Category Archives: words

what you say matters…

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We live in a world of words. I wake up in the morning and one of the first things I begin my day with, outside of fumbling with the french press, is read. I read Facebook, Twitter, emails, The Bible, Instagram (pictures say a lot) and sometimes I may even have time to pick up a comic before my morning run. Then there is my morning run and my commute to work where I listen to Podcasts or Audio books. We literally fill our worlds with words. And unless you’ve been living under a rock lately you realize how divisive these words can be. I look at the reactions from my Christian brother’s and sister’s to the confirmation hearings surrounding Judge Kavanaugh and I am astounded at how much vitriol our words have been laced with on both sides of the aisle. It’s almost as if we have allowed our political and religious stances to embolden our language to the point that we don’t care how it makes another feel as long as we are perceived as being right…and our kids are watching our words.

We’ve always been told that our kids observe our actions and hear our words, but I think sometimes we forget about this audience. And how we react to political and cultural situations in the world around us actually effects how our kids will react as well. Now I don’t want to get into a political discussion defending one side or the other, but it is important how we discuss these things with our teens and kids. In his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul has this to say about our words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29 Unwholesome talk that tears down or belittles another created image of God (I think it’s safe to say we have been guilty of this on both sides of the aisle, present company included). Instead we are to engage in talk that is helpful for building others up and benefits the ones who are listening. In other words, it is so important to think about the one’s who are listening.

So when we slander or doubt the validity of a person just because we don’t agree with their political affiliation, those who are listening receive permission to do the same. When we doubt the testimony of the powerless against the powerful we give others permission to continue to marginalize the weak. When we belittle others because in doing so we feel all the more right in who we are and what we believe those around us take on those same bully traits in their interactions with those they disagree with. I for one have had quite enough of the church finding itself divided into camps that the world deems necessary. I’ve had quite enough of our words becoming weaponized because that’s what the current cultural climate deems necessary. The way of the cross demands that our words and actions rise above the fray to show a third way and I think it’s high time we take into account the audience that is listening to our words. Maybe then we might be able to truly live into our role as the Bride of Christ, not simply for ourselves, but for the church that is being raised up by our words.

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noisy

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This morning, as I am often apt to do on days that I blog, I woke up and thought to myself, “What in the world am I going to write about today?” I’m sure there’s some fancy phrase for this dilemma like writer’s stymie or writer’s barricade…but anyway.  As one is apt to do in this situation I turned to my trusty friend social media to see if I could find inspiration and was immediately inundated, nay overwhelmed with commentaries, discussions, opinions, etc. on everything under the sun. It’s as if social media has become an interstate clogged with billboards intended to either bottleneck traffic or have you swerve off the road entirely. Trying to make sense of all that is coming at you could almost be a full-time job and I was looking here for inspiration…? I wonder how often we step into the social media fray hoping to come away inspired and bettered by what we encounter there? And in the same vein how often do we come away feeling like we’ve encountered nothing but noise?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament revolves around the prophet Elijah. Elijah is a titan of a prophet who has an amazing showdown with over 400 prophets of Ba’al and sees YHWH answer with fire from Heaven. And then as if that isn’t enough he declares the end of a drought and then outruns a royal chariot on foot. Then in the midst of all the noise he receives a death threat from the queen and runs and hides for fear of his life. To answer Elijah among all of the noise God takes him to a solitary place and here is where we pick up in scripture. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

The phrase in the scripture for “gentle whisper” is actually best translated “sound of sheer silence”. This is where the prophet, who has been surrounded by noise and craziness and even good things, encounters God. This is where the prophet finds the ability to keep going. This is where the prophet finds inspiration. And I began to think about how often I disengage from the noise. How often do we turn off our devices? How often do we turn off the news? How often do we turn off our echo chambers that affirm how we think in order to listen to the One in whom we believe? My challenge to myself and perhaps to you as well today is to allow the noise to be the noise. May we also give space in our lives to the quiet so that perhaps we may have that same encounter in the “gentle whisper” which is the space in which the Spirit often speaks.


