The past couple of weeks have given me the opportunity to think back over the past year as I prepared sermons, anticipate our annual meeting at church, and evaluate ministries with staff. I have also gotten to speak with some friends in the ministry over the past month, some of whom are struggling. These experiences and the memories of the past year have reminded me (or caused me to re-learn) some important principles:
The power of the tongue. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie. We all have experiences of that, but in today’s world it does not have to be a spoken word. It can be a post on social media, an anonymous letter, gossip, or something hollered out in a crowd — all of which are reminders that people do not have the guts to say to your face what they believe needs to be said.
The power of the tongue goes beyond saying something about someone. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining” (Philippians 2:14). Everything. While I have seen relationships and churches destroyed because of words, I regularly see God’s work hindered because of grumbling or complaining.
The requirement of forgiveness. When words hurt or frustrate us, forgiveness is required. Most are slow to give it, while some never come to that point. Let us remember that it is a matter of the heart, and when we are slow to forgive it shows the hardness of our heart.
The importance of supporters. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Exodus 17. The Amalekites attacked Israel and when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites were winning, but when his hands were lowered, the Amalekites prevailed. If you have ever raised your arms up high for a length of time, you have experienced the difficulty that comes as the time builds. “When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat down on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up- one on one side, one on the other- so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” I am thankful for those through the years who have stood with me and supported me, and there is nothing more fulfilling to be that person for others. It is an opportunity to see the Lord work!
The priority of missions. Last January I took a group of 11 others to Chile. For most, it was their first international missions experience. And it set a fire in their hearts for the Mapuche people. In August, I went with a group to Crest Hill, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to serve at a local school. Each of us left with a commitment to see a church planted in this community. Quarterly, I join with many others in our church to love on Yazoo. It reminds us of the need around us. Each of these missions opportunities ignite a passion for the people to encounter the Lord personally.
The brevity of life. We are all forced at some point to admit that life is short, but when we see someone we consider “young” to die, our perspective changes. This past year, I had several men close to my age (which I still consider young) die. I had multiple spiritual conversations with these men. They all struggled. They had various degrees of interest in living for Christ. But none of them knew they would die before the year ended. We often think that we have time to do what we want, including time to have a right standing with God. The writers of Hebrews reminds us that “Today” is the time. Do not put off til tomorrow what you need to do today.
There were other things in the past year that I learned, including the importance of perseverance as the Cubs won the World Series, but these are the ones that I needed to be reminded. What did you re-learn this year?