Words Matter (A Lot!)

We all know intellectually that words matter, but we also forget – often. This was brought to my attention again this week when my words got me into trouble.

Sometimes we think that only certain kinds of words matter. The truth is that all kinds of words matter. It’s not just the negative words that matter – the positive ones matter even more.

Here are a few examples:

Angry words matter – they wound others.

Sad words matter – they are a cry for help.

Careless words matter – they indicate we a need to be more careful.

Unclear words matter – they can easily be taken in a way we didn’t mean them.

Negative words matter – they can crush someone’s spirit.

Positive words matter – they can build someone up.

Insensitive words matter – they show a thoughtless spirit.

Kind words matter – they will lift a person’s spirit.

Critical words matter – they will stop someone from trying.

Defiant words matter – they indicate a lack of respect.

Diplomatic words matter – they indicate a careful person.

Enthusiastic words matter – they move people to action.

The list goes on. I read a list of 180 different types of words that the author referred to as tone words. IE, words that indicate a certain tone in our voice that gives our words specific meanings and power.

The Bible warns us about the words that we use. Just in the book of Proverbs we read these statements about words.

Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 13:3 – Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 16:24 – Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Proverbs 21:23 – Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.

And then this one from the book of James.

James 3:5-6 – See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Every so often we need to be reminded – I need to be reminded – just how much Words Matter.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying

I could stop this blog right there. If all of us (including me) would simply adopt this as our motto we’d all be better off. Fewer people would be hurt; fewer conversations would escalate into arguments; fewer outrageous things would be said – and repeated; there would be fewer headlines in the media (maybe they would actually have to find something newsworthy to report!); fewer unsubstantiated things would be repeated over social media – you get the idea.

Think how quiet it would be!

Words matter. That’s why God has so much to say about the way we talk in both the Old and New Testaments. Check out the term word in a concordance – you’ll find that it appears over 1100 times in the Bible, often in the context of how words are to be used and the importance of words.

A few examples:

Proverbs 15:1
A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Proverbs 25:11
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

James 3:2
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

It’s significant that Jesus is known as The Word (John 1:1, 14). It’s equally significant that God chose to communicate with us through the written word, the Bible. There are other forms of communication – we use them all of the time to communicate to other people: pictures, facial expressions, gestures, body language.

Even if these forms weren’t adequate to communicate the gospel message, God, being God could have come up with another form other than words (don’t ask me what, I’m not God).

But He chose words. Makes them really significant.

Every day you get to use a method of communication that God sanctified and used for the holiest of purposes.

The problem is that we have taken words/speech so for granted that we have devalued it to the lowest common denominator. We don’t value words the way God values words.

So we use words – the medium that He chose to describe His Son and to communicate the most important message you will ever receive – to lie, deceive, spread hate, devalue other people, cheat, exaggerate, misrepresent, argue and perhaps dozens of other things that are less than worthy.

As a young boy my parents taught us to pray Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight. It’s God’s way of saying Be Sure that What You Say is Worth Saying.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Sometimes You Might Need Some Duct Tape!

Some of the most valuable lessons in life are learned in the school of hard knocks. There are life-lessons that will never be picked up through formal education or in books. Many things are only learned through experience. I’ve (sometimes unfortunately) had to learn many lessons that way. I’ve also learned many great lessons through experience, such as, you can fix almost anything with WD-40 and duct tape!

Popular Mechanics online lists 15 useful things you can do with duct tape, including,

• waterproofing your shoes
• removing pet hair from your furniture
• as a make-shift pest strip
• covering power cords in a high traffic area
• repairing holes in a sleeping bag, beach ball or snow pants

My all time favorite use of duct tape was the pilot in Alaska whose small plane was ripped apart by a bear who smelled fresh bait left in the plane. After surveying the damage the pilot radioed for a plane to drop him three cases of duct tape which he used to wrap his plane and then he flew home!

Another creative use of duct tape happened this past weekend in the NBA playoffs. The coach of the Dallas Mavericks had previously been fined $25,000 for criticizing the refs. In the post game interview, rather than risking another hefty fine, he tapped his mouth shut. Not a bad idea! Words can get you in trouble.

The Bible talks a lot about the power of words. For example,

Proverbs 12:18
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Matthew 12:35
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things

James 1:26
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless

One of the hardest things for any of us to do is to control our words. David, the Psalmist, recognized just how difficult it is and prayed; Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth (Psalm 141:3). If this is an area that you struggle with, maybe that’s how you should pray.

Asking God to guard your mouth, however, does not relieve you of responsibility. We are still accountable for our words. That means we have to stop make excuses for the way we talk to other people.