in so many words

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Those of you who know me well, know that I love the outdoors and I love music. In fact, one of my favorite things are outdoor concerts…I just usually can’t afford them. Yesterday was another one of those can’t afford them days, but I made the most of it. While clearing brush from my fence line (a task probably a few years overdue) I kept my phone near by and kept the Avett Brother’s playing as loud as it would go. Much of the time I sang along as well which I’m sure was not pleasant for many within earshot. There is one song that whenever it comes up always strikes me with how poignant the lyrics are. The song is called Ten Thousand Words and the main chorus goes like this, “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different, We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”And even though this song came out almost a decade ago, the lyrics are just as meaningful in our world today as they were then. The underlying truth in that line is what gets me…especially as someone who earns his living primarily talking.

Talking, especially about something we may not know the whole story about, is something we seem to be rather fond of these days. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I don’t like to often think of myself as a fool, although I think I have been called worse, but I am not sure that I always speak from a completely informed platform. I try to pride myself on being culturally relevant and savvy; I study scripture and commentaries for Biblical insight; and I am a social scientist regarding the lives of my students and the environment in which they live. I even started listening to more podcasts to seem more informed about the subjects I tend to engage in with others. But there are still limitations to what I am able to collect in terms of information. I still haven’t walked in everyone’s shoes and I still am unable to see things from their perspectives completely, so maybe there is space to check myself before gushing out my opinion on everything.

What’s sad is when people have no consideration for the others’ beliefs or convictions. We attempt to speak truth/judgment upon them without fully knowing their story. I believe as Christians that we have a message which is of dire importance that we must share with people, but if we don’t know our message well, if we don’t know our audience, if we have no consideration for who they are and where they come from…then we might as well be gushing folly. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. So maybe we could all use that check on our words. And I know I may fall into the category of being like most people who don’t know what they are talking about…but I think we all know better.


ground rules

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So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.

I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.

  • In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
  • In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.

I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.


words words words

In William Shakespeare’s definitive work Hamlet we get to have a front row seat as the title character slips into madness. As his condition begins to take hold there is a poignant scene in Act II where the Danish prince is confronted by Polonius in his attempt to ascertain what is troubling the prince. “Polonius: What do you read, my lord? Hamlet: Words, words, words.” Sometimes I feel like I can relate to the young prince as it seems as if all of our society is slipping into madness. “What troubles you young pastor? What do you read?” “Words, Words, Words”. And that’s a lot of what seems to be wrong today. All around us we see print, posts, quotes, rants, etc. of careless and misused and misaligned words. And at the end of the day, what good is it doing?

Time and time again the writers of scripture warn us about the dangers of words and their usage. Paul in writing to his young protege Timothy says this, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”‭‭ – II Timothy‬ ‭2:23‬ ‭James in writing to the church has this to say, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” – James 3:9. Obviously the writers of the New Testament new the danger and the responsibility we have with our words and yet…this lesson seems to have fallen short on modern readers. All to quickly we jump into the fray on social media. All to quickly we have to make sure people know our opinion before we even get into a conversation. All to quickly we have to make sure people know what we are against before we actually take the time to get to know them. And all of this accomplished through words.

In late February my wife and I took in two foster boys. As is often the case with foster situations we have face some developmental challenges. The younger of the two is about to turn two and he still hasn’t developed the ability to speak words. He’s quite good at shrieking or even growling, but the cognition to form words isn’t really there yet. But just think about that with me for a minute. The gift of speech is quite incredible. We take breath into our lungs and then pass it over our vocal chords while forming our mouth in a certain fashion and it becomes spoken word. Our very ability to speak and even type or write words is nothing short of miraculous and yet it is a gift we so often take for granted. With this gift we have a responsibility. Do our words give life? Do our words bring the Kingdom of God? Or are the words we share, form, write, rant, etc. simply contributing to the madness around us? Today may you measure your words a bit more carefully. Today may you find the words you speak, the articles you share, the posts you engage with having eternal meaning in a world so fixed on the next temporary thought. And may it not simply be words, words, words.

