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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Why Can’t We Just Play Nice?!

I’ve written similar posts to this in the past and I don’t want to be redundant. However, it remains a problem in our culture. Not just in our culture in general, where it is a problem, but in our evangelical Christian culture, where it shouldn’t be.

I’m talking about the way we talk to people we don’t agree with and beyond that, the way we treat people we don’t agree with.

You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t tell the difference between Christian posts on social media and everyone else. And I often can’t tell the difference – even in some of my posts (this is me asking God for forgiveness).

Our evangelical posts (not all by any means) are often mean-spirited, derogatory, unkind, and demeaning of the opinions and people we don’t agree with. They get very personal. Why can’t we just play nice?

I’m sure that every mother of toddlers is tired of saying, play nice! But mothers under-stand that they have to keep saying it because toddlers will be toddlers and they have to learn.

But we’re supposed to be past that stage. We’re supposed to be spiritual adults. Unfortunately, some Christians fall into the category of people that the writer of Hebrews was talking too when he said that by now you should be eating solid spiritual food but you’re still drinking from the baby bottle (Hebrews 5:12-14).

So, what does it mean to play nice? One writer defined it this way: when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife

In other words, playing nice is just what the words say. But it’s not the words themselves that we need to work on. It’s the application of the words. Because the application is to people we really don’t agree with. People we believe are wrong, wrong, wrong. People who, we believe at the least are terribly misguided and at the worst are out to change our country in some very undesirable ways.

While neither the phrase playing nice, nor this definition are strictly biblical, they certainly agree with the bible’s description of a Christian whose responses to life are to be radically different from everyone else’s.

Paul in the book of Romans summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

That certainly doesn’t sound as fun as ridiculing someone on Facebook or sending out caustic Tweets. After all, if we don’t put them down, who will?

But then that’s not the point.

The point is to reflect Jesus.

So how have your recent Facebook posts and Tweets reflected the Savior?

If there is anything that evangelical Christians need to learn in the current politically divisive environment, it’s how to play nice.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

What’s With All the Anger?

I can’t prove it and I don’t want to overstate it, but it seems like anger has taken over. We live in an angry world. Just watch the news or read any online news site and you’ll see it. Anger abounds.

It was evident in the Senate hearings for the Supreme Court Justice. It showed up in the women’s final of the U. S. Open. Nike has experienced it. John Gruden knows what it’s about. Bob Woodward has raised the level.

If that isn’t enough to convince you just check out Facebook posts!

And it’s not just in the United States. It’s in every country. Political parties promote anger to get their voters to the polls. Athletes hype themselves up on anger. The rest of us resort to anger when we don’t like what someone else has done.

It really doesn’t take much to set us off.

The Bible has something to say about anger.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. Ephesians 4:3

But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Colossians 3:8

Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:20

Yes, I know it also says Be angry and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26) and a lot of Christians use that as their go-to text to justify their anger. Go ahead, try it – getting angry without sinning. You won’t get far with that.

God lumps anger in with bitterness, blasphemy, and filthy talk. Things most Christians try to avoid at all costs. Things Christians condemn in others while harboring anger in their own lives.

Talk about hypocrisy.

The fact is that God condemns anger in the strongest terms because it is the exact opposite of what He is trying to accomplish in your life.

You can’t have anger and holiness. The two cannot coexist. You’re either going to have one or the other.

So the next time that you’re tempted to speak about someone in anger, or lash out on Facebook in anger, remember that you and God aren’t on the same path.

And He’s not the one that needs to change.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

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

Why Can’t We Get Along?

Our world seems to thrive on adversity and disagreement. I just checked one of the largest on-line news agencies – every article on world events was about disagreements, people not getting along. That’s the world we live in.

But forget about the world, we can’t change it. What about people? People like us, just ordinary people. Why can’t we get along with other ordinary people? Especially, why can’t Christians get along with other Christians? Admit it, we don’t always.

I want to offer four observations that I believe have the potential to eliminate most disagreements between Christians and help us get along with each other. We may not be able to change the world but we can change our behavior.

1. Give other people the benefit of the doubt.

Have you ever noticed how we often tend to assume the worst of other people? When someone says something we don’t like we immediately assume that they were trying to hurt us. Maybe they didn’t mean what they said the way you heard what they said. Maybe there’s more to the story than you know that precipitated their actions. Maybe it’s really YOUR problem and not theirs. Many times a situation can be diffused simply by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The phrase believes all things means to see the best in others, not to automatically think the worst of them. Christ-like love is always ready to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

2. Treat people with respect.

It sounds easy but we don’t always do it. If we would learn to treat other people with respect it would diffuse so many difficult situations and avoid so many conflicts. Marriages fall apart because couples never learn to treat each other with respect. Churches split because people never learn to treat other people with respect. Politicians are at loggerheads (a state of quarrelsome disagreement) because they never learn to treat other people with respect.

Matthew 7:12 says whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Except for a few oddballs we all want to be treated with respect. Notice that the burden is placed back on us – how we treat others is the point not how they treat us. If we train ourselves to treat other people with respect we’ll find that we will get along with them much better.

3. Refrain from being a Crusader.

By this I mean that we don’t always have to correct everyone. Sometimes we just need to let them be wrong – in the long run it probably won’t make that much difference. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. After college I took a job working for a large Christian organization. One day I was given contradictory instructions by two of the leaders. Convinced that one of them was wrong I took it upon myself to straighten out the situation by going to the other leader, hoping that he would put this man in his place. It wasn’t that I was wrong in my analysis – but I was wrong in how I attempted to handle the situation. I remember to this day, forty-one years later, exactly where I was when that man said to me, Steve, don’t always be a crusader. His words have stuck with me all these years. Not that I’ve always succeeded in following his advice, but he was right. We don’t always have to correct everyone and make sure that they know they’re wrong. By the way, I have great respect for that man even though his words stung.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, Let no man, then, set his own advantage as his objective, but rather the good of his neighbor. When the good of the other person is our real objective rather than straightening them out, we’ll handle the situation differently.

4. Throw out the record.

So many times we don’t get along with other people because we remember that at some point in time they offended us. Remember the proverbial little black book with all the girls’ phone numbers in it? Many Christians keep their own little black book in the back of their minds filled with every slight that has ever been committed against them, real or perceived.

1 Corinthians 13:4 says Love thinks no evil. The idea is that when you are living in Jesus love you don’t keep an account of the evil things people have done to you. Some translations put it this way: Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Throw out the record and see if it doesn’t help.

Getting along with other people, especially with Christians should be a priority for us. Not getting along isn’t an option.

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