So here are six truthful statements to ponder:

• No, you don’t have the right to say anything you want to say

• Yes, you are responsible for every word you speak

• No, there’s no excuse that is acceptable for ungodly, unkind words

• Yes, your words have great power

• No, you are NOT a good person if your words are not good words

• Yes, your words tell everyone what is in your heart

One final thought – Sometimes you might need to use some duct tape.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Bless Your Heart!

It’s a Southern thing. If you’ve ever spent time in the southern states you’ve probably heard it. It’s said in that sugary sweet southern drawl that can only come from a true-born and bred southern belle: Bless your heart!

It sounds nice but it doesn’t always mean what you might think it means. As one southern belle explained; here in the South we believe in being polite, even if it kills us…so sometimes when we really want to say something nasty, we just say “Bless your heart” because it makes us feel better.

For the southern ladies the phrase has a wide range of meanings from can you believe she wore that dress (which would then be Bless her heart) to I wish I could make it better. Believe it or not there’s a real art in knowing how and when to use it. If you want more insight into the mind of a southern lady read this light-hearted article titled The Many Nuances of “Bless Your Heart” . . . written by a true southern belle. Check it out here.

On a more serious note we Christians have some of those less-than-helpful phrases. Things we say that on the surface can be taken to mean one thing but in reality mean something entirely different.

For example when someone catches you after church as you’re rushing out the door to take Billy to his Sunday afternoon soccer game – and they want to tell you all of their problems. And you throw them a I’ll pray for you. Which means if I ever remember whatever it was you said I’ll add it to the end of my next prayer – and then promptly forget about it.

Or – and here’s one from the book of James (James 2:14-17), someone shares their burdens with you and you give them one of those be warmed and be filled brother, only today we say God bless you! But we really don’t do anything to help them.

Or how about the phrase, Just trust God, which gets us off the hook like we don’t need to do anything else because God will take care of it and we don’t help them carry their burden (check out Galatians 6:2).

The Apostle Paul reminds us let your speech always be with grace (Colossians 4:6). Words of grace are words that are authentic. They are words that help and heal and strengthen the one to whom they are spoken. They are words of genuine comfort and blessing to the hearer. They aren’t words spoken one way but with a hidden meaning. They are true, straightforward and clear.

Hey, it’s OK to say Bless your heart, or I’ll pray for you, or God bless you, or Just trust God, as long as you mean what you say and in saying it impart grace to the hearer.

So I want to say to you, Bless your heart! – and I say it with all sincerity. I want God to bless you in great and wonderful ways. I want God to bless you like you’ve never known blessing before. I want God to literally overwhelm you with His blessing. So again let me say, Bless your heart!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Christians and Civil Discourse

One of the areas that Christians seem to shy away from discussing is Christians and Civil Discourse. Put simply, civil discourse has to do with how we verbally (in person, in writing, on Facebook or Twitter etc) engage people with different opinions (often held passionately) in a kind and courteous manner.

As I began to look at the information available online several things stood out. The first thing that I noticed was that there are a number of organizations who make the concept of civil discourse a major aspect of their focus. The Nation Institute for Civil Discourse, the Project Civil Discourse, the Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy, and Citizens for Civil Discourse (whose primary goal seems to be to stop politicians from making robocalls! – I think they may be onto something!) are just a few that I found.

The second thing that I quickly noticed in my brief survey was that I only found one Christian organization that addressed this issue. There may be more, and probably are, but I didn’t find them. That shouldn’t be. As Christians we should be at the forefront of the discussion. After all, our faith directly addresses this issue.

I recognize that the issue of civil discourse can be used to intimidate people into silence by their opponents. The minute something is said that disagrees with their position the label of intolerant is hung on them and they are accused of violating the laws of civil discourse. Christians can run up against this in the areas of same sex relationships and abortion. That in itself, however, should not stop us from addressing those who disagree with us in a Biblical, i.e. civil manner.

Several passages are worth noting here. In Colossians 4:6 the Apostle Paul writes: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. The each one is defined in the preceding verse as those who are outside, that is, unbelievers. As Christians we are to speak to those who disagree with us with grace and in a way that is purifying to the culture around us. Too often we have equated purifying speech with confrontational speech, but God equates it with graceful speech.

Another passage, and there are more, that applies here is Ephesians 4:29-32:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

While this was directed to believers interacting with other believers, do you think that God has one standard for how we talk to each other and another standard for how we talk to those outside the faith? Our speech is ALWAYS to impart grace to the hearers. There is NEVER to be a time when what we say can be characterized by bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor or malice. Unfortunately Christians are often the ones accused of ignoring civil discourse, and sometimes it’s true.

