” to reward our coming near to him.  He comes near by grace as we humbly submit ourselves to him and put away our pride.

Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (4:8b, TEV).

James calls these Jewish Christians “sinners” because they’re “double-minded.”  While drawing near to God they’re living like “friends of the world.”    “Wash your hands” and “purify your hearts” calls for repentance and moral purity in act and attitude.

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom (4:9, TEV).

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians offers the best commentary on James , , ,

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it– I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.   See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern . . . (2 Corinthians 7:8-11v, ESV).

(Confession:  my sin-concession to God often becomes emotionless, as if I’m admitting a spelling error.  “O God, surely there are sins my heart should break over!  Break me then.  Guard me from receiving your grace cheaply.”)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (4:10, TEV).

James returns to his theme that threads through this segment.  Put aside “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (3:14, ESV).  Stop fighting and quarreling and coveting and praying to gratify your own passions.  Cut off friendship with the world (4:1-4).  “Lower yourselves before the Lord” like a proud mountain peak bowing at the command of His Majesty.

The imperative comes with a promise:  ” . . . and he will exalt you.” 

Once, invited to a feast, Jesus noticed how many guests chose seats of honor.  He told them a pointed parable . . .

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place. It could happen that someone more important than you has been invited, and your host, who invited both of you, would have to come and say to you, “Let him have this place.’ Then you would be embarrassed and have to sit in the lowest place. Instead, when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that your host will come to you and say, “Come on up, my friend, to a better place.’ This will bring you honor in the presence of all the other guests. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great” (Luke 14:8-11, TEV).
* * *
“Lord, enable me to abort arrogant words that create division and humble myself before you, so I might receive generous, active, effective help far beyond anything I deserve or have right to expect before you.  And please rivet these, your words, into my mind . . .”

God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
(James 4:6, ESV)

Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand,
so that he will lift you up in his own good time.
(1 Peter 5:6, TEV)

 Image result for photo of people humbling themselves

Christian Assault in Sexuality’s Name

O PreacherYears ago I received emails from a couple who had been members of the church I pastored.  They had moved to the mountains of North Carolina for a Last-Days’ defense against anti-Christ forces.

I’m not sympathetic to their cause and don’t wish to be numbered among them.  But I have written occasionally about the growing anti-Christian bias in America.  I have done it, because, if unaware, we’ll be like the frog in the pot, the heat gradually increasing until we’re boiled.  Furthermore, how shall we know how to pray, if we’re unaware of the “enemy territory” we occupy?  And how shall we know how serious we must take following Jesus, if we don’t know we’re “swimming upstream”?

I contend that these are days we must be seriously committed to our Lord, not just in the four-wall-sanctuary of our churches and homes, but in the marketplace of ideas and in conversation and in all of everyday life.

The following article, from “National Review Digital”,  speaks for itself,


The Assault on Christians

By Donald Critchlow — July 11, 2016, Issue

Wisdom That Grows a Righteous Church

O PreacherAh, the hilarious wisdom of old age . . .

The dispersed-among-the-nations Jewish Christians to whom James writes are neither aged nor wise (while professing to be—wise, that is).  Instead, they’re foolishly tongue-lashing each other (James 3:1-12), harboring jealously and selfish ambition in their hearts (James 3:14) and arrogantly fighting with one another (James 4:1-12).

Before we dig into James’ rebuke, note three key words, two of which don’t usually make our top-three-church-virtues today.  First, peace.  This we want.  A church at peace.  Without internal conflict.  No fighting.  Everyone loving everyone else.

Second, wisdom.  We want a growing church, a friendly church, a great-music church, a well-programmed church.  But who longs for a wise church?

Third, righteousness.  When’s the last time somebody congratulated your church for being righteous or the last time you read a magazine highlighting a righteous church?

It appears from James, God wants his church to be at peace, wise and righteous.

James starts this section (which really continues his thoughts from 3:1-12) with a question to grab attention . . .

Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom (James 3:13).

