Tag Archives: transformation

Spiritual Transformation of the Heart

Peninsula Community Church 

Spiritual Transformation of the Heart 

February 18, 2018

Romans 7:15-21 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

How many can relate to Paul here in this passage? How many struggle in the battle between wanting to do what is right but having the tendency to fail to do or to live up to what is right or good? The truth is for too many there is a real battle that rages within us. It might be the amount of food we eat, the amount of alcohol we drink, the way we treat others, or what we think or feel about  ourselves. No matter the issue, the battle rages, but there is a way of hope and it is called spiritual formation or transformation. That is what we will focus on today.

 

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, there has been a need to deal with the heart and man’s reactions to life itself. This has been the inescapable human problem since the fall. Unfortunately, this problem has no human solution although many have tried to do so by way of human means. Some have tried psychiatry, drugs, and many other things to bring change. I do not discredit these resources because there is a need in many cases to have such things available. Unfortunately, too often, these things become the only source investigated, but in the end they do not always bring permanent change or transformation. The fact is, we need a work of God in us to make this happen in a more permanent and effective way. For example, this week we have witnessed another mass killing. The immediate response by many has been to call for more gun control, but this is not a gun control issue. It is a heart issue. The shooter’s heart and mind had been formed by disappointment, rejection, and low self-worth, and he had come to a place where he would have used whatever means possible to create mayhem and murder.

While the need for transformation is an inescapable human problem, I am afraid that as a whole Christianity has been ineffective in imparting answers to the vital questions of human existence. Now before you misunderstand what I am saying, let me explain. Too often, the Gospel has been liberalized or the message of the Gospel has been softened to the point that it does not bring real change. While the Bible has been and continues to be the source of hope for change, too many do not effectively preach the whole counsel of God in a way that meets the need of man. As Christians, we do not hold the Word as being precious and relevant to our needs. Therefore, many Christians have rejected the Gospel as a source of help, hope, and change. The end result is that we present an ineffective and powerless Gospel by the way we live.

The answer to inner transformation must also be more than the church I attend or the denomination I serve. When we are asked about our relationship with Christ, too often our patented answer is to relate to the church we go to or what denomination we have joined. We often say we are Methodist or Presbyterian or I attend PCC. The answer to our spirituality and Christianity must go deeper than religious associations. We attend an awesome church, but this church in itself is not a solution to permanent change. The real answer must come from a heart aligned with God’s will and His purposes.

A second problem is that we can be so focused on the outward expression of change that we miss the deeper issues of the heart. Too many hold to an inaccurate view that by simply changing the outward man, the inward man will follow. While there is some validity to this, too often this kind of change falls short of its intended purpose. The problem is that while we might change the outward man, the inner man is not necessarily changed which leaves us without the proper motivation for additional change. That is why Paul’s spiritual honesty in Romans 7 is so important for us to consider. There is an ongoing battle in doing what is right, We do what we do not want to do and we do not do what we should be doing.

So what is spiritual formation? For the Christian, spiritual formation refers to the Spirit driven process of transforming our inner being in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ Himself. The result is that what is within us is manifested outwardly. Remember that “out of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 15:18-19, Mark 7:21, and Luke 6:45). We speak and act from what is contained and stored in the heart. While the fruit of a changed heart is an outward manifestation of inward change, we must not just focus on the outward manifestation of change. We must align our inward man and our outward expressions of faith to God’s word. With that said, the outward expression of change must never be accomplished at the expense of the spiritual renewal of the heart. When the external becomes the supreme measure of one’s success or spiritual growth we risk not having real or effective change inwardly.

In Mark 8:36 the Scripture tells us For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? In other words, what good is it to gain notoriety, riches, and outward perfection and lose our souls in the process. I also love 2 Corinthians 3:18 which says And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. In the Old Testament man could come into the presence of God without having their faces covered. In the New Testament that changed and now we are invited into His presence without a veil. In His presence change comes and it is from there that we reflect the glory of God in our life. Paul refers to this to as being changed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to the next. This happens one step and one victory at a time.

A number of years ago in the Bronx, there was a problem with people vandalizing abandoned apartment complexes. The city, under Mayor Koch’s leadership, decided to handle this problem by applying decals to the windows which gave the appearance that the apartments were occupied. The goal was to deter vandalism and diminish the number of homeless living in the apartments. As you might guess, this action, a costly solution, did little to change the problem. While having the best of intentions, they were in essence trying to change the outward but the inner problem was not addressed or changed.

This is where we must emphasize that growing into Christlikeness is not based on human attainment. It has been and continues to be a gift of grace. The liberty that is ours in the Spirit motivates us and moves us toward acts of righteousness. Action alone is not enough without the Spirit at work in us. Let me explain this in this way. We can make a decision to be more loving and then try to act more patient and kind, but in the end we fail to be as loving as we desire which can be frustrating and painful. Merely trying to act more loving will lead to despair and defeat, if there is no corresponding transformation of the heart. The same is true of faith. We can try to live an outward faith, but we can fall short without an inward positioning of our heart toward God and His goodness, regardless of what is happening around us.

Since this is a work of grace, this transformation should not be a burden. Grace should be the answer to the weariness of trying to do better and live right. How many have been frustrated at trying to do good but fail over and over? That is Paul’s argument in Roman’s 7 and that is why Paul begins Romans 8 some much needed encouragement. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

Notice the law was weakened by the flesh. The law was powerless to bring permanent change. The law can be correlated to the outward expression of action. For that reason outward action on its own is powerless but the Spirit of Life can and will set you free. Why is this? It is because the Savior, the Son of God, took on the flesh and sin and He fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. He gave us the Spirit that can now leads us to transformation.

Here is the beauty of all of this, God the Father, gave us grace through the death of His Son, who abolished sin by the cross and the power of sin over our life in the resurrection. He also sent His Holy Spirit to reside in us so that we could be guided to truth and reality. He speaks into our heart and He brings change to the inward man so that we manifest that change on the outward.

So how are you doing this morning? How is your heart? Are you being changed inwardly or are you only working on the outward expression? Is God more important you than your church or your issue? Let us pray!

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2018 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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How’s Your Heart?

Peninsula Community Church 

How’s Your Heart?

February 11, 2018 

Proverbs 4:20-23 My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Today, we hear a lot about the health of one’s heart. We measure cholesterol, triglycerides, heart rate, heart beat, and so on to determine heart health. The fact is, we have many ways of determining the health of our human heart, but how do we perform an appropriate evaluation of the spiritual heart.

Over the next few weeks, I would like to talk about the spiritual heart and how we can be assured that our spiritual hearts are in good shape. So, how do we measure the health of our heart? How do we know when we are healthy? These and other questions will be addressed during this series. To understand this process, let me make a few comments that will point us in the right direction as we have this conversation.

First, we must understand that too many today are not living according to the plan of God. When man was created in the Garden of Eden, he was created in the image of God. Think about this for a moment. Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment. There was no sin. There was perfect harmony between them and with the world around them. They did not have arguments. They did not have to work, as God provided all they needed. Man’s greatest task was to name the animals and make sure that he was managing what God had given him. They were in essence living in the Utopia that so many long for today.

As we know by reading the story, man failed at the basic level of obedience. They had everything they needed, and yet they allowed the one thing that was beyond their reach to master them. Along with their desire and craving for what they could not have, and the enemy’s use of well timed opportunities and half truths, Adam and Eve were deceived. This changed mankind forever.

When that occurred, mankind moved away from God’s original intent of creation to live in a fallen state of mind and heart. The result has been that instead of living in the freedom that is ours in Christ we have allowed the issues. problems, sin, and the devil’s influence to form and shape our life. From the fall until now, mankind has been formed and shaped by so many forces. Think about it. We are being formed and shaped by the events of our life. We are shaped by both the positive and negative things that come. How many live in regret, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and so forth, all because of the events that have affected their life? How many live with emotions and feelings, and believe that this is just the way it is going to be without any hope for change?

Here is the point to be made. In God, we were created in His image, but because of man’s fallen state we are being formed and conformed into an image that was never intended by God. That brings us to one of the key points we need to make about this process. Because we have been formed and conformed to the world’s image, a non biblical view, we can also be transformed into a new creation. Scripture is replete with examples and admonition toward this process.

