A Reverse-Thread kind of Life
Haddon Robinson once shared, “A while ago I was trying to fix our garage door. I came to that one screw I had to get loose, and the more I worked to loosen that screw, the tighter it seemed to get. A neighbor came over and saw my plight. He looked for a moment or two and said, ‘Oh, this has a left-handed thread. It’s a reverse screw. You have to tighten or loosen it going in the opposite direction.’ It took me fifty years to find out how screws work, and now they change the rules!”
Then he commented, “There’s a sense in which all of the Bible is kind of a reverse screw. Everything in the culture that seems right, in the Bible comes out wrong. The way up is the way down.”
Provers 14:12 and 16:25 warn us, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death.”
One of the ways that seems right to many people is the pursuit of happiness by pushing our way ahead of other people. In 1973, Robert J. Ringer published the best-selling book Winning Through Intimidation. Shortly after that, Bob Greene wrote an editorial for the Chicago Sun Times. In it Greene stated, “Briefly, the theory of ‘Winning Through Intimidation’ is this: Life in America—in the business community specifically, but in all other facets of the society—is a brutal jungle that can be mastered only by learning to intimidate others, to bully them, to bluff and push manipulate them and shove them around to your own advantage. Only if you learn how to do these things can you be happy and prosperous….
“Among the tips he gives in ‘Winning Through Intimidation’:
–Life is a poker game, and every person you meet is trying to steal your chips.
–‘Honesty’ is a meaningless term, because ‘a person can only be “honest” or “dishonest” relative to the facts of a given situation.’
–The manner in which you conduct your dealings in life doesn’t matter, because ‘years from now it won’t make any difference anyway. In 50 billion years there won’t be any sun at all. The earth will be nothing but a frozen ice ball…. I could not imagine how anything I was presently involved in could possibly matter 50 billion years from now.’”
Robert Ringer portrayed his approach as “winning through intimidation.” James 3:14 portrays it as “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” James 3:16 stresses that where such envy and selfish ambition live “there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
“Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way of death.”
James 3:13 sets before us a reverse screw that calls us to turn our expectations around: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” James 3:17-18 adds, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
James counsels us that deep and lasting contentment is found not in a life of bitter envy and selfish ambition but in the midst of that which is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.”
Henry Drummond observes, “You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”
Pope Francis adds, “[Mercy] is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
Beware the Devil’s Chariot
James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue. His brother, Jesus, had been condemned to death by angry words and false witnesses, and by an enflamed mob that shouted, “Crucify him; crucify him.” On the cross his brother had been mocked and ridiculed. Following the death of Jesus, James had seen inflammatory words from opponents of the faith result in the martyrdom of close friends, and he had seem inflammatory words between believers result in divided fellowships. James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue, so, when he wrote to the early church, he was clear and explicit in his warnings. He tells us that “the tongue is a fire…it…sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” He describes the tongue as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Simon Kistemaker summarizes James’ warning: “The tongue, then, is identified with—and in a sense is the vehicle of—a complete world of evil that resides among the members of man’s body. It tells lies, slanders someone’s name, kindles hate, creates discord, incites lust, and, in brief, gives rise to numerous sins.”
Edward Reyner cautions, “An unbridled tongue is the chariot of the devil, wherein he rides in triumph…. The course of an unruly tongue is to proceed from evil to worse, to begin with foolishness, and go on with bitterness, and to end in mischief and madness.”
Curtis Vaughan says about the tongue, “It can sway people to violence, or it can move them to the noblest actions. It can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing, and soothe the dying. Or it can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate, and bring nations to the brink of war.”
What are we to do with a tool that is capable to bringing so much destruction?
First, we must learn when to keep our mouth shut. I have read that the cranes in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey tend to cackle a lot—especially while flying. Their loud cackling draws the attention of eagles who swoop down and seize them for a meal. Experienced cranes have learned to avoid this threat by picking up stones large enough to fill their mouths. This prevents them from cackling—and from becoming the lunch of an eagle. When our careless “cackling” might result in injury to ourselves or someone else, we must learn to keep our mouth shut.
Second, we must learn when and how to speak up with a word fitly spoken. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend point out, “While some criticism can be judgmental, direct loving criticism is a necessary part of spiritual growth. In fact, where there is no confrontation, growth is seriously hampered.” There are times when we must speak up and face conflict
There are also times when we need to speak up and bring encouragement. In The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes, “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. When schoolmates asked, ‘What happened to your lip?’ I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
“There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored—Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy—a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test…. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back—things like ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Do you have new shoes?’ I waited there for those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’” Words fitly spoken can bring healing to a soul.
The Need for a Living Faith
When I was in college, I drove an old 1953 Chevy Bel Air. The car had a lot of miles on it, and a good amount of wear and tear. One night, I had to drive from U.C. Berkeley to a meeting in downtown Oakland. The interior lights did not work, so I lit a match to check the gas gage. It registered full, so I started on my way. As I was zipping along the freeway, the car began to stutter, then the engine died. I was able to coast the car off a freeway exit, through a stop sign, into a service station. The attendant checked the car for me, looking for the cause of trouble, then he announced, “You’re out of gas.” The gage read “Full,” but the tank was actually empty.
