If you said THAT, this it's time to gain some weight

As soon as the words left my lips, I knew that what I had uttered was not true. I was trying to make a point about what it meant to be responsible for our own actions, but what came out didn't exactly match up with the truth I was trying to convey. What I had said was along the lines of, "God only helps those who can help themselves," and I'm sure that I had crossed far more egregious lines with my words before in a more private setting, but this time I was far from being in a one-on-one conversation with a patient friend. I was preaching a message from the Bible in front of the people of my church.

Now let me set the stage a little bit better for you. At the time that I spoke these poorly chosen words, I was in my young 20's and serving as a youth director at a small church on the outskirts of an even smaller town. It was my first solo church gig. The pastor there was a really awesome guy who, in the few months that we served together, took me under his wing and made it a point to give me opportunities to preach as often as he could (or that he would dare).

Not quite ready for the Sunday morning showcase, I typically sharpened my craft in the Sunday evening service, where more often than not there would be a few dozen in attendance at best. In case you didn't know, Sunday evening services at small churches are typically reserved for faithful church goers who never miss an opportunity to sit in their favorite pew no matter what the occasion. It was on such a Sunday night service that I made my biblical blunder, and the stammering and stuttering that followed only made it more awkward for me to recover.

Now to their credit, the church members that were in attendance that night didn't seemed phased. It's probably because they weren't truly listening to me in the first place, and who could blame them - my nerves had caused me to speak so rapidly that I could barely follow along! But I did get to have a time to debrief with the pastor and I highlighted my error before he could, which resulted in a few good-natured laughs and an admonishment from him to weigh my words more carefully before they ever reached my tongue.

If you buy an article of clothing at the store and it doesn't fit, you can take it back. Unfortunately, poorly spoken words can't be returned, even if they can be forgiven. What you say has instantly been put on the record books, and no amount of hemming and hawing is going to change that. In a world where politicians are constantly trying to deny saying what has been captured on digital media for the world to hear, you would think that we would be much more careful on the front end with what we say before we get royally burned on the back end.

Just the other day a well-known pastor of a megachurch - a man whose ministry I admire greatly - said something in his Sunday morning sermon that rankled a whole lot of feathers (just in case you don't want to watch the clip, he said that if you don't go to a church big enough to provide certain environments for your kids, then you are being selfish and you don't care about your kids and their spiritual future). The response on social media - at least among those I know who are in the ministry - was swift and one-sided. True, many had been waiting a long time to take a nice swing at this guy, but most could not get over the fact that this man, who has an audience quite possibly in the millions when you count those who tune in online, would be careless enough to say what he said.

Did he really mean it? I mean, as many times as he's preached in his life and as careful as he must be with his sermon preparation, would he have said such a thing if he didn't weigh it out first? To this man's credit he took to social media a couple of days later to apologize, stating that once he took the time to listen to what he had said that he, too, was offended by it. For some, his apology will be enough for them to move on under his leadership but for others it will be the final straw.

I don't think I have to tell you this by now but I will anyway - the words that you say are so incredibly important! As a father of four kids I can't tell you how many times I have put my foot in my mouth with some of the words that I have said to them, and please don't bring up all of the misguided and just plain stupid things that I have said to my wife over the years. When you and I neglect to weigh the words that we are about to speak, we can expect to encounter some pretty awkward and painful moments.

But there is good new for us who are prone to foot-in-mouth disease! The Bible has lots of great wisdom to offer about the words that we say, especially in the Old Testament book of Proverbs:
The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Proverbs 10:21)
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. (Proverbs 15:28)
Do you see the trend here? There is direct connection between wisdom and the words that we say. In other words, if we take the time to think about what we say before we say it - if we carefully weigh our words - chances are we won't have to take to social media to publicly apologize for our blunders.

I was fortunate enough when I was in my young 20's that the careless words I said before my little congregation did not have many ears to irritate. From that circumstance and others like it, I was able to grow and move on as a more careful communicator, a craft that I still work at diligently today. As a pastor I understand the awesome privilege I have to preach God's word and the accountability that goes with that. But I also know that no matter what you do in life - whether your stage is small or grand - the words that you say will always influence other people.

Learn to weigh your words on the scale of truth and common sense before you speak them. It's always better to take extra time on the front end to formulate what you are going to say than to have to spend lots of time and energy on the back end trying to explain what you actually meant to say in the first place. 

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