I’m not advocating silence. Christians need to speak up on the cultural issues of the day. But we need to do it in a way that is consistent with the Word of God. After all, true civil discourse is simply Godly discourse. In this area we need to be known as people who practice speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

When Misunderstandings Escalate

It’s bound to happen sooner or later. You say something, thinking that you were perfectly clear, only to find out later that the person you were talking to took away something entirely different from your conversation. There was a classic misunderstanding between you and another person. Of course it can also happen the other way. Another person says something or acts in a way that you interpret entirely different from how they meant it.

Most misunderstandings are relatively minor in nature and can quickly be resolved or forgotten. The problem, however, is that inherent in misunderstandings is the potential for harm. If misunderstandings are not either ignored or resolved they can escalate into something far greater than their relative importance.

How many times has a misunderstanding come between you and someone else? I’m not referring to the garden variety misunderstanding that happens every day (although it may have started out that way). I’m talking about those misunderstandings that have the potential to separate friends; damage relationships; and wreak churches and homes. Unfortunately it’s happened to most of us in our lifetimes.

So what does the Bible say about handling misunderstandings? Although there are not a great number of passages that address this issue, there are several that can give us direction.

For example Matthew 5:22-24 teaches that if you know that someone has something against you, you are to make every effort to resolve it. Misunderstandings would fall into this category. This instruction relates to the person who said or committed the act, not to the person who misunderstood them.

But sometimes you may say something and not realize that it was misunderstood by the other party. That’s where 1 Corinthians 13 comes in with instructions on Christian love. Verse 5 says love keeps no record of wrongs done to it. In other words the person who misunderstood the communication has a responsibility not to file the perceived slight in the back of their minds so they can dwell on it whenever they think about you. Verse 7 goes on to say that love bears all things or as one translation says, love puts up with anything. When you have been misunderstood that person is not to automatically take offense, instead they are to put up or forbear with you. That’s a word that we don’t often use; it means to politely or patiently restrain an impulse to do something. That is they are to restrain the impulse to be offended. That would take care of most misunderstandings.

While there are other passages that bear on this issue, these are sufficient to demonstrate the need to deal with anything that can come between Christians, even if it is something as innocuous as a simple misunderstanding.

One last thought. It’s our words that get us in the most trouble – and that’s where most misunderstandings originate. James 3 warns us to bridle our tongues because their potential for harm is drastically disproportionate to their size. It’s just common sense: the less we say the less chance there is that we will be misunderstood.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Demonizing the Other Side

The intense media focus on politics this week with the presidential inauguration brought to mind something that is going on in our society. There is a dangerous trend in America today that is both unhealthy and ultimately self-defeating. I’m not sure when it first entered our culture as an accepted practice but it has become so commonplace that most Americans are completely unfazed by it. It is most obvious in the political realm but it doesn’t stop there. And that’s part of the danger – it can easily creep from the political to the personal.

I’m talking about the trend of demonizing anyone who disagrees with us. It’s no longer enough to disagree on issues, we have to depict the other side as out to destroy our culture – our religion – our freedoms – our constitution – our families – etc. etc.. And in the process we paint them in the most pejorative terms possible. Think about the last political advertisement you saw endorsed by the opposition. With literally thousands of photographs available to use, which one did they choose? Right. They chose the most unflattering picture they could find. That’s just one small example of demonizing the other side. We do it best with our words.

Political parties demonize the opposition. Special interest groups demonize those who champion a different position. We demonize the obnoxious neighbor; the athlete who was caught using performance enhancing drugs; the girl who chose an abortion over life; the Christian couple who gets a divorce; anyone who supports same-sex marriage. The only people we don’t demonize are those who sin the way we sin.

The saddest aspect of this is that Christians are no different from the culture in general. Listen to a group of Evangelical Christians talking about politics. It won’t be long before someone (often more than one) demonizes a liberal politician, if not by the words they use then by their tone (you can do it more than one way). In our minds those who support gay rights, abortion on demand, the welfare state, amnesty for illegals, the legalization of drugs, and/or euthanasia are evil – out to destroy everything we hold sacred. And we feel justified in portraying them in the most damning way possible.

In warning early Christians to watch out for people who had infiltrated the church for their own personal gain the Apostle Jude used the example of Michael the archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude vss 4f). Even as exalted a being as the archangel of God dared not bring against him (Satan) a reviling accusation (vs 9). The term reviling is the word from which we get the term blaspheme. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines it as speech injurious to another’s good name. Michael was not willing to demonize (no pun intended) the greatest demon of all! So where do we get the idea that we can demonize a mere mortal man?

Disagreement, even passionate disagreement, is one thing – and I would argue that it is healthy to our democracy. But demonizing the other side is not passionate disagreement – it is contrary to everything the Bible says and stands for. We would do well to listen to the words of the Apostle Paul: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:6).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve