Many of you know this last year I became a science teacher. What many of you may not know is that I teach at a Middle school that is on a university campus. Not only that, but our school is even part of the university system and we are therefore connected to the university itself. That means sometimes we even have to handle things on the main campus. This really wouldn’t be such a big deal except for the fact that it always seems like the business I have to handle is on the fourth floor of the largest building on campus. To top it all off, I usually have a limited amount of time to handle said business so I find myself parking on the side of the building that doesn’t have the elevator and then hustling up three rather large flights of stairs. Take note; I’m a relatively in shape person, but I still feel winded almost every time I run up these stairs. Especially if it is a day like yesterday when I had just done squats at the gym that morning.
But one of the joys of being a science teacher has also been the opportunity to marvel at the complexity of creation once again. The fact that my brain tells my legs to move up and down, then my legs can do that action, then my lungs seek to compensate for their effort by pulling in more air to oxygenate my muscles in my legs, while my heart is picking up its rhythm in order to move that oxygen to those legs faster. It all really is an incredible feat. One might even call it a gift. The writer of the book of James has this to say about gifts, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.” – James 1:17 Our brains, our legs, our blood pumping, our lungs…even the breath in our lungs is a gift from God. I wonder if we would all be considered good stewards of those gifts?
A little bit later in that same letter James takes to task one of the gifts that we sometimes abuse; our tongue. Our ability to speak is an incredible gift. In fact, I’m amazed by it all the time. We push air in and out of our throat, it passes through our larynx, over our vocal folds and then somehow resonates enough to form sounds and then words and even sometimes notes of incredible beauty. We essentially take the breath of life, the gift that God has given us and transform it into something entirely new. But James actually has a word of warning for us here, “No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness.” – James 3:8-9 You could almost substitute the phrase, “breath use” for tongue in this passage. I realize that might be a little wordy and complex, but how often do we think about the breath we breathe as truly a gift of God i.e. the breath of life? And if it is a gift, are we wasting it? Are we using it for malice, gossip, evil? James himself said we praise God and yet speak ill, put down, judge and even curse those made in his likeness. Maybe some of us need to check our breathing. Maybe some of us should be careful for the day when we are left breathless and the gift and what we have done with it return to the creator. How will you sue your gift of breath today?
In William Shakespeare’s definitive work Hamlet we get to have a front row seat as the title character slips into madness. As his condition begins to take hold there is a poignant scene in Act II where the Danish prince is confronted by Polonius in his attempt to ascertain what is troubling the prince. “Polonius: What do you read, my lord? Hamlet: Words, words, words.” Sometimes I feel like I can relate to the young prince as it seems as if all of our society is slipping into madness. “What troubles you young pastor? What do you read?” “Words, Words, Words”. And that’s a lot of what seems to be wrong today. All around us we see print, posts, quotes, rants, etc. of careless and misused and misaligned words. And at the end of the day, what good is it doing?
Time and time again the writers of scripture warn us about the dangers of words and their usage. Paul in writing to his young protege Timothy says this, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” – II Timothy 2:23 James in writing to the church has this to say, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” – James 3:9. Obviously the writers of the New Testament new the danger and the responsibility we have with our words and yet…this lesson seems to have fallen short on modern readers. All to quickly we jump into the fray on social media. All to quickly we have to make sure people know our opinion before we even get into a conversation. All to quickly we have to make sure people know what we are against before we actually take the time to get to know them. And all of this accomplished through words.
In late February my wife and I took in two foster boys. As is often the case with foster situations we have face some developmental challenges. The younger of the two is about to turn two and he still hasn’t developed the ability to speak words. He’s quite good at shrieking or even growling, but the cognition to form words isn’t really there yet. But just think about that with me for a minute. The gift of speech is quite incredible. We take breath into our lungs and then pass it over our vocal chords while forming our mouth in a certain fashion and it becomes spoken word. Our very ability to speak and even type or write words is nothing short of miraculous and yet it is a gift we so often take for granted. With this gift we have a responsibility. Do our words give life? Do our words bring the Kingdom of God? Or are the words we share, form, write, rant, etc. simply contributing to the madness around us? Today may you measure your words a bit more carefully. Today may you find the words you speak, the articles you share, the posts you engage with having eternal meaning in a world so fixed on the next temporary thought. And may it not simply be words, words, words.
I’ve always loved fireworks. From the smallest sparklers and firecrackers to the amazing displays that occur around major holidays, I’ve always found myself mesmerized. I even remember the first time my dad let me save up my money to buy my own fireworks. This would even become an annual event for me until I realized one year how expensive these things were and how I was literally setting my hard earned money on fire. Then there was this one time my family and I were invited to a fourth of July party being thrown by some friends of ours who happened to be wealth management advisors. I’ll never forget the joke I tried to crack by going up to one of them. “It really doesn’t say a whole lot for your stock broker when he is literally setting money on fire”. Without missing a beat, this was the response, “It’s not our money”. It kind of makes you wonder whether or not stock brokers are always the best stewards of your resources.
But all kidding aside, stewardship is one of the most oft talked about themes in scripture and yet we sometimes simply think about it pertaining to our financial resources. But stewardship is better understood as a means of management of any gift that we receive. And so if we want to understand it better, we have to go all the way back to the beginning. In the second chapter of Genesis we read about the first gift that man ever receives over which we become stewards. “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7 The very first gift we are given is breath; the breath of life. The same breath in our lungs that empowers our speech and gives action to our words and sounds is a gift from God.
The problem is that at times we have not been the best stewards of this gift. This same breath that empowers our speech and gives us the ability for action has often been used to push others away or make them feel less like the sons and daughters of God they were meant to be. In his epistle, James puts it this way, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” – James 3:9-10 Our breath is a gift…our first gift and we are required to be good stewards of it. And don’t simply think that this pertains to audible speech only. The very words that we type, the posts that we share, the emails that we send, the texts spouted out are all embodiment of the breath of life that God has given to us. So are you being a good steward today? Are you managing this amazing gift you have been given to glorify God and draw others closer to him or has it become wasted breath? May we not take this gift for granted today and find ourselves being good and faithful servants of the breath of life God has given us.