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Put Your Hand On Your Mouth
September 8, 1991

JAMES 1:17-27

Watch your tongue! Perhaps you are like I am. If I were paid $1 for every word I wish I had never spoken, I'd be rich. Watch your tongue. The tongue is a remarkable instrument, a huge mass of muscles. A British scientist tried to count all of the muscles in the tongue, but gave up when he reached 400,000. The tongue is a food mixer, taster, and built-in tooth brush. The tongue shows the doctor if you are well or ill, and forms words for communication.

The tongue seems to have a life by itself, and often speaks or rattles off words before the brain is engaged. In the Scripture lesson read this morning, James wrote, 1:26, "If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless." The tongue must be bridled and brought under control so that the words we say are what we really want to say.

The tongue, though small, has tremendous power. Later in James, in chapter three, he says the tongue is like a bit in a horse's mouth that controls the horse's behavior. "Or look at ships," James 3:4, "though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs."

And, James 3:5, "How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire." Like a forest fire, words can burn deeply into our hearts. Words can be terribly destructive, destroying relationships, destroying self-esteem. Children especially can be affected for their entire lives by destructive words burning away within their ego. In one of the wisdom books of the Apochrypha, Ecclesiasticus wrote, 28:17-18, "The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue."

The tongue is often unmanageable. James 3:9, "With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing." Ecclesiasticus 5:13, "Glory and dishonor come from speaking, and a man's tongue is his downfall." No wonder Ecclesiasticus advised in 5:12, "If you have understanding, answer your neighbor; but if not, put your hand on your mouth."

Good advice. Very practical and sensible. Who would have thought of it! When your tongue gets away from you, simply put your hand on your mouth. If your hand isn't big enough, try a rag! Then, control the tongue. Manage it. Let your words be what your brain and heart really want to say. Back in 1855, Beth Day wrote a poem which has become a classic. "Three Gates of Gold"

... Make it pass,

Before you speak, three gates of gold:

These narrow gates. First, "Is it true?"

Then, "Is it needful?" In your mind

Give truthful answer. And the next

Is last and narrowest, "Is it kind?"

And if to reach your lips at last

It passes through these gateways three,

Then you may tell the tale, nor fear

What the result of speech may be.

Put your hand on your mouth, and evaluate what your tongue wants to say by asking, Is it true? Is it needful? Is it kind? For example, there seems to be a proclivity to negativism in churches, including our church. Perhaps all human institutions have people that like to complain, gripe, find fault, criticize, and bitch in general; churches certainly do. The motivation is worthy. We want our church to be the best. We expect the church to be a cut above the world. We love the church, and in a burst of misguided enthusiasm, we let the tongue point out what is wrong, what is broken, what is not working. The net effect is destructive. Criticism and bitching cause heavy clouds that squelch enthusiasm and stifle creativity. The other day Hugh Enochs came in, and the first and only thing he said to me was, "I want you to know I think you are doing a great job!" That was it. He had no complaint or suggestion or even a question. It made my day. I told him, "Thank you, Hugh, I needed that today."

I have a challenge. The church is to be a model of how God wants us to live with one another. Let's model tongue behavior. Rather than griping, complaining, criticizing, and trying to determine whose fault it is, ask, "What can I do to help?" When there's a problem, what can I do to help? We seem to relish finding someone to blame, someone who goofed, whose fault it is. Instead, how about offering, "What can I do to help?" We are in this together. Rather than complaining about a cobweb in the corner, and finding someone to blame, grab a broom and sweep it down. Take responsibility. Help. Rather than complaining about the youth program, offer to help counsel, or drive, or host a party. Rather than complaining about noisy children, offer to play with them or tell them a story. Rather than complain about the worship service, pray for us. Rather than complain about declining attendance, phone some members and tell them you miss them. When tempted to bitch, put your hand on your mouth, evaluate carefully what your tongue wants to say, and offer, "What can I do to help?"

And, when you speak, tell the good news. This past week, I heard about a new book, went out and bought it, and began reading a fascinating new approach to marketing written by a local man who helped market the Macintosh personal computer which was, according to the book, "the century's greatest marketing success." In Selling the Dream, Guy Kawasaki tells how to promote your product, company, or ideas--and make a difference. He presents a revolutionary concept of sales, marketing, and management called evangelism. Evangelism is the process of convincing people to believe in your product or idea as much as you do. It means selling your dream by using fervor, zeal, guts, and cunning. In contrast with the old-fashioned concept of closing a deal, evangelism means showing others why they should dream your dream. (p. 3)

Evangelism is selling a dream, and selling a dream, he says, is transforming a vision into a cause and getting people to share that cause. If you want excitement in your life, and a feeling of accomplishment by changing the world, become an evangelist.

Imagine what would happen if everyone here this morning became convinced, committed, and excited about the greatest cause you can imagine, the new life in Jesus Christ, and began using our tongues to talk about Jesus, God's vision for the world, and the fellowship of the church! Instead of badmouthing and talking about all that's wrong, let's start talking about what is right! Let's stop negative griping, and work together to make this church fly!

Specifically, to make the large task easier, take the flyer in the bulletin this morning and share it with someone. I'm excited about the Sunday Evening Celebration we are beginning next week. We've designed this new program to help reach people--singles, couples, families--who don't come in the morning. The program is in the designing stage with a flexible, more informal approach. We are providing a new opportunity, a new time, a new style, a new program for new people. Help us share the news! There are multitudes of lonely people out there, people who are having difficulty coping with stress, worrying about the future, struggling to keep their jobs, fighting with their families, battling drugs and alcohol. They need Jesus. They need the love, companionship, fellowship, and support of a church family. We have something wonderful to share with them. Tell them about our new service. Invite them. Bring them.

Kawasaki tells about Harry Winston, a legendary jeweler whom we might call an evangelist of fine jewelry. Winston once saw one of his salesmen lose the sale of a large diamond. As the customer was leaving the store, Winston stopped him and talked about the stone. Instead of repeating the salesman's pitch, Winston described the stone as a symbol of great beauty, and the customer decided to buy the diamond. The difference between Winston and the salesman? Winston said, "That salesman is one of the best in the business. He knows diamonds--but I love them."

Imagine what might happen if you translated your love of Jesus and we love God, we love people, and we love our church; a winning combination. Let's become evangelists, telling the good news, sharing the excitement, inviting others, radiating enthusiasm. There is a need out there, and you can help change lives. You can make a difference. Your church is constantly developing new ministries to help people. You can sell the dream.

Keep your tongue under control. Keep it managed. Put your hand on your mouth when your tongue speaks more rapidly than your brain. Evaluate what you are going to say: Is it true, necessary, and kind? Instead of complaining, offer to help. And, become an evangelist. Tell the good news. Let your tongue serve the Lord. Let your words sell dreams.

© 1991 Douglas I. Norris