That reminds me of some “believers” I have known over the years. They brag about how full of faith they are, but when I look for evidence of Christ’s compassion or integrity in them, they seem to be running on empty. They seem to be full of talk, with little evidence of genuine Christ-likeness.
Susanna Wesley once stated, “There are two things to do about the gospel–believe it and behave it.” The Christian faith is not just a call to us to believe in Jesus; it is a call to us to believe in Jesus and to behave in ways that are in keeping with being a follower of Jesus.
Mark Labberton remarks, “Jesus’ does not say, ‘Believe me,’ but rather, ‘Follow me.’ If we are going to pursue God’s call, it’s an act of trusting and following—of behaving and living in ways that reflect our life and purposes. We aren’t saved by our actions, but we are saved for our actions to become those that make God’s life in Jesus Christ visible.” (Called, p. 71)
James 2:18 stresses, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I, by my works, will show you my faith.” In verse 26 James adds, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
God does not want his children to be spiritually dead. He wants us to be alive. It is in the living out of our faith that we truly come alive!
Many years ago, on the old television show “The Merv Griffin Show,” Merv’s guest was a body builder. Gary Gulbranson shares what happened: “During the interview, Merv asked, ‘Why do you develop those particular muscles?’ The body builder simply stepped forward and flexed a series of well-defined muscles from chest to calf. The audience applauded. ‘What do you use all those muscles for?’ Merv asked. Again, the muscular specimen flexed, and biceps and triceps sprouted to impressive proportions. ‘But what do you use those muscles for?’ Merv persisted. The body builder was bewildered. He didn’t have an answer other than to display his well-developed frame.”
Some “Christians” seem to be a lot like that body builder. They have worked hard to build spiritual muscles of Bible knowledge and Scripture memorization and church attendance and knowing the words of all the hymns, but if asked what they use those muscles for, they have no answer but to quote another verse or recite a hymn. What this world needs is not people who can show off their religiosity but people who will live out the compassion and integrity of Jesus.
As Susanna Wesley put it, “There are two things to do about the gospel–believe it and behave it.”
Follow God’s Rules in God’s House
When I was in London (many years ago), I went past Buckingham Palace. When I was in Edinburgh, Scotland, I walked past the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. At neither home did I open a door and walk in. Why? Because I had no invitation from the Queen to enter her home.
Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse are royal residences. It is up to the Queen to decide who comes into her home and who does not.
Have you ever paused to consider the truth that a church is also a royal residence?
A church is, by its very nature, a house of God, or the Lord’s house. Properly understood, no one has a right to come through the doors of a church except by invitation of the King of all kings.
Fortunately for me and for you, we have been invited by God to come into his home. But there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind.
When we come into the Lord’s house, we come in not as peers of God but as subjects of the King. No matter how high and lofty one may be according to society’s standards, in the house of God each of us is but a subject of the King. It doesn’t matter whether one is a billionaire or homeless, the president of a company or the cleaning lady, when we enter the doors of a church we, are all at equal standing as subjects of the King. Who but the King alone has the authority to dictate who else may come in or who must stay out, or where another is to sit in the house of God, or what another is permitted to do. There is no room for favoritism in the Lord’s house because in his house everyone is equalized as a fellow subject of the King.
Also, we come into the Lord’s house as adopted children of our heavenly Father. It doesn’t matter what color we are or what our nationality or language is. It doesn’t matter whether we live with a disability. It doesn’t matter what animosities once divided us. It doesn’t matter what mistakes we made in the past. What matters now is only that the heavenly Father has chosen to adopt us as his own beloved children. There is no place for favoritism in a home in which the Father deeply loves each of his children.
In the house of God, all of life is to be guided by the “Royal Law,” the Law of the King. James 2:8 clarifies that the royal law is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. In verse 9, James adds, “But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
In the house of God, it is God’s rules that apply, and God’s rules are that we care for each other as we would take care of our own needs, and that we show no partiality that would favor one person over another. Church is to be a place where all of God’s subjects obey his rules of love and impartiality, and where all persons are welcomed equally as God’s beloved children.
In his book Building People through a Caring Sharing Fellowship, Donald Bubna shares, “When new members join our church, I like to say: ‘Our fellowship will never be the same now that you are with us. You will flavor it. You will never be the same—for better or for worse—we will flavor you.’
“One who flavors our fellowship in a special way is an old man who has been known as something of an oddity in our community for years. Old Tom is in his eighties. He lives alone and likes to stand up whenever we have a time for sharing in the church. He is not always able to keep his thoughts straight, and sometimes rambles on at length. One of our members brought the problem before the executive committee, asking that one of the elders talk to Tom to quiet him down. Brad Coleman, a young attorney on the committee, objected. ‘If our church doesn’t have room for the old Toms, we’re in the wrong kind of church!’
“…When we held a special service for a young woman who left our congregation to be a missionary, old Tom stood up to say, ‘That young lady will make a good missionary; she always talks to me.’ I thought his comment said a great deal about what it means for a lonely old man to belong to the family of God.” (p. 32)
As James 2:8 states, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”