Bridling the Tongue

When I was a senior at Berry College, I needed one more PE credit to graduate. I decided to take horseback riding. I had never ridden a REAL horse before, but I had watched a lot of western movies! So I figured it would be an easy “A.”

During our first class at the stables, I confessed to the instructor that I was a bit nervous due to my inexperience. She smiled with understanding and said, “Don’t worry, we have all sorts of horses. For experienced riders, we have experienced horses. For average riders, we have average horses. For people who have never ridden horses before, we have horses that have never been ridden!”

She found this much more amusing than I did. Then she assigned me to a horse that was over ten feet tall and weighed a gazillion pounds. It’s possible I mis-remember, but I think his name was Bone Crusher!

Over the next weeks, I learned to ride the monster. Maybe it’s a more accurate description to say the horse allowed me to sit on top of it; but I did manage to stay in the saddle at a gentle trot.

However, I never lost the wonder of controlling such a tremendous animal with a pair of reigns and a small bit in its mouth. Just a small amount of pressure directed the horse to go whatever direction I chose.

The New Testament book of James compares control of the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth:

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. (James 3:3-5)

taming-the-tongueThe tongue is very powerful. It holds within it the possibility of great good and terrible evil. Those who harness its power can accomplish great things. Unfortunately, few of us are skilled in controlling the tongue. Even the holiest of people regularly suffer from slips of the lips.

Our language both reflects and affects who we are as Christians. Changes in the way we speak can transform our lives. However, the task is a lifelong challenge. Begin taming the tongue with silence, listening, and thoughtful speech.

We are called to make the Psalmist’s prayer (Psalm 141:3) our own:

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.

The Magic Word

What’s the magic word?

The context determines the correct response. Magicians pulling rabbits out of hats will say Abracadabra! In the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” Open sesame unlocks the door to the treasure cave. Cinderella’s fairy godmothers use the mysterious incantation: Bippity, boppity, boo!

magic-wordsOther magic words sound much more common but possess much more power, including the simple words Please and Thank you. God’s children learn to use them early and often.

Boys and girls of all ages know the magical properties of the word “Please.” The simple syllable can open doors and unlock hearts. The word typically introduces a request. “Plea” forms the root word of “please.” We use it to plead for something that we want or need and do not possess.

Children intuitively understand the basic “given-ness” to life. Anything children possess has been given to them by someone else. This serves as a parable for the entirety of life. All that we have is from God’s gracious hands.  Life, abundant life, and eternal life are gifts from above.

After receiving a gift, the other magic words we use are “Thank you.” “Please” realizes that all of life is a gift. “Thank you” acknowledges that all of life is a response. We recognize God as the Giver. Then we thank God with our words, actions, and attitudes.

We are called to live with an attitude of gratitude. In Philippians, Paul wrote: Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I will say, rejoice! During this holiday season and every season of life, we are called to be a thanksgiving people.

Gratitude is such an essential discipline of the spirit; and ingratitude is such a toxic waste of the soul. Thanksgiving is the cure for ingratitude.

Simply saying “thank you” is good medicine for the soul. There is a deep spiritual need within us that is only satisfied by expressing our thanksgiving to God; and in turn, the Holy Spirit delights in our praise.

What are the magic words? They are “Please” and “Thank you.” Children of God learn to use them early and often. In the process, we discover that thanks living leads to thanksgiving. We receive and then give. We give and then receive. We live our lives in an offering of thanksgiving to God.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Everyday Heroes

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. Two minutes into the flight a flock of birds disabled the plane’s engines. The Airbus 320 immediately lost thrust in both jets.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger contacted the tower and declared an emergency. When advised to return to base, the pilot replied with a terse “Unable.” Sullenberger briefly considered diverting to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. However, the plane’s steep glide slope negated that option.

Faced with a possible crash over the heavily populated metro area, the captain chose a third alternative. In a calm voice, he informed the flight traffic controller, “We’ll be in the Hudson.”

“Sully” turned south and descended towards the Hudson River. Juggling altitude, speed, and angle of descent, the pilot approached the water. He kept the wings level and the nose slightly up. Sullenberger executed a perfect landing.

The flight crew engaged a “ditch switch” that closed the plane’s vents, miracle-on-the-hudsonallowing it to remain afloat. Miraculously, all 155 persons aboard survived.

