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What is this thing, this action, that in and of itself is not a sin, but when most people attempt it, they usually end up sinning?  What is it that people do millions of times a day, and usually do it wrong?wordsmouth1

The answer is talking.  Of the multitude of sins that are chronicled in the Bible, none is more common or more destructive than the sin of words and talking.  The apostle James speaks much of this in all five chapters of his little book.  Most forcefully in chapter three, where he calls the tongue a wild fire, a poison, something straight from the pit of hell.  Our words can poison relationships, burn out a community of faith and destroy years of good work.  Who can tame the tongue?

And even if a person never gossips, slanders or badmouths another person, their words can still be sin!  Paul, in Ephesians four, tells the church that every word uttered should only be for the uplifting, edification and strengthening of the body of Christ.  If not, it’s a sin.  The last two letters Paul wrote in his life that we have in the Holy Scriptures are written to Timothy.  Paul knew his time on earth was short, and his last instructions were of utmost importance, so he emphasized  the most important truths to his young charge.  In both letters he told Timothy to “avoid godless chatter”.  What is “godless chatter”?  It is any conversation with another person that does not in some way include or point to God.  If we talk a lot about the weather or sports, or other people or events,  and that discussion does not have its basis in  God, then we are skating on thin ice.  We are probably sinning.

Back to the book of James.  He says that anyone who controls his tongue is perfect.  We all want to be perfect and mature before God and man, so we need to control our tongues.  The best way to control our tongues and thus be perfect is to not talk at all.  Never utter a word.  Most people are probably aghast at the thought of not being able to voice their opinion, tell the world what they think, or stand up for themselves with their words.  They are probably sinning.  We have all  heard of monks who take a vow of silence; who don’t talk.  Perhaps we think them crazy.  We should think them very wise.  Perfect.  They have tamed the tongue.

Of course the Bible talks about good words.  Happy, encouraging words can be like medicine to a broken heart.  Doctors don’t hand out any type of medicine to their patients in a helter skelter kind of way.  First they diagnose the problem and then give out the exact prescription that is needed to bring healing.  We should be like that with our words. Paul writes in Romans ten that people need to hear the words of the gospel to be saved.  We need to offer life saving gospel words to lost people in a sick world.

In order to speak helpful words and not sin words, we need to put a filter over our mouths and carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully think before we speak.  All of our cars have air filters, oil filters and gas filters to keep harmful particles from going in the engine and causing destruction.  We need the same kind of mental and spiritual filters between our brain and our mouth to keep harmful words from going out and causing harm.  The Psalmist writes “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! ” (141:3)

If we are careful to maintain these filters or guards or doors between our brains and our mouths, we will speak words of life and not death, words of health and not poison, words of hope and not destruction, words of righteousness and not sin.  If we watch our words we will glorify God and enjoy him all the more!

Words about words from Proverbs –

12:18   There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
12:19   Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
15:2     The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
15:4     A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
17:4     An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
18:21   Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
21:23   Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
25:23   The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
26:28   A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
28:23   Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.
31:26   A virtuous woman opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

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In our chatty world, in which the word has lost its power to communicate, silence helps us to keep our mind and heart anchored in the future world and allows us to speak from there a creative and re-creative word to the present world.

Henri Nouwen – The Way of the Heart

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It was getting hot and uncomfortable in Judea.  Not hot as in the physical climate, but the social and spiritual climate woman at wellwas becoming unbearable.  Jesus told his followers that they were heading north.  The Master wanted to get back to his old stomping grounds -Galilee.  Not that he couldn’t take the heat, but Judah was fast becoming a place where he couldn’t help people like he really wanted.  The religious leaders were turning his ministry into a side show, and at this point in his early ministry Jesus wanted no part of that, although it would be hard to avoid no matter where he went, because no matter where he went he healed the sick, the blind received sight, the cripples walked and demons were cast out.  Everyone wanted a piece of that action, and the Master was happy to provide it; happy to make people whole; happy to rejoice with them, although the real wholeness that he came to bring was much more than physical healings.  Deep down the masses were suffering from mental, emotional and spiritual sicknesses.  He especially wanted to bring healing and wholeness to them.  That was another reason he wanted to head north.  He had a divine appointment with a sick woman at a well.

It was not just any woman, it was a Samaritan woman, which meant they must go into the heart of Samaria.  It would be a hard pill for his Jewish disciples to swallow.  They didn’t like Samaritans very much.  It was hard for them to get along.  Hundreds of years ago the Samaritans intermarriage with Assyrians turned them into half breeds and that was something most Jews just couldn’t let go of.  They had so much to learn.  Normally when they traveled north to Galilee they would skirt around Samaria, even though it made the journey longer.  This time the trip would take them through the hated peoples terrain.  So much to learn.

Jesus was smiling as he and his band of brothers crossed the boarder into Samaria.  His followers – not so much.  It was midday when they stopped for a rest at a well outside the little town of  Sychar.  The disciples wanted to push into town and try and find something for lunch.  Jesus told them to go on without him.  “Stinkin’ Samaritans!  Probably spit in our pita bread” one disciple whispered under his breath as they headed into town.

They disappeared over a hill at about the same time that a woman from town topped the hill and made her way to the well.  She was all alone.

She looked down towards the well and was dismayed to see a man sitting there.  While most of the town’s folk went for water in the cool of the morning or evening, she preferred to go at midday.  Even though it was hotter, it was also quiet.  Peaceful.  Her noontime trips for water gave her a chance to be alone with her thoughts, away from the stares of men and disapproving frowns of women.  Oh well, she would just have to make the best of a bad situation.  Something she was used too.  At least this man wasn’t from town; he was clearly a stranger.  Getting closer she saw he was really a stranger.  She could tell by his clothes and facial characteristics that he was a Jew.  “No way!” She thought.  Jews never come around here.

Lowering her water jar into the well, she was surprised that this strange man spoke to her.  This Jew.

“Will you give me a drink?” He asked.  On the surface it seemed a simple question.  He was thirsty and she had water.  Beneath the surface it was extremely bizarre.  Most Samaritans knew that Jewish men thanked God everyday that they weren’t born gentiles, women, or dogs, and while she wasn’t a dog, she was clearly a woman, and probably considered worse than a gentile.  If he drank from her water jar, she knew he would be considered “Unclean” in polite Jewish circles, whatever “unclean” meant.

When Jesus asked the woman for a drink, he seemed to have twinkle in his eye, as if he were playing some kind of game where he had made the opening move, and now it was the woman’s turn.  She decided to play along.

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.  How can you ask me for a drink?”  Two can play at this game, she thought.

She was taken aback at his reply.  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is asking you for water, you would ask him and he would give you living water.”

She had no idea what He was talking about, but she like the sound of “living water”.  She replied, “You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is very deep; how are you going to get this living water?”

Jesus looked into her eyes and explained to her that whoever drinks water from this well will be thirsty again.  But whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again.  In fact the living  water I give will well up within and streams of water will gush out leading to eternal life.

Jesus has said a mouthful, overwhelming the woman’s ability to take it all in.  But the phrase, “never thirst again” caught her attention.

“Give me this water to drink so that I won’t have to come here everyday to draw water.” She replied.

Jesus decided to go deeper to help her understand what He was really talking about.  “Go get your husband and come back to me.”

Husband? Husband!  What did having a husband have to do with living water.  She thought of the five husbands she had had.  All the dreams and hopes that came with each wedding, and all the heartache and pain that came with the end of each marriage.  She had finally given up hope of finding any fulfillment in the institution and settled for just living with a man.  At least she would have a roof over her head and food in her belly.

She thought of the strange man’s request again and something began to rise in her.  A strange mix of self pity and anger.  She didn’t know what to say.  She was getting uncomfortable with this man and his words.  Hoping to brush him off she simply told him she had no husband and turned back to her water jar.

His next words struck her hard.  “You’re right.  You have no husband.  You have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband.  You have certainly told the truth.”

This man was really starting to get on her nerves.  She felt shocked and ashamed.  How could he possibly know about her past.  What business was it of his?  She certainly was not going to discuss it with Him.  She hastily changed the subject and decided to discuss religion.  That should definitely get this Jewish guy going in a different direction.

“Wow, you must be some kind of a prophet or something.  I know you Jews think Jerusalem is the place to worship, but our ancestors worship at this mountain”, she said pointing off to Mount Gerizim.”

Jesus spoke gently to her saying, “Jerusalem is the correct place to worship.  Salvation comes from the Jews.  But that’s beside the point.  A time is coming, and the truth is, the time is now, that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  God is spirit, and his people must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Again, the woman was somewhat overwhelmed by the the man’s words.  They sounded nice, and at least he didn’t bring up her husbands again.  Both the Samaritans and the Jews were looking forward to a time when the Messiah would come and make things right in the world.  That was always comforting to her.  She often imagined herself talking with the Messiah and having him resolve all the religious struggles she had within; heal the spiritual sickness she often felt. Not to mention all the personal issues she was dealing with.  She blurted out, “some day the Messiah will come and answer all our questions.

