Archive for November, 2013

Lou BrissieI take a break tonight from writing devotions to share something I wrote a few years ago.  I read online that former Major League pitcher Lou Brissie died today.  I had the chance to talk to Mr. Brissie a few times and always appreciated his willingness to share stories from his life.

Leland Lou Brissie  may have been one of the most improbable pitchers of all time. Brissie suffered a severe leg injury suffered during the war in Europe that would have probably ended the sports careers for most individuals.

At 16, he was pitching in the textile baseball leagues in Ware Shoals. He was impressive enough to attract an offer from the Dodgers, but his father urged him to turn it down and work out in front of Connie Mack. Later, he pitched for two years at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC.

Brissie’s life and career in sports changed on Dec. 7, 1944. On that day, while serving in Italy with the 88th Infantry Division, Brissie was hit by artillery fire. The shell shattered his left shinbone into more than 30 pieces. He also broke his left ankle and right foot.

The doctors wanted to amputate Brissie’s leg, but he somehow persuaded them to send him to an evacuation hospital.

Three years later, Brissie overcame that injury and near loss of his leg to begin his career in major league baseball.

The left-hander made his Major League debut in 1947 with the Philadelphia Athletics. Because of the injury, Brissie pitched in a leg brace, but still managed to finish his career with a 44-48 record in 897.2 innings pitched. He also had 436 strikeouts and a 4.07 career earned run average.

One of Brissie’s biggest seasons came in 1949 with the Athletics. Brissie finished with a 16-11 record, 118 strikeouts and a 4.28 ERA, in 229.1 innings pitched.

Grantland Rice, famed sportswriter who coined the Four Horseman nickname for Notre Dame’s football team in the 1920s, wrote about the courageous performance of Brissie in an article in Sport magazine in 1948 on the stars of the Textile League.

“Venerable Connie Mack came up with one of the real finds of the year,” Rice wrote. “Lou Brissie, a 215-pound southpaw, has captured the hearts of baseball fans everywhere by his courageous triumph over a severe leg injury and by his performance on the mound.”

“There have been many stories of servicemen who barely escaped death and returned to play ball again. Lou Brissie’s case puts him on top. Brissie’s left leg was all but torn away by shell fragments in the Italian campaign. Only his great determination to play baseball again saved Brissie from losing the the leg. With the help of a heavy protective brace, Lou returned to the mound, winning 23 and losing only 5 in the Sally League last year.”

Brissie was June 5, 1924 in Anderson, South Carolina. He graduated from Ware Shoals High School in Ware Shoals, South Carolina. Today, Brissie lives in North Augusta, S.C. Following his career in baseball, Brissie became the national director of the American Legion baseball program.

In 1994, he was inducted into the South Atlanta League’s Hall of Fame.

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Book of James.0011 What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings. — James 4:1-3 (CEB)

By the time we get to Chapter 4 of James, the writer has already taken on the role of a spiritual cardiologist.  And now the message points again to the heart and to what is going on there.

Have you ever been involved in conflict?  Have you ever wanted what someone else has?  That’s the question that James is asking.

I was introduced to this passage in a new way during a counseling class in seminary.  The professor asked us to read it in the following way (and I challenge you to do this too!).

What is the source of conflict among in my life? What is the source of my disputes? Don’t they come from my cravings that are at war in my own life? I long for something I don’t have, so I would go so far as to kill for it. I am jealous for something I can’t get, so I struggle and fight. I don’t have because I don’t ask.  I ask and don’t have because I ask with evil intentions, to waste it on my own cravings. (Based on James 4:1-3 from CEB).

And when I think through it that way, I realize that I have a heart problem.  I desperately need Jesus to help me with that heart problem and I need to know that Jesus is with me each and every day.

Sometimes you need a good spiritual cardiologist to give you the news.

Gracious and Loving God, forgive me for the times that my desires and my ambitions lead me to sin.  Forgive me in the times and moments and places when my jealousy gets the best of me and I want to do things that will harm myself or others.  God, thank you for forgiveness, for mercy and for your presence to help me through it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Book of James.00113 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts. — James 3:13-18

I love worship.  I absolutely love worship.

But I love worship that is real and authentic.  I love worship that at times is rough and raw.  I love worship where people take the skills that they have and they simply offer them up to the God who loves them.  And, in doing so, in humbling themselves before God, God does amazing things through their gifts.

It reminds me sometimes of the lyrics to the song, “Heart of Worship.”

I’m coming back to the heart of worship / And it’s all about You / All about You, Jesus./ I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it/ When it’s all about You/ It’s all about You Jesus 

It’s that sense of humility in worship, a humble offering of everything that we are, that comes to my mind when I read these words from James.

It’s an interesting position for a statement such as this.  They come just on the heels of a verses describing the power of the tongue to either bring praise or bring destruction.  And now there is this image of wisdom.

When we’re connected to the wisdom of God, it will undoubtedly flow from the heart.  And when it’s flowing from our heart, we see such things as peace, gentleness, obedience, humility, love.

But there’s another side to the picture too.  When we don’t have a sense of humility, when we’re not connected to the wisdom of God, it’s also going to show up in our actions.  In that case, we’re going to be jealous, sinful and filled with bad ambitions.

Maybe that’s why the heart is so important.

What’s your heart connected to?  Is it the heart of God that we find in true worship?  Or is it the heart of the world?

Maybe we really do need to get back to the heart of worship.

Loving God, forgive us for the times that our hearts connect to the heart of the world. Forgive us for the sins of our jealousy and our ambitions that do not match up with your heart.  Instead God, fill us with a sense of peace and humility.  Connect us to your heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Book of James.00110 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way! 11 Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either. — James 3:10-12 

How many times in your life have the words that have flowed from your mouth ended up getting you into hot water?

Maybe they were overheard and repeated by someone (maybe even your own child).

Maybe they were repeated to the individual that you were targeting with the words.

Maybe those words that you said were enough to alter another’s view of you.

James really is pointed about this:  “My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!”

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone from a neighboring town.  They were relating to me the problems they were having with a particular individual.  In that conversation, the person I was talking to said something along these lines, “This person tells everyone they are a Christian and follower of God, but the things (this person) does and says make me ask a lot of questions about that love.”

Maybe that’s the reason that the writer of James spends so much time warning us about our mouths, our tongues.  What comes from our mouths is an indication of what’s in our hearts.

That’s not a new or revolutionary way of thinking.  In Luke 6, Jesus speaks these words that seem to be mirrored here by James:

43 “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. 44 Each tree is known by its own fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes. 45 A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (Luke 6:43-45)

So what do we do about this?

Well, maybe it starts with recognizing that we have a problem.  Sometimes the words that come from our mouths stand in tension to the relationship we have with Jesus.  Sometimes, we open our mouths and speak too quickly without thinking about how those words will be received on the other end.  Sometimes, we have deeply heart others with the words that we say.

Maybe if we could take a little longer to speak and a little more time to think before we say something, we might see a difference.  Maybe if we asked how what we’re going to say says something about God’s love, we might avoid some of the problems.

Maybe if we simply started to admit our fault, to seek forgiveness when necessary and devote our lives to getting better… maybe, just then, we’d start to get a glimpse of what James is urging us to do.

Almighty God, we admit that we can struggle with the words that are coming from our mouths.  Forgive us for the times our words do not reflect the love, grace, mercy and words of life that you have spoken into our hearts.  Help us to think before we speak.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Book of James.0017 People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. 8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way! – James 3:7-10 (CEB)

There are all kinds of versions of this saying but generally the story revolves around an authority figure (teacher, police officer, principal, etc.) looking at someone who is rather foul-mouthed and asking, ‘Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

The writer of James hits on that very area in the verses today:  “Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth.”

It’s a reminder that maybe one of the big sources of tension in our lives can be the conflicting messages that come from the same source.  On one hand, we can use our words to lift people up.  We can be encouragers and we can ask others how we can help.  Our words can be words of life and love.  We can pray and profess our love for God.  We can talk about how much we love our neighbor.  We can help to teach people to live an amazing life in God.  The words that come from our mouth can be a pure joy.

Yet on the other hand, the words that come from our mouth can inflict pain.  They can tear others down, destroy relationships and bring tears.  Our words have the ability to repel others from God.  They can lead to shame and guilt and destroy self esteem.

It reminds me of a conversation I once overheard in a hospital waiting room.  A family was sitting there waiting on news on the outpatient surgery that a family member was going through.  Their pastor had stopped in to pray with the man before his surgery and now he was taking the time to visit with the family.  It was a pleasant conversation and they told the pastor how appreciative that they were that he had been there that morning. The pastor held their hands and prayed with the family before he left.

He had just barely stepped outside the door when one of the family members turned to the other, and with a complete change in tone of voice, said, “Boy, he’s really packing on the weight.”  That launched another conversation that was far less loving, far less uplifting.

