Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Monday night, as I was looking out the back door, I noticed what looked like a giant brown cloud floating across the sky. It had been so windy all day and so my first thought was that the wind had kicked up a large amount of dirt. However, as my wife and I drove across town that night we quickly learned that the brown cloud was certainly not just dirt. It was smoke. As we got closer to the beautiful Rocky Mountains we learned that the smoke was coming from a fire that had started a couple of miles into the foothills. It turned out that the fire, which had started out as just a few small acres, had quickly grown to over 100 acres and was still growing. The high winds were only causing the fire to spread faster and grow stronger. It was truly incredible how quickly the fire had grown.

That night, after making my way across town to the school, I read through the book of James (an assignment for one of my classes). Naturally, I stopped when I came to this verse in James 3:5-6: “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” I paused, considering what I had seen that night. I knew fires could spread quickly but after reading online about how fast the fire in the foothills had truly spread, I couldn’t help but spend some time thinking about how our tongue can be the same way.

Our tongue, when used improperly, can be just as dangerous as fire. It may not cause millions of dollars worth of damage or put anyone’s physical lives in danger, but it certainly can put our own spiritual life in danger and can be harmful to others. Just like a wildfire, it may only begin with a small spark. Before we know it though, that one small spark has erupted into a massive fire. Without meaning to, we can cause enormous problems in our lives and the lives of those around us because we refuse to show self-control when it comes to our tongue. “It’s just one small lie,” we tell ourselves. Then, that one lie grows into a series of bigger lies and deceptions. “It’s fine if I talk about this person behind their back,” we say, “they’ll never find out we said something.” That is until the individual we’ve been gossiping about hears what we’ve said and we have now hurt or destroyed a relationship. Or maybe we say, “It’s not a big deal if I cuss in front of them. They’re my close friends and they don’t mind.” Unfortunately, we’ve now set a bad example for those friends and the language of the group has grown out of control.

Anyone who’s ever camped in the Rocky Mountains has probably seen a sign in which Smoky the Bear warns, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Smoky’s words of wisdom carry far beyond good practices while camping in the woods. When it comes to the way that we use our tongue, only you can prevent the “wildfires” that your tongue can produce. It’s up to us as an individual to control the things we say. Take some time today to read all of James 3 and reflect on what you can do to gain better control of your tongue. Remember, it may only seem like a small spark, but before you know it that one spark can grow into a raging fire, destroying anything and anyone in its path.

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Into All the World Wide Web

In Mark 16:15, Jesus told his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” When we read that passage, it may be difficult for us to find application in our own life. While some Christians will become missionaries and travel to various parts of the world to teach, the majority of Christians are going to stay in their own country for most, if not all, of their life. So, how do we share the gospel with the world when we may never even leave home?

There are currently 2.2 billion people in the world who use the Internet (according to http://www.internetworldstats.com). That’s 32.7% of the world’s population! In fact, there are 273 million individuals in North America alone using the Internet (78% of the population). As Michael Hite, one of my instructors here at school, stated in my Ministry Technology class, we have an opportunity to impact the world each and every time we get on the World Wide Web! So, how do we fulfill the command found in Mark 16:15? We can do it each and every day online. Unfortunately, we often don’t take advantage of those opportunities. How do we fix that problem?

Talk about your faith online. I’m not saying that everyone needs to start a spiritual blog. I’m not even saying we have to post Scripture on our Facebook page every day (though both of those things can be very effective). But, how often do you mention God online? As of December 2011, there were 845 million people on Facebook alone. Can you imagine the impact we could have if all Christians shared their faith on their Facebook status? We could reach millions of people all over the world. It has to start with the individual though. In the class I mentioned before, we were told to scroll through our timeline on Facebook to find the last time we mentioned anything regarding our faith. It was a humbling experience. If God is the most important part of our life, should we not talk about Him more?

Watch your attitude online. I know way too many Internet “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydes.” These are individuals who can be very positive and friendly in person but become extremely depressing or rude when they get online. Perhaps it’s because when we sit behind a computer screen it becomes easier to say things we shouldn’t since we aren’t seeing the faces of those who will see it. We need to be careful about our attitudes online. You may have friends on Facebook that aren’t Christians. If you are the only Christian they know and all they ever see you post are complaints and rants, what do you think will be the chance of them desiring to live the life you live? People should be able to look at the life of a Christian and say, “they have something that I want.” If our attitude is poor, we may be turning people off to Christ.