Voice transcripts, photographs, and video provided a dramatic retelling of the crisis. The media praised the flight crew’s actions, and the American public declared them heroes. Chesley Sullenberger became a household name. This year Tom Hanks starred in a movie recounting the event simply named Scully.

Sullenberger appeared genuinely bemused by the fame and acclaim. The pilot repeatedly protested that he was no hero—he simply did his job.

During an interview, Katie Couric asked, “Did you, at any point, pray?”

Sullenberger replied, “I would imagine somebody in the back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the plane!”

The dramatic events surrounding Flight 1549 spotlighted an ordinary man doing an extraordinary job. On any other flight, even the passengers might not have noted the pilot’s skill. On January 15th, everyone noticed.

Every day people engage in the unmarked heroics of doing a job well. A mother corrects homework, a father coaches a team, a teacher instructs a classroom, a nurse tends a patient, an accountant prepares a return, a mechanic tunes an engine, a cook flips a burger, or a student studies a book. No one will notice, but their ambition to do a job well makes the world a better place.

In Romans 12:6-8, the apostle Paul wrote:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

The media will not recognize such mundane efforts, but what we do each day is important. Therefore, it is worth doing well.

On January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger excelled in his job of flying the plane. In the back, someone else no doubt prayed  during the entire descent.

I say both were heroes.

Election Day


Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Election Day in the United States of America.

Today we will elect the 45th President of the United States.

As we prayerfully await the results, consider a lesson from history.

In the 1830s, French author, Alexis de Tocqueville, toured the United States and later reflected about his experience. He wrote:

I have toured America, and I have seen most of what you offer. I’ve seen the richness of the fields and the wealth of your mines. I’ve seen your industrial might, the beauties of the rivers, the streams, the lakes, and the grandeur of the mountains. I’ve noticed the abundance of the forests and the marvelous climate with which you are blessed.

In none of these things did I see the cause for the greatness of America.

It wasn’t until I went into your churches that I saw the reason for America’s greatness. America is great because America is good; and as long as America is good, America will be great. If it ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.

Today pray for our nation.

May God bless America, land that we love.


I regularly shop at one of the members-only-stores in Gwinnett County. The maze of aisles contains items I never knew that I absolutely had to have. Everyone needs a 20 pound bag of white rice and a 12 count case of cough medicine in the pantry.

In case of an ice storm or zombie uprising, gather at my house. We’re stocked for any apocalypse.

The club store posts a clerk at the exit to crosscheck the buggy’s contents against the receipt’s items. I worked retail during high school and college, so I understand the need for inventory control. Yet and still, I always feel vaguely guilty about some indeterminate trespass during the process.

For incomprehensible reasons, the store’s supervisors often assign M to guard the door. He may rank as one of the most inhospitable store clerks I’ve ever encountered. I would say he’s the Eeyore of the retail world, but it would be a disservice to the rainy-day grey donkey of the Hundred Acre Wood.

M always wears a frown. I’ve heard him speak in monosyllables, but most of our encounters occur in silence. He tugs the receipt out of my hand, carefully counts the buggy’s items, and then dismissively waves me out the door.

Love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me.

On several occasions after completing the checkout process, I have stepped into his personal space, stared deep into his eyes, sweetly smiled, and said: “You have a REALLY nice day.” Then I hold position until he reluctantly grunts a reply.

I always shake my head in amazement at the store’s incompetent use of their human resources. Greeters by definition ought to GREET people. Put someone with the gift of gab at the door. Assign M somewhere in the back where he never sees another living being.

After each encounter, I also find myself wondering how well the church handles hospitality with our customers. It takes courage to visit a new church for the first time. Longtime members forget how uncomfortable the experience can be. Thankfully, it only takes a few people practicing radical hospitality to make a guest feel right at home.

hospitalityGranted, the Holy Spirit graces some people with the spiritual gift of hospitality. However, we can all act hospitably to others. Greet strangers rather than friends. Join someone at a table sitting alone. Instead of giving directions, walk with someone to their destination. Take the initiative to exchange introductions. Brag to visitors about the articulate and handsome senior pastor.

I go back to the box store each week because the great deals outweigh M’s lack of hospitality. However, everyone won’t give the church a second chance. The good news is it only takes one congregation member to make a positive difference in a guest’s life.

Be the one.