Taming the tongue is not a Hot Topic

On a recent Sunday afternoon I violated every known law of fatherhood: I went girl clothes shopping with my wife and teenage daughter. Not only that, but I suggested the idea.

I’m no legal expert, but I don’t believe I was technically responsible for my actions prior to entering the apparel store. I was in a semi-conscious haze induced by a mixture melted cheese, meat, refried beans and habanero sauce; that’s the only reason I can imagine why, afterwards, I remarked on the close proximity of the store to the restaurant.

I am sure it sounded something like this: mumble, mumble, clothes shopping, mumble, mumble, burrito. *Hiccup*

If you are a guy and you have a teenage daughter, or if you are a guy and you have friends who have teenage daughters, or if you are a teenage guy and you are looking for a girlfriend, then you know about the type of stores that sell “clothing” to teenage girls. (You will also understand why I put quotation marks around the word clothing.)

Most of these stores seem to fully adopt a “less is more” mentality, except when it comes to the volume level of the music they play. It is a known fact that sounds greater than 85 decibels (db) can cause hearing loss after only an hour-and-a-half, sounds greater than 100db can cause hearing loss after 15 minutes and sounds greater than 140db can cause instant hearing loss. I am convinced the decibel level of the store we visited must have been 5000.

Where the less is more philosophy came into play was in the decorations, the clothing and the helpfulness of the staff.

Fortunately for my wife and daughter, there was a “father’s section” near the front which had all the warmth and comfort of solitary confinement. From there I was able to sit on a cold metal bench and look out the entrance at passers-by while fondly recalling my days of freedom, furtively penning my version of the “The Gulag Archipelago” on squirreled away receipt paper.

After the salsa fog lifted I was able to reflect and see where my tongue had led me.

The writer of the eponymous letter, James, likely had something a little different in mind when he wrote about the use and misuse of the tongue. In chapter 3 he wrote, “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… but no human being can tame the tongue” (3:2, 8).

James was writing to Christians who were dispersed (literally, scattered like hand-tossed seed) across the Roman Empire. They were wrestling with the trials they were facing since, at that time, the Roman Empire was not friendly towards their faith. James wrote to them saying that the difficulties they faced, which included persecution and death, was an opportunity for them to display their faith to a world that did not believe in Jesus.

In other words, the Christians were to show their faith through their behavior; their actions should reflect the faith they say they possessed. It was in this section of the letter that James wrote about the tongue.

James’ main point was that the tongue can be a powerful force for good or evil. With good words we can build up, with wicked words we can rip apart. He said that with our tongues we “bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My [brothers and sisters], these things ought not to be so.”

How many of us have used our tongues to rip apart our family members or the ones we love the most? Furthermore, how many Christians praise God with their mouths and later insult their wife, husband, child, parent, etc.? Answer to both: all of us.

Every human alive wrestles with what they say; Christians are no different. However, we are called to use our tongues to reflect our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to be careful in what we say and when we say it, and when we misuse our tongue, we are to be quick to admit the wrong, apologize and try to make amends. After all, this is why Jesus died and rose again: because we cannot do right (i.e., be holy) on our own.

The Bible says the tongue will get us into all kinds of trouble disproportionate to its size; James says the tongue can be a “fire”. Yet Christians are to use their tongues to reflect their faith day in and day out.

I think I learned my lesson of the impact a tongue set on fire can do. Next time I eat chips and habanero sauce, I will remember not to mention shopping.

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My flat tire taught me I had nothing left to spare

On Friday, July 4, most of the nation’s thoughts were drifting toward our independence,  the evening’s fireworks and just how many hot dogs Joey “Jaws” Chestnut would eat in 10 minutes at the annual “Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest”

Sixty-one, as it turns out.

While this year was rather uneventful, I was reminded of a July 4th that took place three years ago.

That morning I awoke in a more or less patriotic mood. To reflect my thankfulness for living in America, I took a few steps to honor my nation: rather than wear my usual black knit shirt and tan shorts to work, I donned a white oxford, tan pants and topped it off with an American flag tie.

Yes, I proudly served my country- one latte at a time- at Starbucks.

After I got in my car and began backing out of the driveway, I noticed something was wrong with the steering. I stopped, got out and looked. Sure enough, I had a flat tire.

Before changing the tire, I removed my shirt and tie. Then, feeling like an old Italian man in my undershirt and long pants, I began the process of taking off the old tire and replacing it with the “donut” spare.

My car had four lug nuts that secure the wheel. Three gave me no trouble whatsoever to remove; the fourth, though, didn’t like change and refused to budge. With increasing perspiration, I tugged on it with all my might.

At this point, I no longer felt I resembled an old Italian man; thanks to the freely flowing sweat, I smelled the part as well. I probably would have been more at home standing on a balcony, talking with my neighbors, and gesturing profusely with my hands.

After several minutes tugging on the wrench, something began to happen. Filled with hope, I gave one last pull and the lug nut came off.

Along with the stud.

Prior to this, I was mildly annoyed with the situation; after this, I was completely frustrated. Regardless, however, I got the spare attached and continued on my way to work.

All was well until I was halfway there and driving along a stretch of road where I could not pull over. I began to notice a slight vibration in the steering wheel which quickly progressed to active shaking. I continued at a reduced speed until I came to a side street.

I stopped the car and got out to look at the spare. The first thing I did was check the lug nuts; they were tight. Wondering what was wrong I stepped back and saw the problem- the spare was flat. Somehow I managed to get the car to the local Target parking lot. Unable to go any further, I called work and had a friend come pick me up.

One hour, two tires and a second car later, I arrived at my job.

Upon reflection, these events remind me of an episode in the life of Paul. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul wrote to Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon…When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments… At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” (4:9-16, ESV).

Worse than my being stranded in a parking lot, Paul was unable to leave the location he was writing from; after all, he was imprisoned in Rome and awaiting his death (4:6). His friends had either abandoned him or had gone to minister in other locations (v 10). The only person he had with him was his friend and physician Luke.

Yet he wasn’t ready to stop. He had a job to do as long as he was alive, and he needed Timothy’s help to do it.

Just as I needed a spare tire to get going that morning, Paul needed Timothy to bring him some “spares”- his cloak, his books and his copies of Scripture. We don’t know what happened to his original cloak or copies of Scripture. Perhaps they were confiscated by the Roman authorities. Perhaps, like my regular tire, they were worn out through constant use. Regardless, Paul could not continue in effective ministry without them.

Paul also needed a few choice people to help him stay strong until the end. I believe Paul’s need of human companionship is why he asked Timothy to bring Mark with him, so that the two of them could minister to him. Their ministry to Paul would be felt by everyone who Paul witnessed to and taught; as such, they were impacting the world for Christ by assisting Paul himself.

My adventures that day helped bring to life 2 Timothy 4. I gave my all but could not make it to work because my car could not go any further. However, since I still had a job to do, I called for help and received it. I was delivered to my destination and eventually my car was delivered to a mechanic who was able to repair the stud and replace the tire.

Paul was at the end of his life, but he still had a job to do. Unfortunately, he was not able to continue on without help so he called to his “son in the faith,” Timothy. Presumably, Timothy brought Paul the supplies he needed as well as the companionship he requested. As a result, Paul was able to continue in ministry until he died.

Like my car, Paul had nothing left to spare. Yet God met him there through the actions of a few friends and kept him going until he reached his final destination.

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