You may be able to think of other ways to impact the world through the use of the Internet. It might be starting a blog. It might be sharing a spiritual thought each day on your Facebook page. It might be adapting your church website so that it will be more accessible for non-Christians and will provide them with information about God and His Son. These are all great things. If there are 2.2 billion people using the Internet, we “go into all the world” every time we log on. But the disciples weren’t just commanded to “go.” They were commanded to “preach the gospel.” It’s time we use this tool that God has blessed us with to spread the gospel throughout the entire world.


Super Sunday

Super Bowl Sunday is finally here. This weekend, two teams meet in Indianapolis to decide who will be this year’s NFL Champion. People all over the U.S. will throw parties. Celebrities have already started gathering in Indy for the week’s activities. Companies and organizations have forked over millions of dollars for just 30 seconds of ad time. Television ratings will be through the roof. It’s a big day. However, all of this isn’t what makes Sunday so super.

How often do we get excited for Sunday? Not because of football games or a day off from work. How often do we get excited for Sunday because it’s the Lord’s Day? I love football as much as the next guy but should it really be the reason that I look forward to that first day of the week? I would suggest there are greater reasons why Sunday should be seen as super.

Sunday is a day we get to worship our God. Notice I didn’t say the only day we get to worship God. Our worship can and should take place everyday. Sunday, though, is the one day we can dedicate completely to worshipping Him. We should look forward to singing praises to Him. We should look forward to going to Him in prayer. We should look forward to studying His word. Unfortunately, worship frequently becomes something we feel obligated to do. We are commanded to worship God but He is so great that we should desire to worship Him even if it weren’t a commandment. Psalm 92:1 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” Do you agree with the writer? Or do you see worship as a burden?

Sunday is a day we can fellowship with other Christians. When you go to a preaching school, you get to spend time with Christians each day. That won’t be the case forever. Most people go to work every day without ever coming in contact with another Christian (outside their own family). If you do, consider yourself very blessed. Since we spend so much time in the world, it’s important to have that time each Sunday where we can be around those who belong to Christ. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us why it’s so vital that we assemble with one another. It’s during that time in which we receive and give encouragement. We should get excited about spending time with people that have the same spiritual goals that we do.

Sunday is also the day we get to remember Christ through the Lord’s Supper. This world is full of distractions. Our jobs, families and other responsibilities can take up so much of our time each week. For that reason, it can become easy to forget about Christ and the wonderful things He has done for us. God clearly knew that we needed time each week to remember. By coming together on the first day of the week like they did in the first century (Acts 20:7) to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we get to be a part of something that Christians all over the world are a part of. We get to take time to remember Christ, the sacrifice that He made for us and the salvation that we’ve received through His blood. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good reason to be excited for Sunday each week.

This week, people will be excited for Sunday for a different reason. I won’t lie. I love football and I’m excited about the Super Bowl too. In all honesty though, the physical things like football are nothing in comparison to the things we get to be a part of when we gather together on Sunday with fellow Christians to worship God and remember His Son. Be excited for the Super Bowl. That’s fine. Just don’t let that be the only reason, or the main reason for that matter, you look forward to the Lord’s Day this week.


“I’m Just Kidding”

Have you ever heard of the “bless their heart” rule? It’s the idea that you can say anything about a person as long as you finish by saying, “bless their heart” (example: “She was just about the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen…Bless her heart”). Now this is obviously just a joke and I would hope that no one would ever use this rule. But what if I told you that there was a “rule” that many use every day to excuse something hurtful that they’ve said?

“I’m just kidding.”

I’ve used these three words many times in the past after having said something that may have been hurtful. In fact, most of the time I really was joking when I said it. Does that make it something we should say though?

In Proverbs 26:18-19 we read, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘Was I not joking?’”

I realize that this passage is talking about deceit, but I think it has some serious application for us today. Too frequently we allow harsh or hurtful words to come out of our mouths and try to cover them up with a quick, “I’m just kidding.” It’s as if we believe those three words serve as a magical eraser that go back and take away any hurt that our comments may have inflicted. They can’t.