In Ezekiel, we have been promised that He will exchange our hardened heart with a heart of flesh. In other words, through the intervention of God’s work in us, we can begin to live again. You see with a hardened, stoney heart there is not much life. With a broken human heart there is a lack of blood flow to the rest of the body. As with the physical heart, when our arteries begin to harden, our life is diminished and without an intervention death or long term damage is possible. So it is with our spiritual hearts. We cannot live the life God chose for us when we are living life from the standpoint of a harden and callous heart.

Listen to Ezekiel’s words in Ezekiel 11:19-20. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Notice the process here. They will be given a new spirit and their heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh. Think about it, a stoney heart is not very sensitive to God’s movement. But with a heart of flesh, we are more sensitive and responsive to the work of God in us. Notice too, the response to this change of heart. Those with a fleshy heart will be empowered to walk in His statures and the directives for living life. Notice, He will empower them to walking in obedience and in following His ways.

You see many times we struggle to fulfill His purposes. Perhaps, and just maybe we struggle in these areas because there remains some areas of hardness which has been untouched or unchanged. Here is the point, so often we allow God to touch certain parts of our heart, but we guard and secure our heart so that we do not allow God’s touch in other areas of our heart.The truth is God wants all of your heart, and He especially wants all of the hardened places of your heart.

Because we have been formed and conformed it is so easy to allow negative stimuli to impact us. Let me explain it this way. Have you ever had a difficult experience with someone. Perhaps you loved someone and you had a deep relationship with that person. At some moment in time that person let you down. Perhaps they lied to you. Perhaps they betrayed your confidence. Perhaps they destroyed your relationship. Perhaps they chose someone else over you to love. You were devastated.

If this happens once, we can take the pain and usually deal with it, but if this happens more than once, we can begin to believe we are defective and that no one could ever love us. What begins to happen is that we can refuse to let anyone into our life, because we are afraid we will be hurt again, even if there is no evidence of that possibility. The result is that it becomes very hard for us to have any significant relationships. We have been formed to believe that their is no hope and no chance we will ever have a positive relationship.

Perhaps we have been formed and conditioned to turn to food, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors to bring peace and hope. The result of this conditioning is that we never really deal with the issue of life. We just cover them up and whitewash them so they are never really dealt with. But here is the truth. God wants our heart and He wants all of us because He has answers to the deep hurt and pain we experience.

That is why Romans 12 is so important to us. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). Paul counsels us to be transformed. How is that accomplished? It is done by the renewal of the mind. You see it is the mind that affects the heart more than anything else. Have you ever talked yourself into a certain way of thinking or action? Has that thought or action later produced a negative response that wore you down rather than building you up. The point here is that God through Christ wants to transform your heart and your life. What we have allowed to be formed in us God wants to transform.

As we close, let me share a couple of thoughts. I must admit that I have borrowed these from Ed Stetzer, the President of LifeWay Research. First, change comes by having a new life and not turning over a new leaf. Too often, we think if we just try harder, or do more, or act differently, we will be changed. God’s intent has always been a total change and not just a different action. The Scripture tells us that if you are in Christ, then you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The past is gone and the new has come. The fact is too often we are trapped by the past: past hurts, past mistakes, and past events. Perhaps, today it is time to move to a new day of freedom and life.

Secondly, real change is a process and not a destination. We never stop changing. On this side of heaven we do not arrive at perfection, but we recognize that we are always in a process. We are on a journey of progressive growth. Paul was keenly aware of this principle when he stated “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Notice, Christ will continue this work until the Day of the Lord. This might be His second coming or His coming to you to bring you home, but He will keep the work going on your behalf until the end of your life.

Thirdly, real change is a process of letting go and grabbing hold of a new way of  thinking and living. It is allowing God to transform the way we look at life and at each other. Listen to Paul. He says, But that is not the way you learned Christ! Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24). We must choose to follow God and to put off the old way of dealing with life. After all the goal is to become like Christ and be able to live in true righteousness and holiness, and not some false or surface righteousness or holiness.

