X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
September 30, 2001
Several summers ago, my family and I vacationed with another family who happens to attend Fellowship Church. We had a great time together. One night after a big meal, all of the children started doing these cool things with their bodies, summersaults, pushups, cartwheels, and other odd contortions. They were trying to show off for their parents. After a while, they said, “Hey, Mom and Dad, can you guys do anything cool with your bodies?” Not to shy away from a challenge, my wife, Lisa, can do this really wild thing. She can throw her hip out of joint. She did that and the kids were thinking, “Whoa, a double-jointed Mom, pretty wild.”
Some others did some other tricks, and I thought, “Well, I’ll do one trick, one oddity.” I call this my 2001 Space Oddity. So, watch this. Here is what I did. I said, “Children, look at me right quick.” (Ed makes sound of 2001 Space Odyssey) After I did that, I thought I had the competition sealed but no, I didn’t, because at that point we started challenging others with tongue tricks. The children were rolling their tongues. Everyone in the place could roll their tongue. But I can’t roll my tongue. Then they started sticking their tongues way out. Some could touch the end of their nose or chin. I can only stick my tongue out this far, look. It was pathetic; I have got a complex about it. I ended up losing the night of oddities competition, even though I can move my pecs to rhythm. I can’t do anything else.
But I have to come clean. I have a kind of strange tongue. You know that piece of skin that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth? Mine is huge. It is like a tongue anchor. It really is, a tongue tamer, if you will. One time, someone said, “Ed, you ought to get that thing cut. There is no telling what your tongue could do if you got it cut.”
Believe it or not, the Bible tells us that we all need a tongue tamer, not the piece of flesh that connects our tongue to the roof of our mouth. No, the Bible says that we need a spiritual tongue tamer. Why do we need a spiritual tongue tamer? Why do we need this as a part of our existence? The book of James, specifically James 3:2, tells us. James says the reason you need a tongue tamer is “we all stumble in many ways.” This word “stumble” means someone who has a tongue so large that they actually trip over it. I think if most of us were honest we would say that our biggest regrets are the hurtful words we have said, and we wish we could get those words back.
Conversely, I think our greatest joys have come from the encouraging words we have heard from others and the words we have spoken to others, like, “I love you” and “Will you marry me?” or “I’m pregnant,” and “I’m pregnant again.” Those words are huge. So James says, “we all stumble in many ways.” Then he says, “If anyone is never at fault at what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” This word “perfect” means mature. It means full of moral and spiritual growth, and that, friends, is the big idea behind the book of James. James is after something called spiritual depth, spiritual maturity. He wants us to have an authentic faith. James says, throughout this text, it’s one thing to say you have faith, that you believe, but, if you don’t put behavior with your belief, if you don’t put works with your faith, then you are just spitting into the wind, just talking smack.
What happens to a lot of us is, if we don’t have works in our lives, we usually substitute the works for words. We just talk all the time, and blabber all the time. That was the problem with James’ readers. All these readers were trying to be teachers and speakers, trying to do this and that. James says, “Wait a minute. Chill for a second. You’d better think about your tongue, because what rolls off of your lips, what comes out of your mouths, really tells and shows others what kind of depth you have.”
I read this past week that we engage in about thirty conversations a day. Can you believe that? If you multiply those thirty conversations a day times twelve months, we speak enough words to fill sixty-six, eight hundred-page books with just the stuff that we say in one year. Now, what if we could roll those 66 volumes, that represent your life and mine, on stage right now. What if we could take out a couple of books and begin to read some excerpts? Oh, Fred, let me see, August the 8th, you said this, Fred. When your boss was in your office, you said this and after he left, you said…. Whoa, Fred, I’m not sure we can read that one.”
Let’s look at a teenager’s volume. Let me see, this would be July 2000. You said this back to your mom? You said this about your father? I think we would all get a little bit shaky, a little bit freaky, if someone read the words that we said during a certain time frame. James says the tongue is very important.