Jesus answered her saying, “I am the Messiah.”

Wouldn’t you love to know what became of the sick woman at the well?  All we know is that after Jesus proclaimed he was the Messiah, his disciples came over the hill with some food and the woman hurried off.  She forgot her water jar and went into town to tell the people of a man at the well who told her all about her life.  She also asked, “Could this be the Messiah?”

Did she believe he was the Messiah?  Did she she drink deeply of the “living water”?  Did she go on to live a life peace and joy?  Of fulfillment and wholeness?  Was she able to bury the demons of her past?  Or did she dismiss the stranger at the well as a crazy person who was just yanking her chain?  We don’t know.  I think that’s the way John wanted to end this saga of the woman at the well.  John also mentioned in his gospel account in chapter four, that many Samaritans came out to give Jesus words a listen, and that they asked this JEW to stay with them a few days, and that many believed.

Why did John write this story that the other gospel writers did not include in their books?  Why did John write any of the stories that he wrote?  He says in chapter 20 that these things were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you might have life through his name.  What does it mean to drink the living water that Jesus offers?  It means to believe!  How about you?  Do you believe?

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From time immemorial men have quenched their thirst with water without knowing anything about its chemical constituents. In like manner we do not need to be instructed in all the mysteries of doctrine, but we do need to receive the Living Water which Jesus Christ will give us and which alone can satisfy our souls.

 Sadhu Sundar Singh

In  our Friday night Bible study last week we took a look at Matthew, chapter 8.  The whole chapter, and that of chapter 9 as well, are chuck full of miracles. You got your basic calming the storm, casting out demons, raising the dead and 7 healings, including the blind seeing, lepers cleansed, fever gone, paralyzed man walks, and a  woman’s bleeding is stopped.  Matthew writes in 8:16 that Jesus healed ALL the sick, and that this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah; “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

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Nathan and friend

In my last post I wrote about Jill, an ordinary Christian who helps out at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico.  I also mentioned she adopted two children.  The youngest is Nathan, whom she began to care for when he was an infant.  He is now two years old.  When she began to care for him, she was told that he had hepatitis c.  His mother was a drug addict.  Nobody would ever guess Nathan had this disease.  He was the picture of good health.  I took to calling him Bruiser because he looked so healthy and was so big.  Everything went along fine until about three weeks ago when his eyes started turning yellow.  Jill took him to the doctor who had tests done.  His liver count was about a hundred times higher than normal, and he was still hepatitis c positive.  His liver was failing.

Jill and Nathan got on a plane for the States, and saw a doctor in Chicago who specializes in children’s livers.  He took two hep c tests along with a host of other tests.  He told Jill to go back to Mexico, as there was not a lot that could be done treatment wise.  Nathan was showing some signs of improvement.  His body was fighting the virus, and all they could do was to monitor his liver.  The doctor told Jill that the hep c tests would not be ready for a week or so, and that he would contact her when they were ready.  Back in Mexico, little Nathan continued to improve.  So much so that Jill was able to travel to Foundation For His Ministry  (FFHM) children’s home in Morelia, to help them with a situation of a little girl who had fallen into a coma, and needed specialized treatment in Mexico City.  While in Morelia, a lady came up to Jill and told her that God had healed Nathan.  Jill was incredulous and simply said “Thank you.”  Shortly thereafter she received the results of the U.S. hep c tests.  Nathan had tested negative.  His body was clear of the hepatitis c disease.

