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4 Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. 5 In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly.
Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.
In dry western states, we’ve seen the awful effect of fires that start small but spread wildly in wind-driven conditions. That happened in Palestine, too, and James “compared the spread of rumors to the igniting of what would rapidly become a forest fire. Here the image is that of a tongue that incites the whole body to violence. Scripture and other sources already warned of the boastful, hostile tongue (Psalm 52:1–4) and the tongue as a hurtful fire (Psalm 39:1–3; 120:2–4; Proverbs 16:27; 26:21).” *
Lord Jesus, your words were often challenging, but they were never malicious or vicious. Let your presence in my heart shape my words in a similar way. Amen.
(Holidays make it hard to write blog posts. Melanie Hill wrote this one in 2020, and it continues to speak to us now.)
“If only our tongues were made of glass, how much more careful we would be when we speak.” – Shaun Shane
I came across this quote this week and it struck me that if this were true, many of us would be walking around with fractured tongues. Me included.
Words are powerful things. They can be eloquent, creative and restorative. They can also be hurtful, destructive and polarizing. Our words are not neutral, as James knew.
I bet you have felt this tension and anxiety over this issue in your life, too. It seems inescapable. We are confronted with it on social media, at work, with family, and on TV. It would seem we have forgotten how to talk to each other.
As a Gen X parent raising four Gen Z kids, I am starting to see how the lack of civil discourse in our country is affecting them. My son Kaelin is fond of asking me to go for a walk when he wants to chat about something. It gets him away from his little sisters and I get a little exercise, so it’s a win for both of us.
During one of our walks a few weeks ago he shared with me again his frustration about the lack of ability to have meaningful conversation with his peers at school. He shared one conversation that escalated so quickly it left him dumbfounded. After no more than a question or two about an issue, the name calling started, voices were raised, and physical space was invaded. I was shocked but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. After all, what have we as adults been modeling for this next generation?
What are we doing? I appreciated so much Pastor Adam’s point from the sermon this weekend. “You can either influence or irritate.” You can’t do both. Lately it seems we err on the side of irritation. When we set out to prove we are right or make an inflammatory point, we lose all ability to influence anyone. I know that when someone starts a conversation with me by pointing a finger and calling me names, I tend to tune out whatever they’re saying. I bet you’re the same way.
This has been on my heart for a while now. Maybe more so as I watch it affect my children, but primarily as a follower of Jesus. It has made me be more conscious of what I post on social media. I now ask myself before I post anything, “Will this be divisive or welcome conversation?” As I monitor my intake of news and information, I ask myself, “Am I seeing both sides of this issue?” When we only take in information or engage in conversations with people who think just like us, we stop growing. We need people with differing ideas and points of view to continue to be stretched. Lastly, I ask myself, “Am I listening?”
At the end of one of our walks that I realized how important it was to affirm this with my son. I shared with him that, although we don’t always agree, I was thankful for the opportunity to talk about it and that I had learned some important things from him, and that he had challenged me to think differently on a few issues. He looked stunned.
The look on his face said more about the state of our culture than anything else could. It also made me more determined than ever to lead my conversations with love and listening, being slow to anger. Sometimes that means walking away from social media for an hour (or a day) before I post something. I’m going to choose to err on the side of love and hope that leads to influence.
I don’t always get it right (and neither will you) but together we can start to make a difference, conversation by conversation, post by post. And who knows? Maybe our world will start to look a little more like the kingdom of God as we love each other well.
* Comment on James 3:5-6 in NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 86.
*** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 84.