Consider this statement: “The tongue is petite and powerful.” Let that soak in for a second. The tongue is petite—it’s a small part of the body—yet it is powerful. It has got some serious octane behind it. That’s true. James backs this up.
Couple of quick stories. A while back, my family and I went horseback riding. We are not big horse people, but we decided to ride. I was amazed as I watched our seven-year-old twins guide these 1,000 pound animals with just a tug of the reins. They would tug the rein this way, and the horse would go that way. They would tug the rein this way, and the horse would go the other way. I knew why they could control these big animals, because the horses had bits in their mouths, pieces of metal over their tongues, which controlled them.
Several days ago, I had something pretty interesting happen to me. A friend of mine invited me to spend the night on a yacht. I have never done that before in my life. I have never been on a cruise before in my life. But he asked me to spend the night on this yacht. So I flew to this certain area, spent the night on this 82-foot, five bedroom yacht, with a crew of four. It was suffering for the Lord. While I was there, I talked to the Captain. I got to know him pretty well and he was telling me about this boat, how cool it was, and how sensitive the boat was. He said it was powered by a couple of 2400-horse-power diesel engines. He talked about the electronics. He talked about the steering and all that. He said, “Ed, the rudder on this big boat is only four feet long.” I thought, isn’t that amazing? A four-foot rudder against the backdrop of an 82-foot yacht. Amazing.
Here is what James says, the half-brother of Jesus, he says in verse 3-4, “when we put bits in the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.” Think about Laurie and Landra. Or take ships for example, although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants it to go. Think about that yacht I was on a couple of days ago. The damage that a runaway horse can do is serious. Look at Christopher Reeve. Think about people who have lost their lives when horses just freak out. Think about a rudderless ship or a captain less ship. It can kill, maim and destroy.
Our tongue is the same way. This little two-ounce slab of mucous membrane, if we don’t get a hold of it, can kill, maim, injure and destroy.
Some of you are saying, “Ed, you know what? I am a testament to that. I ruined a marriage or two because of my tongue. I ruined my son because of my tongue. I’m scarred. My self-esteem is all messed up because of some words that a coach, or a teacher or a parent said to me.”
The tongue is petite and powerful, isn’t it? Notice something else about the tongue in James: The bit goes against contrary forces. This horse has this wild nature about it. The horse wants to go this way and that way, but the bit, this small thing, can control the horse. Think about that big boat I was on pushing all that water. That big boat burns five gallons of fuel per hour. Think about that rudder as it goes against the contrary forces. Now think about this two-ounce slab of mucous membrane called the tongue. My tongue, your tongue, when it’s under the control of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit of God, it is going against a contrary force, isn’t it?
I don’t know about you, but my sin nature is to rip people apart. My sin nature is to share secrets about others. My sin nature is to slander others. My sin nature tells me to gossip about others, and so does yours. But once I allow the Lord to install a tongue tamer, all of a sudden I can leverage words for power; and they are so valuable.
Here is what James says in verse 5-6, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body”—is petite—“but it makes great boasts.” It’s also powerful—“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Put the word “spark” in your frontal lobe. “The tongue is also a fire,”—Put the word “fire” in the frontal lobe of your brain—“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.” This word “hell” is the word “gehenna.” Back in biblical times, outside of Jerusalem there was an area called Gehenna, where garbage would burn 24/7. James says what? First of all, our tongues are a spark. Then he says that our tongues are a fire. Then he says they are a fire from hell.
I was in the Northwest. One evening, I looked and saw some orange flames on this mountaintop. After a while, those of us who were watching this concluded that we were watching the beginning of a forest fire. Over the next four or five days, this forest fire burned thousands upon thousands of acres. I talked to one of the firemen who was fighting this blaze and the fireman said, “The fire we think was started by a campfire.” Are you ready for that? One little match, one little spark and it burned a thousand acres.