In a single turn of a phrase, the same mouths that had been loving and supportive seemed to turn to the complete opposite.

And the reason I share that is not to point to this particular family, but to say we all can have those moments.  It’s moments when the one mouth that we have can turn from words of love to words of destruction in a single sentence.  I know that it happens because I’m capable of, and have done, the same things myself.

James ends this passage today with the words, “Brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!”

What if today, we could be a little more intentional in choosing the words that came from our mouths?  What if today, we could be a little more uplifting and a little less destructive?  That’s a challenge for everyone.

Almighty God, forgive us for the time in which we take the same mouths that lift up praises to you and then turn them to words of pain, gossip and destruction in the lives of others.  God help us to speak words of love and hope.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Book of James.0014 Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. 5 In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly. Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell. — James 3:4-6

My daughter, who is now six years old, likes to play hide-and-seek with me.  I’ll do the counting and she will run and hide in the house.

What I haven’t told her though is that I have a secret when it comes to playing this game.  I really don’t have to look for her.  I can just wait for a minute or two and she will say something that will reveal her location.

She can have the best hiding place in the house, but with one word from her mouth, she gives it away.  One day, she’s going to figure that out and hide-and-seek will become a much tougher game!

In a sense, the writer of the Book of James is pointing us to a similar place when it comes to following Jesus.  We can say that we want to do it. We can go through the motions of faith.

Then, without thinking, we can open our mouths and completely give ourselves away.  For James, actions matter when it comes to faith.

Unfortunately, James decides to pick on the one area of life where many people will struggle:  the words that come from our mouth.

It’s not a pretty image to see the tongue painted as the rudder that can turn a huge ship.    This tongue that’s a small part of the body has such a tremendous power to make wild boasts and wild claims that run counter to the faith we profess.

And probably no one likes the image of the tongue painted as a flame of fire tied to a “world of evil at work in us.”  But how many times have we, with a single word or sentence, hurt others?  Have we gossiped? Have we torn another down in an attempt to build ourselves up?

Maybe at the end of the day, the bottom line from this passage in James is to watch what you say.  As the song says, “Be careful little mouth what you say.”  And maybe, just maybe, if it leads us to think before we speak, then James has accomplished his task in sharing these images with us.

Maybe then, the challenge for me is to not let my tongue be the rudder that controls me.  I definitely don’t want my tongue to be a fire that destroys the lives of others.

As I think about it, I’m pretty thankful that the same tongue that can do and say so many hurtful and destructive things is also the same one that I can use to pray to God for grace, mercy and forgiveness when I fall short.

Almighty God, you have given us a great gift in the ability to communicate with you and with others.  God, forgive us in the times that we use that ability to hurt others, to spread gossip, to tell lies.  God help us to think before we speak.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Book of James.0011 My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. 2 We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. 3 When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies. — James 3:1-3 (CEB)

At the beginning of Chapter 3, the book of James makes a move from the ideas of keeping favoritism out of worship and growing in faith to one that hits home for many of us:  It’s that’s spot just below our noses.

Our mouths becomes the source of so many words.  Words that have the potential to life others up and to glorify God and words that have the potential to destroy lives.

In fact, these warnings remind me of the words to a Hawk Nelson song called, “Words.” You can find it at the end of this devotion.

Over the next few devotions, we will continue with this topic of our mouth and how the words that come from it have an impact.  But today, everything begins with a warning for those who teach.  That’s the challenge for those who teach, those who lead Bible studies, those who preach — the words that are used in those times of teaching should be chosen carefully.  Those who teach are held to a higher standard.  That’s a challenging thing to remember — it’s a warning to be prepared, to study what we’re talking about, to pray and root ourselves in God.

Then, James lets us all off the hook just a little.  We all make mistakes and we all make mistakes with our words. We all say things that we wish we could grab while they’re still hanging in the air and bring back.

Ultimately, the ability to speak without those mistakes and without those downfalls is the ultimate sign of maturity.

Maybe what we can take away from James today is that when it comes to our words, we’re not there yet.  Yet, there is hope that as we continue to grow in Christ that we will continue to move closer and closer to that place where our words only bring help and not hurt.

Almighty God, forgive us for the times that our words get in the way, for the times those words hurt others.  God help us to be able to continue to grow closer to you.  Help us as we strive to move to the place where the words we speak only bring glory to you and to the Kingdom.  Thank you for forgiving us in the times we fall short.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.