So today, where are you stuck? Where have you roped off a piece of your heart like in a museum? Today is the day to begin the process of letting go and let God heal you. For some it may an instant result. For others it may take time, but God will heal if we open our heart to Him. And by the way if we ask Him, He will come to your aide and help you.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2018 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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The Body, Soul, and Spirit – The Soul Part 2

Peninsula Community Church

Body Soul and Spirit – The Soul Part 2

March 2, 2014

Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As we look at this verse, we find an implied connection between the body and the soul. Notice that Paul states that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. This is something we do. It is a spiritual act of worship. Notice that Paul says that action is motivated by the mercies of God. How do we present ourselves as living sacrifices? We do so by realizing how much mercy is ours through Christ. This mercy allows for mistakes. This mercy allows for false starts. This mercy allows for us to say and do things that are less than God’s perfect intent for us. This mercy does not stifle us, but rather it encourages us to act on God’s will as a result of recognizing the work already done for us. And when we fall, we pick ourselves up and start a new day because the mercy of God says that we can start again It is a new day! (Lamentations 3:22-24) It is a new moment! Each time we start anew, we are made stronger and become closer to the goal of freedom in our life. We do as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Notice that Paul also states that we are to present ourselves as living, holy, and acceptable beings before Christ. We are to give ourselves to Christ. We come to him with honest hearts and open minds to receive from Him. Paul states that this is our spiritual worship. What is spiritual worship? It is living open and free lives because of the mercy of God that has been bestowed upon us as Children of God. Too often, we fall short in this because we deceive ourselves and we deceive others. We live lives of deception because we are afraid of what others will find, and we fear they we will not like us. The greatest issue is self deception because it is often the hardest to deal with but we are called to honesty and realness before God.

Paul then moves from the body to the mind. Listen to what he says. Do not be conformed to the this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Let’s break this down. First, Paul states that we are not to be conformed to this world. The problem with conformity is that it just changes the order of things. We reshape our issues and mold them in a way that they look different but the inner heart and motivation is not changed. There is no real change only a shuffling of the issues.

The problem from a spiritual state is that when we try to conform to the world’s ways we are still faced with the inner issues that brought us to where we are to begin with. Too often, conformity deals with the symptoms and not the disease. In this discussion, we must recognize that there is a difference between sin management and spiritual transformation. For example, in sin management, if one is a shopaholic, removing one’s credit cards may be a step in the right direction, but removing the cards will not change the inner motivation to shop or spend money uncontrollably. To effect change, there must be a change of heart and a change of desire so that the inner man is renewed and revived. 

The problem that exists, as well, is that too often when we are living in conformity, we are simply exchanging one thing for another. We stop smoking and then we binge on food. We stop drinking soda, so we binge on coffee. The inner issues that drive us to make decisions and take steps that are less than what we need are never changed.

One of the problems, in America at least, is that people are spending a lot of money to change their outward appearance. Now, I know that studies show that changing some features of our body makes us feel better about ourselves. I do not deny this. The problem is that too often the outward appearance is changed but the heart is still messed up and is dealing with falsehoods, problems, and addictions. The outward has changed, but the inward man is still at odds with itself and with God. True transformation brings change to the inward man, which results in change to the outward man, which results in a change of behavior and of action.

Now, Paul moves beyond the need to conform to presenting the need to be transformed. He states that we are to be transformed. In one sense this is not an option, it is a command. Please note that the word “transform” is an interesting word. It is the same word we get the word metamorphosis from. It means that a complete change occurs. We see this in nature. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A tadpole becomes a frog. This is metamorphosis. Something is found in one state and then it is totally and completely changed into a different state. 

Paul is calling for us to do this as believers. What is the formula he is proposing? He states that it occurs by the renewing of our minds. It is a process of feeding our minds with the truth of who God is, who we are and what we can be when we have completely committed our way, our hearts, our way of thinking, and the way we live life to Christ

As I look at this, let me say that feeding our minds must be more than an act of receiving information. To be honest with you the problem for most believers today is not information but application. We are a nation in information overload. We have books, magazines, and TV are our disposal 24 hours a day. We can go to amazon.com and find a book on just about anything we want. In seconds, I can have a book downloaded to my Kindle app or to my IPAd. We can do a google search and in seconds have more information than we will ever need. 

I love what Rick Warren had to say about this. God gave us the Bible to transform us, not simply inform us. It should give us a bigger heart, not a bigger head. In the Book of James, we’re told, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22, NIV) In other words, God wants our beliefs turned into behavior. 