Do you know any verbal arsonists? These are people who, as you are talking to them and before you even realize, strike a match and throw it into the conversation? You think everything is a-okay, and then suddenly you are enveloped in flames.
When my daughter, LeeBeth, was about two years of age, she loved pacifiers, like most kids do. She called the pacifiers her “beebees.” One night, we had a severe problem; the beebees were dirty. The dog had picked up a couple in his mouth. Three of them were on the floor. So Lisa took those beebees and put them in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them. While they were being sterilized, we heard a knock on the door. We opened the door. Our friends were there. We invited our friends in. They come in, and we are having a good time relaxing and talking. Suddenly, I began to smell something. I said, “Lisa, it smells like something is burning.”
She said, “Oh, no, the beebees.”
We looked and our kitchen was enveloped with beebee smoke. You have never smelled anything until you have smelled the stench of beebee smoke. We had to move out of our house for two days.
We all encounter those verbal arsonists. We also have people who like to boil words slowly, and the smoke from all the negative words can ruin lives. I have the power to ruin my marriage with my tongue. I have the power to ruin my career with my tongue. I have the power to rip you apart, and you have the power to rip me apart just with this tongue, this two-ounce slab of mucous membrane, this bit, this rudder. I can mess up a company, a church, a school, a team, you name it, I can mess it up. We have that kind of power right there.
The tongue is petite and powerful. Consider something else, another statement. Not only is the tongue petite and powerful, the tongue is also venomous and valuable. It really is. James talks about this, and I love this. He says in James 3:7, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man.” Think about it. We have tamed Flipper, Shamu, even my favorite, Mr. Ed. How many of you remember Mr. Ed, the horse? “Wilburrrr.” I love that horse. I have got to be honest with you. I have a complex about Mr. Ed, because people have called me Mr. Ed my entire life, so please don’t do that. I am sensitive enough as it is.
Look at verse 8, James says, “But no man can tame the tongue.” The lion tamer can tame the lions. They quieted down, but the tamer could not tame that two-ounce slab of mucous membrane called the tongue. No man can tame it. Humanly, we can’t take care of it. But God says, I can. I’ll put a tongue tamer over you, Jack. I’ll put a tongue tamer over you, Jill. “But no man can tame the tongue.”
Look at the bottom of verse 8, “It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I have got to tell you this story. Lisa and I, as you know, have four children. Thus, we cherish our time alone. I always encourage couples, if you are married, please have a date night at least twice a month. Try to go for it one time a week but at least semi-monthly. Just have a standing night where you have a sitter and you go out on a date. I am talking about you and your spouse, not double dating. That went out with the prom. I am talking about dating your spouse. Do you hear me screaming? For some reason, guys, we are especially pathetic at this. Let me hammer on the men for a second. Once we have dated, romanced her and have gotten the wedding thing done, the romance should continue to build and really start taking off. But we think, “Well, that’s done. Guess I’ll go chase my career now.” You can ruin your marriage that way. What you use to get her, husbands, is what you use to keep her. I don’t want to start preaching now.
A while back, Lisa and I were on this date night and we went out to eat at an Asian restaurant. Our favorite food is Asian food. We love sushi, Vietnamese food, Chinese food, Thai food, and all that stuff. After that, we went over to Grapevine Mills Mall for a movie. It was late after the movie and we were alone. As I was driving back in my truck, we were expecting to spend time alone when we got home, because it was late and we thought surely all of our kids would be asleep. The sitter would be up, but we knew the kids would be sawing logs. No, they weren’t. My cell phone rang in the truck and I picked it up. It was my oldest daughter and she said, “Dad, something terrible has happened. I was getting ready to go to bed and the lights were off and I was walking into my room and I saw what I thought was a stick on the floor, right there on the carpet. I went to pick it up and it moved. It was a snake, Dad, in our house. The snake has gone into the linen closet.”