Humor can make for some great memories. If you know me, you know that I love to joke around and goof off. I do believe God gave us humor for a reason. I just don’t believe that reason was so that we might have an excuse for bad behavior. James 3 describes the tongue as a fire. We need to recognize it as a fire that can’t simply be put out by a quick, “I’m just kidding.”

Even when someone is a close friend, words can be hurtful. I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the moment when we’re joking around with friends and end up saying something mean (inappropriate talk can just as easily fall into this category). We must be very cautious with the words that we say. I’d like to encourage each of us to keep from using humor as an excuse for saying things we shouldn’t. Instead, today find someone you know you may have been hard on in the past and say something positive and encouraging to them. Just don’t follow it up with, “I’m just kidding.”


Never Alone

Aron Ralston sat at the bottom of a canyon with a boulder trapped against his arm. By this point, I’m sure you’ve heard his story (even if you only know him as the guy who cut his own arm off). Aron had been hiking in the canyons of Utah all alone when a rock gave out, causing him to fall into the bottom of that particular canyon. With his arm trapped underneath the rock, Aron called out for help, hoping that someone might hear him. Unfortunately, there was no one around to hear him. There was no one around to offer help. Aron found himself completely alone.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt alone. I’m not talking about “in the bottom of a canyon with a rock on your arm” alone. But have you ever felt like you’ve had to go through something all alone? Maybe you felt like there was no one around to help or comfort you. You wouldn’t be the only one to feel this way. In fact, 1 Kings 19 describes a time in which Elijah felt that very way. Despite coming off of one of his greatest successes as a prophet (defeating the prophets of Baal on Mt. Caramel), Elijah felt like he was all alone. Elijah even said to God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord…And I alone am left” (1 Kings 19:14). Thankfully, God taught Elijah a lesson that we too can learn from: We are never alone.

We are never alone because God often sends us those who can help us and encourage us. At the end of chapter 19, we read that God sent Elisha to be with Elijah and minister to him. God recognized that Elijah needed someone to support him and so Elisha was sent to him. Frequently, God will do the same thing for us. Maybe it’s our spouse, a close friend or some other family member. Often there will be those we can lean on for support and encouragement. We just need to be able to recognize when God has blessed us with those individuals. Too often people feel like they are alone when there are others around them trying to lend a hand. We have to be able to look around and find our Elisha.

We are never alone because there are others fighting the same fight. Elijah believed himself to be the only one who had remained faithful to God. However, in verse 18 we learn that there were 7,000 others who were still faithful to God and striving to please Him. Elijah was simply so focused on his own situation that he failed to recognize the others who were still fighting the fight that he was fighting. The same goes for us. Even in our darkest hour, we must remember that there are others who have fought and overcome the same challenges. There will always be others who are striving to please God, even if they are across the world. That should serve as an encouragement to us.

We are never alone because God is always with us. Even if we never had an “Elisha” to support us and even if we were the only person left striving to serve God, we would still not be alone. God is still with us. As Elijah sat in the cave on Mt Horeb, he complained to God about being alone. It’s ironic because if Elijah really were alone, he would not have had a God to complain to. The fact is, God was there with Elijah and he is always with us to. As long as we continue to serve God and seek after Him, He will never leave our side.

You may never find yourself trapped at the bottom of a canyon with no one to hear you call out. However, there’s a good chance that a time could come in your life where you feel like you are trying to make it all on your own. Just remember that we are never alone. No matter how hard things may become, God will always be there for us and will often provide us with others to encourage us in our walk. Let’s never forget about the presence of God in our lives. We are never alone.


Enough About Tebow…

Tired of hearing people talk about Tim Tebow? You wouldn’t be alone. Even Charles Barkley this week said that he was tired of hearing about the guy. I suppose I can understand why they feel that way. Tebow’s name is all over the news, radio and Facebook. Now when it comes to Tebow talk, I’ve got no room to speak. I have to admit that he’s been the focus of 75% of my conversations over the past week (I even spent most of a day sharing Tebow facts on a persons Facebook wall because they were tired of hearing about him…). People are excited and for that reason, it seems like everyone has something to say about Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.