A second problem with information alone is that we must have a filtering system to determine what is truth and what it is not. To be effective our filtering system must be in alignment with God’s word. Too often, we try to prove the Word of God by our experiences but the fact is the Word of God must prove our experience. Here is what I mean. I read a passage of Scripture that calls me to action. I act. I receive the blessing or reward for that action. I see that the Word of God is right and is what I need. Let me say this. Just because you experience something does not mean that it is aligned with God’s word. God’s word must always be the filter through which we ascertain the validity of truth. The fact is the enemy of our soul is an incredible lier and is a fabricator of truth and experiences that seem right.

I love the commercial on TV that shows two people standing outside a brownstone. The guy asks the girl where did you get that information. She says on the internet. Then she says you know if it is on the internet, it must be true. Then she says she met a guy online who is French. Just as she communicates this we see him enter from off screen and he is anything but French. How many have been caught in the hoaxes on Facebook or by email that proved to be error. The point is, just because something is printed does not make it true. we must have a filter to assure that what we are receiving is truth. 

There are those who are experiencing many ungodly acts in our world today. For example, there is a battle brewing in many churches over the union of gay and lesbian couples. While some have experienced this, we must turn to the Word of God to define our truth about this matter. This does not mean that we are hateful or vindictive toward couples who wish to do this, but we must stand on the principle of God’s truth and his definition of marriage. We find this in the abortion issue, as well. Experience has trumped God’s truth. This is never good. Just because we experience something, does not mean that truth has been validated. However, God’s word can and will be validated through our experiences when truth and experience are aligned. 

In this regard, let me also make this observation. We must be careful and not pick and choose what passages we will cling to. Too often, we have done a disservice to the body of Christ and the world to which we are ministering when we pick a single scripture or a phrase within a scripture to base our doctrine on. We must interpret the scripture with other scripture. The doctrine or truth we present must hold up throughout Scripture and not just one verse or phrase. And, it must be held up around the world and just in America.

As I noted last week, we have been shaped and formed by our environment. We have been shaped by what we are exposed to in life. We are shaped by our experiences. We are shaped by the theological input in our lives and our view of God. We are shaped by the voices that speak into our lives. The problem therefore is not a problem of formation but the need to be transformed into the image of God and the image of God’s purpose for us.

The key to transformation is the renewal of our minds. And, this renewal must be a daily practice because we are so easily formed and shaped by the the things around us. The formation of our thoughts are not always in alignment with God’s will or His purposes, so we must renew our minds on a daily basis. When that happens is we must find out what God’s will and plan is and then conform ourselves to that plan. 

This is not always easy, but it is necessary. It is not always popular, but it is right. It may not always win friends, but it touches souls.

The audio version of this message can be found at http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14 

 

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James – The Tongue Part 2

Peninsula Community Church
April 28, 2013
The Power of the Tongue – Part 2

James 3:1-5 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!

This morning we will continue to look at the tongue. As we noted in last week’s message the tongue has the power to bring life and death. The tongue is capable of bringing healing or it can bring additional hurt and pain to those we encounter.

In the text before us today, James uses several word pictures to explain or illustrate the power of the tongue. Words pictures are great tools of communication as they grab and direct our attention. Word pictures also bring communication to life and have the power to lock thoughts into our minds. The inspired authors of the Bible have a unique ability to present word pictures to illustrate the point(s) the author is trying to make in a way that causes us to remember the lesson being taught.

The first set of word pictures used by James are used to illustrate that the tongue has the power to steer and direct. James uses the word picture of a horses bit and a ship’s rudder to illustrate the ability of the tongue to steer and direct one’s life and one’s actions. Not only can they steer one’s personal life but the life of the people they influence and those they encounter.

He states that a small bit enables the rider to control a horse, and a small rudder enables the pilot to steer an entire ship. The bit in a horses mouth is able to direct the whole body of the horse in the direction the rider would desire. The same is true of a ship’s rudder. A small rudder has the possibility to guide a ship in the direction dictated by the pilot of the ship. These instruments of guidance have the capability of directing the actions of the horse and the ship respectively.