I said, “Oh, no.” Well, I just floored my truck, put the flashers on. It was like the Crocodile Hunter, “We’re gonna get them.”
When I got to our house, this is hilarious, right in front of the linen closet, LeeBeth was there with a hoe. I’m talking about inside the house. EJ had a shovel, and the sitter was there with a broom. They are looking at me like, “Okay, Dad, chase the snake. Find the snake. Get the snake.”
If the truth were known, a lot of us have a snake in the house. A lot of us are verbal vipers. We have got some verbal vipers here. Snakes are wild. They are sneaky. A poisonous snake will bite you. That poison will kick in and it can kill. Verbal vipers specialize in gossip. You can’t say the word “gossip” without going “ssss.” Say gossip with me, 1-2-3, “gossip.” Also, verbal vipers sometimes gossip under the auspice of prayer. “We need to pray for her, honey, because you know what she is involved in…blah, blah, blah.”
Some verbal vipers specialize in slander, another hissing sound. What does it mean to slander someone? To slander someone means you tell the truth about someone in order to hurt them. I could do that verbally. I could also do that in silence. I can rip you apart by just being quiet.
Several years ago, I was in a conversation, and this guy was kind of ripping on one of my friends. I just sat there and listened. I knew what this guy was saying was untrue. As I left the conversation, I said to myself, “Ed, you coward. You sinner. You slanderer. Ed, you slandered the person because you didn’t say Jack-Q-squat to defend the person. You should have stood up and said, I know this guy and that’s not true.” So you can be a slanderer in your silence as much as you can be a slanderer blabbing your mouth. Telling the truth about someone in order to hurt them.
Here is another thing verbal vipers do. They share secrets. You tell them something in confidence, and oh, they are going to blab it. They are radio-free people. If someone will gossip in front of you, they will gossip about you, and behind your back. If someone will slander another person in front of you, they will slander you when you are not there. If someone will share other people’s secrets with you, they will share your secrets with others when you are not around. Are there any verbal vipers in the house?
I kind of left you hanging about the snake, didn’t I? Here is what happened. I walked into that linen closet. We have a little linen closet. All the towels and linens are stacked up, winter clothes right here, some chairs leaned up, boxes. I didn’t know where the snake was. All of a sudden, I heard him kind of move in some papers. Man, it gave me the weebie jeebies. I didn’t know where he was. So I took the hoe from my daughter, started throwing stuff out of the closet and there that snake was, looking at me coiled up. I took that hoe and, let’s just say, the snake went to be with the Lord that night.
If you have got a verbal viper loose in any part of your persona, kill it. Take it out. Take it out. That is what James says. The tongue is venomous and valuable.
Look at verses 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.” Let stop for a second. When you curse at someone, you are making a mockery of God’s creation. If you curse at me, or if I cursed at you, I am saying that God is worthless, that God makes junk. We know that God does not make junk. We know that we are all masterpieces, one of a kind. Now, if we remove the words “hell” and “damn” and other choice terms out of your vocabularies, a lot of us would walk around this week in long periods of silence. How can we do this? One moment we are praising God, “My God, you’re an awesome God.” Then we go out, get into our cars and start arguing with our spouse or yelling, “Kids, shut up.” Someone pulls in front of us in the church parking lot and “arrgh.”
Speaking of pulling out in front of someone, I have got to tell you this quick story. This is pretty humorous. Last month, Lisa was pulling out of a gas station in her Suburban. When she pulled out, there was a big truck pulling a trailer going about 30 miles per hour. This truck kind of had to slam on his brakes. Lisa had the twins with her. She told me when the truck slammed on his brakes, the guy have her a look that wasn’t very nice. Lisa said that one of the twins looked at her and said, “Mom, you’d better watch out. That guy could be really mad. You know, if he gets too mad, he might do that finger thing” (making the OK sign with his hand). They didn’t know what it meant to flip someone off, but they had seen that before, not in our household, but in others. Let me rush to say that.