Yes, who?  Not the members who speak and act as if they know more than everybody else.  Not simply members with a good sense of judgment.  But members who make right moral choices before God.  Specifically, in this case, members who do beneficial praiseworthy acts from a spirit of humility and gentleness.

Our churches are not always sanctuaries of peace, schools of wisdom and overflowing fields of righteousness.   True, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.  But sick sinners should be getting better!  And that improvement should be progressively obvious.  Apparently, in the churches to whom James is writing, the opposite was obvious . . .

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14,15). 

” . . . selfish ambition” reminds me of politicians.  They solicit support more for their own political profit than the nation’s good.  A lost seat to a competitor would color them envy-green.  James rebukes church members like that.  In fact, he reserves some of his harshest language for them.  Paraphrase:  “You brag about how wise you are as a Christian, when your “wisdom” doesn’t come from above but from here on earth.  It’s just natural, human, totally absent God’s Spirit.  It is, in fact, demonic.  (Can you imagine a pastor preaching this rebuke today?  Church-shopping time!)

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16).

On what does James base such a harsh diagnosis?  The churches’ disorderliness and confusion.  Their moral corruptness.  Their evil practices.  I can’t imagine describing a church like this.  Such “fruit”  can mean only one thing:  members are envious and selfishly ambitious.  And their so-called “wisdom” is “earthly, unspiritual and demonic.”  What a contrast “the wisdom that comes from heaven”!

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17,18).

” . . . wisdom from above” is . . .

  • pure.  It produces people of moral and spiritual integrity.
  • peaceable.  It produces people who are conciliatory peace-makers.
  • considerate.  It produces people who are fair and generous.
  • submissive.  It produces people who put themselves under others in importance for Jesus’ sake.
  • full of mercy and good fruit.  It produces people who show compassion and forgiveness toward those they have power to harm,
  • impartial  and sincere.  It produces people without prejudice or hypocrisy.

This is a peaceful church, a wise church, a righteous church reflecting the character of Christ himself.  But it doesn’t just happen.  It takes members, like farmers, “planting” these virtues in peace.  Nor is such a church born in a day.  It takes time for “fruit” to grow.  But it will; the Holy Spirit will work through “planting” members and eventually “a harvest of righteousness” will be the yield.

Wisdom is the necessary ingredient.  How shall we gain it?  James has already answered . . .

If any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach,
and it will be given him.
(James 1:1:5)

Here’s a prayer we might pray . . .

O LORD, I turn my ear to wisdom that comes from your words and commands.
I apply my heart to understanding.  I call out for insight.
I cry aloud for understanding.  I look for it as for silver.
I search for it as for hidden treasure.
I am trusting that then I will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
I rest on the promise that you give wisdom
and from your mouth come knowledge and understanding.
This I pray in the name of your Son,
who is my wisdom and righteousness.  Amen.
(from Proverbs 2:1-6).

















Friend of the World? (Part 1)

O PreacherI’ve always held to the “you-can-catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-with-vinegar” philosophy.  When I spoke with church members needing correction, I usually did it with gentle, kind  words.  James, on the other hand, went heavy on the vinegar.  But he ends this scorching segment with unexpected, sweet grace.

New Testament letters are occasional documents—most topics occasioned by issues in the recipient church.  Because so much verbal violence is raging in the churches of these dispersed Jewish Christians, James can’t band-aide their conflict; he has to shovel to the cause and root it out.  Hence he starts with questions . . .

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (4:1, NIV).

The root cause of their rage is no mere difference of opinion.  They’ve each got a desires-war within.  The Greek word translated “desires” is haydomay)— “lusts”, used of natural, uncontrolled appetites.  Their fallen nature’s desire for self-gratification wars against their new-birth desire for righteous living.  Hence they are fiercely frustrated . . .

You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (4:2,3, NIV).

Hard to imagine they were actually murdering one another.  Either James is using “kill” in the sense Jesus did for “anger” (“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment”—Matthew 5:21,22),  or he means (as the TEV translates) “ready to kill.”  Either way, they’re coveting what belongs to a brother and, unable to get it, frustration erupts in verbal war.