Since these small items have the power to direct and thus they have the ability to affect lives, can you imagine the damage that could be caused by a run away horse in a crowd or the damage realized by a ship that has lost its ability to be guided. When my daughter was younger I remember that she was riding a horse at a friend’s house in Florida. She was doing very well until her foot slipped out of the stirrup and when she bent over to get her foot back in the stirrup she did not realize that she had jerked the reigns to the right. The horse responded immediately and turned right, throwing her from the horse. Fortunately, she was not seriously hurt but she had a fear of riding that horse after that.

A second illustration of this power is a story related to me by my son who was in the Navy and whose ship was sent to the Persian Gulf. While stationed there the ship lost all power, including its guidance systems and steering capability. When all the systems were restored they found that they were within five miles of Iranian waters which could have caused an international incident. Fortunately, there was no incident but the potential was there.

Just as the bit and rudder are small, the tongue is also a small member. As a small part of the body, the tongue has the power to accomplish great things. The tongue has the power to effect the course of history. The tongue has been known to start wars and it has the power to end wars as well. Both the bit and the rudder must overcome contrary forces to successfully accomplish its task. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds and currents that would drive the ship off its course. The human tongue must also overcome contrary forces. Our carnal nature, sinful desires, past experiences and our heart condition all direct the action of the tongue. We must control if we will speak words of healing or words of destruction.

The second word picture illustrates the tongue’s power to destroy. James relates to us that it only requires a spark to start a fire. Listen to the words of the writer of Proverbs who noted “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:20-22).

Fires start small and then grow. Studies have shown that most of the wild fires on the west coast were started by either a lightning strike or by an unattended fire. When our kids were younger we would take them camping. We decided to take a weekend trip to the end of Long Island where we would camp. I had started a fire and we had enjoyed an evening of food and songs and stories around the fire. When the night was over I took care of the fire and had put it out; so I thought. About three in the morning, we awoke to a fire blazing in the fire pit. Why? One of the embers had been flamed by the wind which had been blowing through the night and it erupted into a fully ignited fire.

Fire burns and it hurts. Our words can burn and hurt as well. Fire spreads, and the more fuel you give it, the faster and farther it will spread. James reminds us that the tongue has the power to “set the whole course of one’s life on fire” (James 3:6). Once the fire has started the damage is done. And when we give fuel to the fire by not controlling our tongue the fire grows out of control.

Not only does James compare the tongue to a fire but he also proclaims that the tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:5-8) All it takes is a little poison to do damage. Poison can kill or it can debilitate one’s ability to function. Words kill and they debilitate us to the point where we can cannot function.

The third word picture used is the spring and the tree has the power to delight. (James 3:9-12) “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 3:9-12)

The spring and the tree has the power to delight. I can remember going to my grandfather’s house in upstate Alabama. On the way to his house, we would often stop at a spring on the side of the road where we would fill jugs of water with the fresh water that came from the well. The fact is when a spring is right, what comes forth is good water. The good fresh water refreshes and renews the thirsty body. The same is true when we are filled with the word of God so that what comes forth from us refreshes and renews.

What James is saying here is that the tongue is not the real issue, the real issue is with our heart. What we put into our minds shape and mold our hearts. What is in our hearts will be revealed in how we live and in what we say. The fact is we cannot have both fresh and bitter water coming from the same source. If we think we do, something is wrong and we must begin to admit that we are duplicitous and need healing. We need to have our hearts cleaned up so that we speak life and life alone. We must cease presenting a persona that all is well while at church and then treat our spouses and family members with evil intent. We can be so good at being sweet when we want to and bitter at other times but this does not define the life of a passionate follower of Christ.

There is life and death in our words. Life begins with an honest appraisal of who we are and how we act. Too often when we are duplicitous, we are actually being untruthful with ourselves. As we gain control over our hearts and our minds we will have a greater capacity to control our tongue. Secondly, the more we surrender our ways to Christ’s ways and we surrender to the direction of the Holy Spirit, the more we will be able to control what we say and how we say it.

When we are passionate followers of Christ, we will make sure that sweet water come from our mouth. This does not mean thy we are always perfect as we all fail to speak in a way that honors God, is truthful and loving all the time. The key is that we are honest with ourselves and with God.

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