Words You Can’t Take Back

There has been so much bile and venom spit during this election, I’m kind of hoping that everyone has run out for the next decade. That’s probably a lot to hope for, but I did want to say a few words on Election Day.

Remember, once everything is over, we will all have one president. We’re called to be a people who pray for the leaders of this country. And, honestly, I’m not sure most Christians have taken that to heart the past 8 years. Either way, a little under half of the country will have to eat their words with some roast crow and humble pie for dessert.

Once the election is over, we’ll need to reconcile. We’ll need to apologize. We’ll need to work all the harder to make sure that we stay “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Let’s work for justice, let’s protect liberty – all of it, yours and the other persons you don’t agree with.

Pray for this country, its leaders, and its people. Pray for peace, for justice, for unity. And then, most importantly, be a peacemaker, a seeker of righteousness, and a force for unity.

(And remember, your kids will hear what you shout at the TV tonight.)

Photo Credit: Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey vi Flickr

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Free Speech Doesn’t Exist

Bills. I hate them. If I had realized what a drag paying bills would be when I was younger I would have… well, I would have enjoyed the lack of responsibility more, I guess. Since no one has found a way to reverse aging or time, I am continuing on the inevitability train further into adulthood. And, again, I figured people at my age, and certainly older had things all put together. The older I get the more I realize no one has any idea what’s going on and some people are much better at faking it than others.

A couple of days have passed since the first 2016 Presidential debate and I have been puzzling over the debate itself (of which I watched only 20 minutes before vomiting a little in my mouth and switching it off) and the resulting flurry of analyses – oh and the Facebook posts and tweets, let’s not forget them. People feel as though free speech has been under fire now for several years, what with “political correctness” (whatever that actually means, now) and different movements pushing for understanding, justice, and inclusive language. Speech has never been free, nor will it ever be free.

Don’t tune out. This isn’t going where you think it’s going. You’re expecting me to launch into how men and women have fought and died for your ability to say what you think and feel. And I am happy to shortchange that expectation. You know that already, none of us need that lecture again.

No, so few of us consider the cost of our words. Jesus pointed out, rightly, that we will have to answer for every careless word we say. Our words interact with a kind of budget, and eventually we will have to have a divine audit to see what we did with our budget. I say cost in that whatever we say takes or gives. Consider that we are capable of saying whatever we want, but not everything is helpful, productive, or worthwhile. (Everything is permissible, but not all things are beneficial, to be Biblical about it.)

When we carelessly, or intentionally, say hurtful things we pay a cost in two ways. One, we carve off a bit of our own humanity to pay for that comment. Causing pain to others is not how God designed humanity, and when we go against that design, we remove, little by little, those things which make us most human. With each hurtful phrase we carve off compassion, mercy, empathy, understanding, and we become less. Secondly, when we say hurtful things, we also carve off a bit of the person we hurt to pay for our words. We carve off bits that make them human as well: dignity, self-worth, identity. As my family has always said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Meaning, no matter if it seems free, someone had to pay or work to make that free-ness possible. This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about contempt in Matthew 5:21-22, contempt doesn’t just damage the abused, it also damages the abuser.

On a more positive note, though, we can make investments. in others, and ourselves, by using language that is uplifting, helpful, and thought-through. There is so much venom and hatred being spewed out like some nasty sci-fi monster on the internet today, why add to it or share it? Instead, why not pray for one another, use kind language, and listen to others when they speak? When we listen, understand, and think through our words, we give ourselves and others the dignity they deserve as images of God.

And here’s the kicker… and the scary part. If humans are made in the image of God, any abuse or violence, physical or verbal, directed toward them is also directed toward God. Just sit with that for a moment and let it sink in.

What words do your kids hear you use to describe others? Do your children see you listening and using understanding, or leaping to conclusions? How can you better model a Jesus-like example of using constructive, beneficial language?

Manly Fruit

Ok, as an artistic, not-so-macho man, I may not be the person to write this particular post. On the other hand, I’ve heard lately that some people consider the Fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians to be a list of very soft traits. I’d like to correct that.

For one, it was written by a man’s man: Paul of Tarsus. This, if you recall, is the same man that regularly confronted people who were slacking off or missing the mark in the church family. He also dealt with things like shipwreck, beatings, philosophical meetings, and church board meetings. So for all intents and purposes, this guy, on top of being a tent maker, managed to punch several points into his “man card.”