Can church members really behave like this?  After a lifetime of pastoring—yes.  My situation was never this  bad.  But even  when hostility between groups of members simmered beneath the surface, it was  dreadful.

James prescribes prayer . . .

“You do not have because you do not ask God for it.”

We shouldn’t miss the import of James’ diagnosis.  Jesus promised:

As bad as you are,
you know how to give good things to your children.
How much more, then, will your Father in heaven
give good things to those who ask him!”
(Matthew 7:11, TEV).

And the psalmist taught:  

“Seek your happiness in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desire”
(Psalm 37:4). 

We’re to see our Father as our source of satisfaction and ask him for our heart’s desire.  Then rest in his answer, whatever it is, as good.  The alternative (to try to grab for ourselves, especially at others’ expense) leads only to fights and frustration.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (4:3b, NIV). 

Motives matter.  Why didn’t they receive when they did ask God?  Because their passion in prayer was only their own desires.  “Pleasures” translates the Greek haydonays–used of indulgence or lack of control of natural appetites.   “Lusts” or “lustful pleasures” would be a good translation.

Jesus used”spend” (Greek, dapanaysata) of the prodigal son who “squandered his property in wasteful living” and spent everything” (Luke 15:13,14).  So we might translate:   “that you may waste all you get on your pleasures.”

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? (4:4,5, NIV)

“You adulterous people”.  No address could shock these Jewish Christians more.  Their prophets used it often of Israel’s  shameful unfaithfulness to God . . .

Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.
(Jeremiah 9:2)

Then in the nations where they have been carried captive,
those who escape will remember me–
how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts,
which have turned away from me,
and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols.
They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done
and for all their detestable practices.
(Ezekiel 6:9)

What does James  mean by “the world” that friendship with it is “hatred (hostility, animosity) toward God”?  The “world” (Greek kosmos) is all of humanity alienated from God and hostile to Christ.  To be on friendly terms, then, with humanity that opposes God in Christ, is to identify yourself as one with God’s enemy.

The church in which  I grew up often identified “worldliness” with outward things—girls wearing short skirts, movie-going, dancing, etc.  Rarely was coveting “stuff” for yourself mentioned.  But the “unmentionables” are usually more insidious.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

A notoriously-difficult question to translate from the Greek.  Is “spirit” the Holy Spirit who is jealous for us?  Or is it our spirit that envies what others have.  I lean toward the latter, but will just leave it there to move on to unexpected, sweet grace.

I’m surprised at James. For five verses James has excoriated us.  Had I been one of those church members I’d feel mentally skinned alive.  He’s called us adulterers, God-haters, selfish and greedy pray-ers, friends of this fallen world.  I’m no better than the pervert who runs to a prostitute.  No more righteous than the evangelist who begs poor widows to give another offering so he can buy a new jet.  Instead of loving my brother, I’m angry enough to kill him.

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6).  

This “But” is a stream of cold water in a desert.  ” . . . he gives more grace.”  God’s grace (his “generous, active, effective help far beyond anything we deserve or have right to expect”–Adamson, The Epistle of James) is greater than sin in me.  By it God saves me from my adultery, my God-enmity, my selfish and greedy praying, my cozying-up to this fallen world.

Not, however, if I proudly refuse to lower myself and admit my sin.  Then God will surely set himself against me.

But if I humble myself and confess my sins, God will give grace greater than my adultery, greater than my God-enmity, greater than my selfish and greedy praying, greater than my corrupting friendship with this world.  This is Gospel:   simply a humble confession from my heart that signals my desire to turn from sin is enough for God to pour in his always-greater grace.

Dear Subscribers

P.AllanI began blogging back in March 2014.  Driven to retirement after 44 years of pastoring by primary lateral sclerosis, my mind longed to continue in ministry while my body fought against it.  I dreamed of writing a book, but that intimidated me.  A blog seemed the best bet.