Today, as I was messaging someone back and forth on Twitter about Tebow a thought crossed my mind: Why is it that I have no problem talking to someone about the Denver Broncos and their underdog story but I often have such a difficult time talking to others about my faith in Jesus Christ? I could jump into a conversation with a stranger in order to defend my love for Tim Tebow but could I do the same about my love for God? It was a tough realization for me to come to.

For you, it might not be Tim Tebow. However, I guarantee that everyone has something in their life they have no problem striking up a conversation about. Maybe it’s a musical group, a different sports franchise, some movie or your favorite celebrity. Everyone has something they are passionate about. Something they love to talk to others about. Shouldn’t that be how we are with God’s word?

In Acts 4, Peter and John found themselves before a group of men who wanted them to get quiet about Jesus real quick. You think Charles Barkley is ready for people to stop talking about Tebow? These men were literally commanding and threatening Peter and John to stop teaching people about Jesus. Now, I like talking about the Broncos but if someone threatened my life, I’d likely stop (though I’d have to be pretty sure the threat was a real one). Peter and John would not be silent though. In verse 19 they said to the other men, “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Regardless of the threats and despite the commands, Peter and John could not stop speaking about Jesus. They were too passionate and too convinced of the truth!

So why is it that we often have a hard time speaking up about Jesus? Is it a lack of passion for His word? Is it because we’re not truly convinced that He is the truth? Or is it because we are just more interested in worldly things than we are about spiritual? I’m not saying that it’s wrong to talk about Tebow (though my friends that are Raiders fans would say it is). I’m not saying we can’t have hobbies and interests that we like to talk about. When those things become all we talk about though, we may have a problem. Trust me, this is a lesson I need to learn just as much as anyone. I hope it is something you will take some time to think about too.


Spiritual Plateau

As it is every year, this week seems to be filled with individuals who are setting new goals and resolutions for 2012. Some are hoping to exercise more this year. Others want to spend more time with family and less time at work. There are even those who are working on bad habits in their life. It seems like everyone has something in their life that they want to improve this year. As Christians, hopefully our goals are not all focused on earthly things but turn to spiritual things as well. This time of the year tends to be when many Christians who haven’t been living their life right turn back to God and make a promise to be better. Whether it’s trying to spend time in His Word, trying to pray more frequently, or just focusing more on spiritual things, many Christians are using this time to correct their life in order that it might be pleasing to God.

What if your spiritual life in 2011 wasn’t something you struggled with though? As my brother Kyle put it in a devotional this past week, what if you are finding that your relationship with God is stronger now than it has ever been? What if you feel like you are living a life that is pleasing to God and you take pride in the way you lived in 2011? I hope that is the case for everyone who reads this! However, for those who are finding themselves on a spiritual high, now is the time to push forward even more. Too often I believe we see our faith as a mountain that we’re trying to get to the top of. Many feel like they are on the very bottom, struggling to climb. On the other hand, there are many who feel like they have reached the pinnacle of their faith. They feel as if they have come to the place in their faith in which they are content with where they are. Our faith shouldn’t be viewed that way. Our faith should be something that continues to grow. We should never get to a point in this life in which we feel like our faith plateaus.

The Thessalonian church was having a similar problem. It’s not that they were living wickedly. Paul even applauded the way they had been living. However, in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 Paul urged them to “excel still more.” Paul wasn’t unhappy with the way they had been behaving. He simply wanted to see them push forward. He wanted to see them continue to grow in their faith. They were already pleasing to God, but they needed to constantly be looking for ways to grow spiritually. Even the strongest and most faithful of Christians can “excel still more.”

This year, my friend Travis White has set up a group on Facebook called, “Excel Still More: The Facebook Challenge.” The focus of the group will be to push individuals who are already living faithful lives to strive for a deeper faith and greater relationship with God. Throughout the year, the group will be given 20 different tasks that can be done to help us grow more in our faith. I would like to encourage all my readers to join the group and look for ways this year to “excel still more” in their faith. The group can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/325371750809571/.

No matter where you are in your spiritual life, God is always willing to accept those who fully turn to Him. Let’s all decide together that we are going to look for ways every day to grow in our faith and never allow our spirituality to plateau.