So what would make anyone think the list of wonderful traits in Galatians might not be the manliest of qualities? Let’s see here… we have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Oh… ok. Yeah, the wording here isn’t exactly the cover of a gearhead magazine.

Ok, so let’s go through these and see if we can’t see the deeper meaning here.

First off, love. Sure. Men sometimes have a hard time with this word. Getting a guy to say, “I love you,” can be a bit of a task, even if he genuinely feels the sentiment. But what is the sentiment in the first place? It’s the “I’d take a bullet for you” sentiment. In action movies, when does the guy say he loves the girl? Right before or just after the near-suicidal rescue attempt. Love, in this case, isn’t a mushy feeling, it’s a statement of putting someone else’s needs, safety, and survival above my own. It’s self-sacrifice. And, dang it, men aspire to be the kind of guy that would do that kind of thing. We ask ourselves that question when we watch movies or the news, “Would I be the guy to stand up and protect everyone else?”

Also, just to add on to love and the rest of the following traits. Love doesn’t mean standing back and watching someone destroy themselves. Sometimes, like Paul, like Jesus, like Peter, it involves reaching into someones life and (literally or figuratively) slapping someone awake to reality. Confrontation is a part of looking out for someone’s best interest, especially when they cannot see the harm they’re doing to themselves. Love contains courage, truthfulness, and a desire to pick people up and watch them succeed. This is what motivates teachers, coaches, generals, and squad leaders. We call it different things, but it’s a sense that we can help people by watching their backs and helping them succeed even when they don’t believe they can.

Second, joy. No, this isn’t a “happy-go-lucky” smile plastered across our face. Joy is the expectation of good even in the face of defeat or disaster. In other words: hope. And what person could face off against the likes of evil empires, destructive tyrants, or gross injustice without a sense of something good coming down the pipes? What man could face the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, or an impending disaster without the hope that things will turn out ok in the end? Joy is necessary to the soldier, the rescue worker, or the corporate climber – it’s looking at the end product and working toward that good after all the work has been done.

Third, peace. It doesn’t just mean calmness. It’s a clarity of mind that comes from being connected to something bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine. It’s the kind of clarity that allows a person to see the wrong in the world and fight against it. It’s the clarity that allows a person to have their lives in order to the point where they can begin pulling others out of the line of fire. It’s the sense of letting go of daily worries  so that the job at hand can be done with excellence.

Next, patience – it’s not just for dealing with annoying people anymore. It’s also connected with joy. It’s being able to play the long game, to outwit, outplay, and outlast whatever obstacle is in the way of victory. Patience is necessary for knowing which risks to take, and which ones will just waste time and energy. Great generals, and people of history had this kind of patience when they were setting up to change the world.

After patience comes kindness. Kindness isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting someone walk over us. Kindness is being capable of voluntarily “giving the shirt off our back.” It isn’t a demanded kindness, it is an offer of help from a place of strength and assurance. It’s like being a safe port during a storm for another human being. It’s sharing rations with survivors of disasters or giving a car to someone in need.

Goodness. We’ve missed this one a lot in the past few years. This isn’t goodie-two-shoes stuff. This is the deep integrity of character we admire out of great men like Lincoln, Washington, Socrates, Churchill, and many more. The great men of history who changed the world for the better, but also maintained a sense of virtue when not in the public eye. We value integrity, honor, and loyalty, and goodness contains all of these things and more, especially when connected to the goodness of God.

Faithfulness. Loyalty. Who are the most hated men in history? The cowards, the betrayers, the disloyal. Many of them have their names become synonymous with the act of betrayal: Judas, Brutus, Benedict. Loyalty goes with integrity, as stated above. Men who stay loyal, who stand their guard or man their post in the face of overwhelming odds are celebrated. Faithfulness may be one of the most honored traits on this list because it does require so much courage to remain faithful as the ship is sinking.

Gentleness. This one probably gets the worst rap of all of these. “But gentleness is weakness.” Obviously you don’t understand the English language. Gentleness is power under control. Consider this example: a sick horse lying on the ground in pain and whimpering and a Clydesdale, gigantic muscles rippling as it leans its muzzle down slowly for a child to pet it. Which one would you say is gentle? A baby is not gentle, but that baby’s gigantic, ripped father with plate-sized hands cradling the tiny body is gentle. Gentleness is being able to wield power (physical, mental, financial, or political) in such a way as not to crush those around us.