But, he still has an abnormally high liver count.  He was healed of hepatitis c, but there is still a problem with his liver.  He didn’t receive the “whole healing”.  Why not?  When Jesus healed people they received the whole healing immediately.  But not Nathan, and perhaps, not you or me.  Sometimes we ask God fervently for healing of our aches and pains and diseases, and we are not healed.  After beginning my study of Matthew 8 + 9, I injured my back and was in pain.  I remembered what the leper said to Jesus, “if you are willing you can heal me.”  Jesus said, “I am willing” and healed the man.  So I said to Jesus, “if you are willing, you can heal me.”  Jesus seemed to say to me, “I am not willing.”  My back still hurts.  Why would Jesus say to one of his followers, one of his disciples, “I am not willing to heal you”?  I think the answer revolves around faith.  Faith is mentioned many times in these two chapters of Matthew.  Because of a person’s faith, or great faith, or the faith of friends or family members, people are healed.  So are we not healed today because we lack faith that Jesus can heal us?  Quite the contrary.  Any Christian who takes even a cursory look at the gospels sees that Jesus healed anyone and every one who came to him asking for healing.  Most Christians have no doubt that Jesus can heal them, which makes the question even more perplexing.   The issue is faith, but not faith that God can heal you or me, but faith in the idea that God loves us and wants us to be happy. If we believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then, even if we are not healed physically,  we will rejoice in God our maker, because in his wisdom and knowledge, he knows what we do not know about our future, namely, that somehow, someway, we will be happier by not being healed immediately of our physical infirmity.

Carmen is a good example of this.  I mentioned her in my last post as well.  She works in the mission school and is married to Fabian, the administrator.  She shared in devotions a couple weeks ago about having bone cancer when she was 15 years old.  She said it was a painful time; a scary time; and a time that she wouldn’t trade for the world.  Why?  Because of what she went through then, helped transform her into the happy person she is now.  She told the story of the prognosis – bone cancer in her ribs.  Her doctor said they would take out a couple of ribs, and then begin chemotherapy.  Sure enough, they took out two ribs, and after recovering from surgery, she went back to the hospital to begin chemo.  The doctors prepared her for the treatment, and then discovered that Carmen had not eaten anything, and she needed to eat something, so she went to the cafeteria to get some food.  In the meantime, the doctor received some test results back from the Mayo Clinic.  A doctor there said that if one more rib was taken out, that might cure her and she wouldn’t have to have chemo.  The doctor at the hospital discussed the situation with Carmen and her family, and they decided on removing the third  rib.  After the rib was removed, she was tested for cancer, was found to be cancer free.  She was checked regularly after that for eight years and remained cancer free.

Carmen and Ollie

Carmen and Ollie

Ask her if she would change anything about that time in her life and she would tell you, “NO.”  Why not?  Because during this difficult time in her life, a lot of her friends grew distant and stopped coming around.  She said that was a good thing, because girls from her church became her new friends, comforting her, helping her, being there for her.  Later on in life, some of her old “friends” got involved in drugs and one even went to jail.  So that was one positive – New Friends, which became True Friends.  Secondly, she thinks about all the adolescents who fight and argue and rebel against their parents, especially their mothers.  If she didn’t have cancer, she could see herself going down that path, but with the cancer, her mother became her primary care giver, and they developed a close bond that continues to this day.  Because of the faith of  her friends and mom, she grew in her faith and dependence on God.  Her love for Him grew incredibly.  After high school she went to Bible College and then began serving God along with FFHM in the Baja peninsula.  Now she is enjoying and glorifying God here in Oaxaca.

Finally, the mission pastor here showed a few short video clips of an incredible man named Nick during his sermon last Sunday.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  He begged God to heal him, to give him arms and legs, as a boy.  He wanted to be normal, like all the other boys.  God didn’t give him arms and legs.  He begged God for a reason why He made him so different from everyone  else.  He tried to commit suicide in the bathtub at age eight.  He wasn’t successful, partly because he thought of the great love his parents had for him, and how bad they would feel if he killed himself.  Finally he came to the realization that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  On the video clips he looked like one of the happiest people I have ever seen, as he travels the world telling people that God loves them and gave his Son for them, so that, they too, could be full of joy, peace and purpose.

Ultimately all Christians are healed.  Sometimes they are healed by a supernatural touch from God. A lot of times they are healed by the bodies natural healing process.   Other times they are healed by medicines and doctors.  If they die, they are risen to new, healthy lives, living in the immediate presence of our loving heavenly Father.  One way or another, we all experience healing, the whole healing, and nothing but the healing, so, thank you God!

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It is not the miraculousness of God’s acts that constitutes their significance, it is their redeeming and informing and instructing content.  God’s miraculous activity is not against nature but against sin.  A miracle is not an abnormal or unnatural occurrence presupposing the normality of nature, but a redeeming reinstatement of the normality of world and life through the new dominion of God, which stands antithetically against the kingdom of this world.  Miracles cause surprise because people have become accustomed to the abnormality of sin and its curse of death and terror.  Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer

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