 


the blank page

There is nothing worse for a writer and yet there is nothing better for a writer than the blank page (not that I necessarily consider myself a writer…I just like to write sometimes). In that blank page is the infinite void and also the limitless potential. In that page universes spin out of control, fates are decided and yet in that page there is frustration and writer’s block. What possesses someone to come to that page and think, “yeah, I can do this”? Often times I stare at the screen in front of me or the blank page before me and just sit in despair. Who am I? Why would anyone listen to anything I have to say? What could I possibly put down that would make the world around me better for having read it? It almost seems to border on arrogance. But then I realize that I really am not the creator…I am simply the steward.

You see once upon a time creation happened. I don’t really care particularly how you think it happened (that is a different discussion for a different day), just as long as you agree that once upon a time something came from nothing; ex nihilo if you will. And out of this nothing, this blank page, life spun into existence. Some accounts speak of a Creator speaking into life all of existence and from that we eventually end up where we are today. Every atom, cell, cluster, fiber, muscle, breath, thought, expression, emotion, etc. eventually came from that nothing to something moment. And consequently every thought, expression, written word, played arrangement, and sung melody is really an act of co-creation, participation in that which was brought into existence at that creative moment. The poems, songs, prose, art, designs, structures, dances, plans and every  other creative achievement are ultimately an expression of stewardship in the gifts offered up in that original creative act. Although a rather negative expression of this partnership, the teacher in Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.Is there anything of which one can say,“Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

But I don’t like to think of it in negative terms or as a means for despair. In fact, co-creating may be one of the most Holy things we get to participate in. Think about it. We are expressing in us the in-born imago dei (image of God) that seeks to create beauty where there is none. It seeks to create order out of chaos. It seeks to speak light into darkness and bring life where death previously reigned. Maybe this makes the blank page even more of a necessity to our lives. I share an office with another creative type at our church and above his desk he has a print of an amazing quote that goes a bit like this, “Look at the blank pages before you with courage. Now fill them with beauty.” – Blaine Hogan

Maybe that is where I find myself. In need of courage to participate in the creative act that happened so long ago. And maybe each of us find ourselves on the precipice of our own blank page as well. May we find our song, poem, dance, design, plan or whatever gift we seek to express and be the best steward we can be as we dance with the Divine.


a bit wordy

There is a scene in the 1998 animated feature “The Prince of Egypt” that I absolutely love. And I think it’s because its also a scene in scripture that I absolutely love. Moses stands before the burning bush i.e. the very presence of YHWH and starts to make excuses for going before pharaoh and the response of the Spirit of God dramatically comes out of the flame, “Who made man’s mouth? Who made the deaf, the mute, the seeing and the blind? Did not I?” Moses cowers under God’s declaration but is eventually comforted by his reassurance. (Seriously if you have never seen this movie you need to. Or at least check out this scene on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5BQWubuC8g). One of the most awesome parts about this movie is it’s Biblical accuracy. Here is the actual text taken from Exodus 4:11-12. “ The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” And Moses goes and according to the story never once struggles with what to say…except when it comes to hitting rocks.

But I am reminded that speech, our very ability to form words, comes from God. I even love that speech is what gives power to God’s actions throughout scripture. The following will be a paraphrase form the gospel according to Andrew…but hopefully you will get the gist. In the beginning God said light and there was light. God calls Samuel as a boy and the nation of Israel is forever changed. God’s still small voice comforts Elijah in the midst of his turmoil. God’s voice shakes the temple in Isaiah’s revelatory experience. Then the voice of God en-fleshed, Jesus himself, gives sight to the blind, chases out demons, stills storms, restores the broken and raises the dead. God’s voice, God’s speech, God’s very words are words of life giving action.

And so today I am reminded, “Who made man’s mouth?…Is it not I?” How am I honoring the creation of God in me? How am I honoring the Spirit that lives within me that is declared by the writer of John as “The Word”? May we honor God, the giver of speech, with what we say today and always as we walk the very earth he spoke into existence.


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