Self control. Call this one weakness, and I’ll ask you to find your way to a martial arts training facility. That’ll change your mind quickly. See above for explanation, but suffice it to say, many of our honored men of history were self-controlled. They maintained a constant work ethic and disciplined mental activity to accomplish great feats – whether those be military, artistic, literary, culinary, or politically. Guided effort over time can create the greatest change.

So, in short, the idea that the Fruits of the Spirit are all weakness and not power – kind of a false illusion. In a way, the world has tried to strip away the powerful attributes of Jesus and use particular words to tone him down. As said in the following verse, “against such things there is no law.” Again, these are some of the highest human traits – the pinnacle of what it means to be fully human -to be fully alive!

Which trait most speaks to you? Which one is the hardest for you? How are you helping to train your kids into using the power we have through Jesus to build the Kingdom and change the world for the better?

“Oh yeah? Bless you too!”

In the beginning God created… and he spoke… and it was. And he said it was good. (Or in the case of one of our adorable little ones at church, “It was dood.”)

We all have a sense of the power of words, but sometimes I think our modern minds have tried to over rationalize things. “Sticks and stones” and similar sayings play down the effect words can have. The individualization of America has taught us that we shouldn’t care what other people think… but we still do. (Which is why people say that phrase to begin with, to create a persona of aloof courage, all the while painfully nursing the wound. Much like me getting hurt doing something I wasn’t supposed to when I was younger: “I’m ok. It doesn’t hurt at all. Oh, sure, my leg always looked like that.”)

Ancient magicians in Egypt and Greece had a healthy respect for words. They believed words themselves held power, creative power given to humanity by the gods. We often associate words with magic with spells, incantations, hexes, curses, etc. All of these are words – words that are believed to have the ability to actually impact the physical world. And, albeit in a strange way, they latched onto a truth about the world.

Words do have power. They have the power to heal, hurt, encourage, depress, inspire, or manipulate. Tones have the ability to change the meaning of entire phrases, and can undermine even the kindest of words.

James, the brother of Jesus, took some time out of his day to write a book of wisdom, of practical religion. You know what he spends nearly a whole chapter on? Words. James 3 is a whole treatise on the use of our words. Paul talks about it. Proverbs has many verses on words and how to use them. Our own experience shows us that words can have powerful effects on the people around us. And in all of human experiences there are two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Negative first, since I like ending on a positive note. The curse has been for most of human history feared and taken as the utmost offense. And back in the olden days, they really knew how to curse. Nowadays most cursing involves a simple 4-letter Saxon word and a pronoun (you.) Curses could be long, calling down poor crops, poverty, sickness, pain, and many other undesirable effects. And here is where James says is the problem with Jesus disciples using this. How, he says, are you seriously going to let such an awful thing come out of your mouth? Your mouth is supposed to be a life-giving spring connected to the life-giver Himself, and you’d allow such hateful sewage be sprayed onto another human being, who is also created in the image of God?

On the positive side, think about that image of a spring of water. A spring refreshes, heals, cleanses, and cools. That’s the goal of the blessing. The blessing is a prayer for goodness, health, wealth, gifts, and many good things directed at another human being. There are some wonderful blessings in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible. We even see God blessing humanity with fertility, authority, and responsibility. Paul includes a blessing or two in each of his letters to the churches.

If you’ve never considered what the blessing could do, I’m recommending a book. This book is titled The “B” Word. Catchy title, huh? It’s written by Robert Strand, a pastor and writer. In it, he uses Scripture to highlight the benefits and the ins and outs of blessing someone, especially children. See, he has a tradition in his family of blessing every grandchild when they reach the age of 13. The entire family gathers together and each member prays a blessing over the child. The effects of these blessings has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold over the years as these children live into and experience the fullness of the blessings they may not have understood at the time.

So, what’s the point? Well, consider changing your language. Instead of, “[insert word of choice here] you!” Maybe try praying blessings over others. “But, that’s ridiculous,” you say, “that sounds like weakness and extremism!” Maybe, but the man I follow, Jesus, did that very thing while soldiers were beating him and while the crowds jeered and mocked him. Saying a blessing over someone who cuts you off in traffic instead of cursing them seems like a small step in the light of Jesus’ example.

How does your language reflect your walk with Jesus? Do your kids hear blessings from you, or only criticism and curses? Do your children hear you bless others or curse them? What’s one situation this week where you can intentionally make an effort to control your words and use them in Jesus’ name.