So, after praying for guidance, I began.  “If nobody reads it,” I reasoned, “at least I’ll be somewhat creatively capturing my thoughts in printed form.”  Soon, however, I realized, “If nobody reads what I write, what’s the point?”

I devised a plan:  I would subscribe members of the church I formerly pastored.  Surely they would be okay with that.  And, if not, they could easily unsubscribe.  (Yes, that’s the sneaky way some of you ended up receiving my blog. )

For a month or more, daily visitors languished in the single digits.  Well, at least a few were reading.  So I plugged along, enjoying the study and the writing, and praying readership would grow.  I didn’t aim for a “mega-blog.”  That was (is) way beyond me.  But I really did want to speak God’s Word into the lives of as many people as possible.  In short, I hoped to continue my preaching ministry through a writing ministry.

My motivation wasn’t entirely selfless.  As an “older-old” (now 72) and mostly shut-in,  I very much needed a continuing sense of significance.  Not ego.  A sense that my life still counted for the sake of the Gospel.  I wasn’t ready to curl up on the couch with potato chips watching TV through glazed-over eyes.  I wanted to serve, to contribute.

I always pastored small churches over 44 years.  The first (in Atco, N.J.) had been without a pastor for nine months when I arrived.  A handful of older people hanging on, but when Lois and I left three years later, the church had grown to 40-50 people, a sizeable young people’s group among them.

We left because I had been asked to plant a church in northern New Jersey.  We named it The Living Church, and it was the most “alive” church I’d ever known.  From zero, we grew to about 120 at its peak after nearly 17 years of ministry.  Not a magazine-feature number, but a broad age-range and multi-ethnic members made it a most exciting community of believers.

Next we spent 24 years in Florida.  What began as a dying church of older folks (Port Richey Community Church) became a church of all ages, though small—as many as about 90 people at one time, but mostly around 50-60.  We sold an old building and built new (something I said I never would do!) and SonRise Community Church (our new name) grew into a Christ-centered family with exciting prospects for the future.

But my illness left me behind.  As I said, I longed to continue in significant ministry.  But would it be significant?

Well, as of today, has 651 subscribers!  According to my statistics, people are reading from about 2/3 of the United States and more than 20 countries around the world.  (Obviously these are English-speaking readers, because the best I could do even in high school Spanish was a “D”!)  Far more people are reading my words about God’s word (his word is what’s important) than ever heard me preach over 44 years combined!

I’m not telling you this to boast.  Like the apostle Paul, my only boast is in the Lord.  This is his doing.  The glory, the praise, the applause all goes to him.

I am so grateful to still be able to serve.  I praise him that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).  My body may be “wasting away”, but God hasn’t taken back his gracious gifts!

And I thank him for you, dear reader.  That you make the time to read what I’ve written about our Lord.  That you allow the Holy Spirit to cause his word to come alive in your life.  That I have a small part in the person you are becoming for your greatest good and God’s greatest glory.  I don’t even know most of you.  But I so much appreciate you.  You don’t know how you’ve blessed me by subscribing and reading.  You are God’s gift to me at this time in my life.  Thank you.

I don’t want to make more of this than warranted.  I’m sure you have others who speak God’s word into your life to a greater extent than I.  I’m content to be supplemental.  To serve where the Lord has put me.

So I pray to be faithful.  I pray to be fruitful.  And I thank you for the blessed encouragement you are to me.  I pray you will receive the greater blessing.  So that through our “connection”, God may be most glorified, the name of Jesus exalted, and the Holy Spirit’s presence enjoyed and made visible in our lives as we follow our Lord together.

Evangelicals! Vote with Integrity!

P.AllanJust read the following by David French.  I’m posting it so you can too.  French’s words cut to my conscience.  I had thought it wise to vote for Trump to insure conservative Supreme Court justices would be nominated.  French blew that idea out of the water.  Better, I think, to be a man of integrity than to contribute to a potentially greater problem.   See what you think . . .

Don’t Bend Your Knee to Trump, Evangelicals

A candidate who subverts all of our most cherished values should be avoided at all costs.

By David French — June 20, 2016

Leftist Religion: No Peace

P.AllanI’m astounded that the current administration in Washington seems to believe that getting America’s enemies to the diplomatic table will bring peace.  Just to be clear, I’m not making a political statement.  I’m not pro-war.  And I have no workable solution to bring world peace through human channels.

But this naiveté  of inherent human goodness totally ignores the reality of sin . . .

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'”
( Romans 3:23).

Sin not only separates us from our Creator and his glory, it depraves human nature, including our mind.  Writing of Gentile sinners, Paul urges the church . . .

” . . . you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do in the futility of their minds.
They are darkened in their understanding,
alienated from the life of God,
because of
the ignorance that is in them
due to the hardness of their heart.”
(Ephesians 4:17,18).

That’s God’s word.  It means we cannot simply trust “the goodwill of man” when we sit at the bargaining table.  I don’t deny the need for diplomacy.  Sure, try to reason with people driven by hostile ideologies.  But we can’t assume that a signature on the bottom line certifies the agreement.

And that brings me to the importance of worldview.  In the latest edition of “National Review” online, Ben Shapiro writes . . .

Obama believes, as doctrinaire leftists do, that human beings do not derive meaning from ancient religious superstitions and deep-seated ideas about how the universe ought to operate. Given relief from material want and prevention of emotional distress, Obama believes, all human beings would get along just fine — and would then be free to cultivate themselves as they see fit.
Karl Marx wrote that “life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things.” In this view, unhappiness derives from scarcity in these resources or from social relationships created to guarantee these primary needs for some at the expense of others. Religion, meanwhile, exists only to misdirect such unhappiness toward the cosmic rather than toward one’s fellow man. Hence Marx’s belief that abolition of religion is “the demand for their real happiness.”

(Read more at:

This is “leftist religion.”  The replacement of “ancient religious superstitions” with a religious-like ideology that what we all really need is our “primary needs” supplied.  If we would only help our fellow man attain those provisions we would have world happiness and peace.  (ISIS reveals that worldview’s paucity when they aim to take over the world by slaughter!)

Our “leftist religionists” stop short of Marx who claimed “Religion . . . exists only to misdirect such unhappiness toward the cosmic rather than toward one’s fellow man.”  In other words, energy devoted to getting right with God should be directed to getting right with one another.  Today’s “leftists” allow for God, just not as Savior and Lord through his Son.  Leave him, please, to just “bless” us.

“Leftist religion” will never deliver, nor will diplomacy based on it.  God won’t be content to be merely a “blesser.”  He will be honored as God!  Belief in the inherent goodness of man, if only his primary needs are met, is blind and ignorant faith stemming from hard-hearted-ness toward God the Father of Jesus.  The world cannot be saved by mutual goodwill and understanding, because the foundation (man) is fallen.

This is why our only hope lies not in a new U.S. president or deal-making Congress or more talented diplomats or even the military’s overpowering force.  These are necessities for today—until the Peacemaker returns to Planet Earth . . .

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two,
thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God
through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:13-18)

Now, until that day when Jesus comes to bring world peace,
drink in his Spirit of peace for your own soul
as you prayerfully listen to the video above. 


O PreacherI was 18 when Lois and I married—and immature.  My tongue spewed it in arguments.  Not curses.  Insensitive,  harsh, and callous words, impossible to take back.  Heart surgery may be more urgent, but James claims tongue-taming may be more critical . . .

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check (James 3:1,2).

Hear ye, every prospective Bible college and seminary student, every Bible study leader and Sunday school teacher, every Christian parent!  Caution!  Tremble!  Because “the tongue . . . is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8).  Because “ . . . we who teach will be judged more strictly” (3:1).  And because only a perfect person never sins with his words (3:2).  If that person could, he’d be able to keep his whole body from sin.  Such is the tongue’s deadly threat.

James issues this warning to Jewish Christians dispersed among the nations, probably trying to protect them from false teachings from without and unqualified teachers from within.  They’re suffering trials (1:2) and mustn’t fall prey like dumb sheep to hungry wolves.  Nor must they wound one another with their false or foolish words.  Neither must we.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:3-6).