So, who knows, now, instead of flipping the finger, maybe people can just make the OK sign, like this. Maybe that’s a better way to do it. Not to tell people to go to hell, but to tell people, “You are in my way. You are a terrible driver. Get off the freeway.” Maybe that’s a better way to do it. I don’t know. Why in the world do we flip someone else off, or tell someone to go to hell, or use the word “damn” or ask God to “damn” something. We are asking God to do something he does not do.
James is saying here, if you have a bad vocabulary, if your life is full of these “hells” and “damns” and all of this stuff, then I have got to wonder if you truly know Christ personally. James is saying, I have got to wonder if you are truly walking and talking with him, because, if you are ripping apart people who are made in the likeness of God, then I’m not sure about you. Is it real or Memorex? Are you doin’ fool, or not?
“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 comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater 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.”
Do you know what Jesus said? Jesus said that every time we speak we are taking a bucket and dipping it out of our hearts through our mouths. Because out of our hearts are really where our words come from. If you take the word “tongue” in this section of Scripture, James 3:1-12, and substitute the word “heart,” you have got it down cold.
When I talk, I am talking from my heart. If I produce salt water, that is salt water from my heart. If I produce fresh water, that is fresh water from my heart.
Here is what Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “You brood of vipers,”—He is talking to verbal vipers here—“how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Our words shape us. They shape who we are and where we are going. They even shape our relationship with the Lord.
It’s time that we get serious, those of us who want to develop an authentic faith. It’s time that we get real about asking God to put a tongue tamer over our hearts and minds and mouths and bodies.
Here are a couple of Scripture verses that we need to download. In Psalm 141:3-4, here is what David said, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD.” I read this past week that our tongues have antibodies on them that naturally fight infection. We need to ask God to put spiritual antibodies on our tongue to naturally fight the infection of poison speech, of that slandering, gossiping, secret telling, and swearing that we do. “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;”—Make that your prayer—“Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.” Only when our heart is transformed, friends, can our tongues be tamed. That’s it.
As we talked about several weeks ago in this series, if I am slandering someone, if I am telling secrets about them, if I am swearing, if I am doing whatever, God will hold me to the same standard that I hold others to. That’s a heavy thing. God, keep a guard over my mouth.
Let’s look at the next Scripture, Ephesians 4:29-30, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” When I put this guard over my mouth, every time I speak I should ask myself these questions: Is what I am about to say helpful? Is it going to build others up according to their needs? Is it going to benefit those who listen?
Verse 30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The Holy Spirit gives us the power, because the moment we ask Christ to come into our lives, the moment we confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord, he places the person of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our being. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to use our words for power and to use our words for value. He gives us the strength and the power to benefit others, to help others, to encourage others, to enlighten others, to put wind in the sails of others just by what we say.
However, if we are not deferring to the Spirit of God, if we are not putting a guard over our mouths and bodies and tongues and lips, then it’s not going to happen.
Remember that yacht I was on a couple of days ago? I had never spent the night at sea before in my life. We were twenty-five miles offshore, and, as I was sipping my morning coffee, I could tell one of the engines wasn’t working. The crew was going nuts trying to figure out what was wrong with one of the engines. They were talking about having to get the boat towed and all that stuff. Finally, one of the crew said, “Hey, captain, I found the problem.” Captain said, “What?” The crewman said, “There was a box leaning against some of the wiring of the engine.” We moved the box and now the engine is free to go. The Captain put the throttle forward and we were gone.
A lot of us have a box of words leaning against the power of the Holy Spirit. We are short-circuiting him. We are keeping him down. We are grieving him. We are saddening the Holy Spirit by what we say. We have got to free him up by saying, “God, put a guard over my mouth, over my lips. God, I want to defer to you in my life before I speak. I want to say encouraging words that help my spouse, my children, my parents, my friends. God, I want to say things that builds them up, that benefit them according to their needs.” That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how to install a tongue tamer.