James sounds tongue-obsessed.   Such a small organ!  But think of the bridle’s bit.  Not big.  Put In a thousand-pound horse’s mouth, it “can turn the whole animal.”  Only strong winds can drive a sailing ship through the sea.  Yet it needs only “a very small rudder” to direct it.  So our little tongue proudly wags sparking far-reaching devastation—for hearers and speaker alike.   An evil word (from heresy to jealousy) “corrupts the whole person” and “sets the whole course of his life on fire”, because his words’ source lies in hell itself.

“Whoa, James.  Little over the top, no?”  Well, think of a politician suspected of sexual immorality.  Guilty, but  he defends himself with a lie.  New questions arise; a second concocted.  More suspicions arise.  He lies a new one.  No conclusive evidence, but after months of lies, his career is in the can.  James might say,  “That’s the power of the tiny tongue!”  We Christians have even more at stake—the integrity of our Lord and his Gospel.  And, we’ll have to give account for every word.  “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken “(Matthew 12:36, Jesus).

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (James 3:7-12).

No man can tame the tongue?  Really?  It can’t be subdued or domesticated like wild animals on the new earth (Isaiah 11:6,9)?  Is is really an unstable, uncontrollable evil full of death”? 

At a particular elders meeting one elder voiced a decision that ticked me off.  Angry words exploded from my mouth. Instead of calming the situation, I had inflamed it.  Or, to continue James’ metaphor, instead of speaking healing life into a serious situation, I spoke poisonous death.  Later, I had to humbly ask forgiveness.  James’ tongue-description is sadly accurate.

The tongue I used that evening to angrily criticize my made-in-God’s-image brother in Christ was the same tongue I’d used a few days earlier to praise God in corporate worship.  O Father!  “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”  It’s not right!  It mustn’t happen!  It violates God’s creation (and new creation) order.  The same spring can’t produce both fresh and salt water.  A fig tree can’t bear olives.  A grapevine can’t bear figs.  It’s abnormal, deviant, perverse.  Sometimes, according to James, I am.


Because as pastor I taught God’s word for 44 years, I will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).  So will you if you’ve preached or taught Bible studies, Sunday school, or your own children.  It’s a terrifying thought, tempered only by the good news that God’s mercy will triumph over his judgment, if we have shown mercy to others (James 3:12,13).

The culprit in this scenario is our tongue.  In 3:8 James warns that it’s “evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison”, unable to be tamed by us.  Which is why, it appears, he leaves us in 3:1-12 with no hope of bridling it.  Yet in 1:26, he suggest it is possible to control that wagging hunk of flesh:  “If anyone does not control his tongue, his religion is worthless and he deceives himself.”  Not tame the wild-tongue-horse, but bridle
it so you control the animal.

So it’s all on us, then?  Thankfully, not at all.  James offers divine help when he writes of “the wisdom from above” (3;17).  Here, then, is what I infer we can do.  Pray for wisdom from above concerning what we say with our tongue.  God has promised to give it (James 1:5).  This is God’s part in tongue-bridling.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).  This is our part.  As Ben Franklin says in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “it is better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Cute—at this age!


funny tongue photo: tongue tied tonguetied.jpg

But real soon—need the knot!


O PreacherI can’t believe Jesus didn’t laugh at this.  Well, I did anyway.  Nothing theological about it.  Nothing spiritual.  Just very funny.  If you haven’t seen it, I hope it brings a grin to your face and a little happiness to your day.  (I think we’ll laugh at lot on the new earth. So let’s practice now.)

Blaming Christians

O PreacherI’m almost speechless.  Please read this article by David French from the “National Review.”  It’s his response to Jen Hatmaker’s viral Facebook page (link in article).

 we need the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of Christ-like love in us, even while we call sin what it is!

The Orlando Shooting Launches a War on Christianity

Somehow, Omar Mateen’s massacre has put American Christians on the defensive.
By David French — June 15, 2016
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