Mouth issues

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching James 3:1-12 at my church. Yesterday I also faced the dread of preaching James 3:-12 at my church. Why the dread? Because this passage of Scripture addresses the power of the tongue, i.e. of the words that we use, and just how destructive they can be. As someone whose words have gotten him into hot water time and time again, I felt like I was speaking into a mirror the entire time, hearing words that I desperately needed to hear but so badly wanted to avoid.

Take a minute to recall some contentious conversations you may have recently had. Did you get angry and lose your temper, resulting in harsh words and a louder than healthy volume? Or are you the master of the art of sarcasm, cutting into others with your cruel wit and venom? How about gossip? Have you spent a lot of time recently criticizing others, knocking their worth and value down a few pegs? I could go on, but I think that you get the idea.

We ALL struggle with the words that we say, just some of us more than others. And think of the damage that words can inflict: Hurt or even ruined relationships; reduced trust that others have in you; skewing someone's self-esteem; even driving others to harm themselves. And as a parent, I shudder to think of how my careless words have led my own children to believe that such language was okay.

In James 3, there are several examples of just how devastating our words can be:
  • They are capable of leading us in directions we don't want to go (3:3-5)
  • They are like a raging fire, burning anyone in their path (3:6)
  • They are like an untameable beast that runs out of control (3:7-8)
  • And harmful words can function as a paradox, completely contradicting the words of hope, grace, and love that we should be using. (3:9-12)
Word are powerful and once they are spoken they cannot be unsaid. Careless words also have consequences that we often are not prepared to deal with. Many a man and woman have ruined relationships, alienated friends and family, and annihilated trust because of the poisonous venom of the tongue.

Words should matter to us because they most certainly matter to God. He gave us life and breath, the ability to communicate with our words, and He did not intend that we misuse the gifts that He has given to us. As one who has struggled for many years to tame my own tongue, allow me to leave you with what I believe will be a few suggestions that all of us can benefit from when it comes to taming the power of the tongue:
  1. Speak only words that heal, not hurt (Proverbs 12:18)
  2. Think before you speak (Ephesians 4:29)
  3. Hold yourself to the same standard of speech that you set for others (Proverbs 15:1)
  4. Speak only the words that you would say if Jesus was physically in the room with you (Psalm 19:14)
Our words are powerful and what we say matters. Guard your tongues and the words that you say. Filter your speech so that what you say draws people to Jesus instead of pushing them away from Him. 

I'll take one order of higher ground to go, please

Higher ground. It's where people go when rising waters threaten to devastate their homes and everything else that they cherish. Going to higher ground during a major hurricane or flood is a no-brainer. If you stay where you are, then there is really only one option - you will get soaked at best and washed away at worst. Who wants to drown in swirling waters when there is a safe refuge nearby?

America just finished a contentious election. I know, I'm Master of the Obvious, right? Social media has allowed America's citizens to voice their glee and dismay, optimism and devastation at the click of a few buttons. Depending upon whom your digital "friends" are, you have probably seen a whole host of not-so-friendly posts from those who believe a new age of awesomeness has been ushered in - or is it a new age of going to hell in a hand basket?

Every single time I read someone's impassioned thoughts on social media, I realize that there will be many vultures coming out of the woodwork to pick at the meat of those thoughts. This is not always a bad thing. I love the fact that we have dissenting voices in America because I truly believe that diversity is a beautiful thing.

But let's be honest. What you and I have seen and heard the past few days has been anything but beautiful, much less helpful. I get it - people are angry and upset or elated and overjoyed. Yet time and time again I've seen my friends and acquaintances wade back into the danger zone of a flood of emotions and vitriol that has no exit door.

It's time to take the higher ground.

I am not one to tip my hat to my political leanings because, well, they are kind of complicated. I am a registered Independent and I do my best to vote issues, not people. But man, it has been so difficult these past couple of days to refrain from responding to bigoted, arrogant, selfish, and near-sighted posts from many of my friends on social media! Yet I have avoided doing just that.

Why? Besides the obvious that I've yet to ever see a social media post about politics ever make the world a better place, I choose to take the higher ground. And that's not because I'm some sort of exceptional person or anything. It's just that I realized that if I got me feet even just a little bit wet in the flood of negativity, vitriol, and hate, then the rest of me would be swimming before long.

Look, if you're mad, then I get it. And if you are celebrating, I get it too. Yet I also realize that our country is divided into many different segments of people who have radically different world views of which they are zealously passionate. And while there are a few people out there that actually want to discuss issues, most want to assassinate another person's character, whether that person is the winner, the loser, or sitting in front of a keyboard. Thanks, but no thanks.

My friends, please take the higher ground. Before you dip your toe into that cesspool of incivility and hatred, head for the hills. Log off of social media. Refrain from pushing the "hate" and "ignorance" buttons on your keyboard. Some of the best agents of change were those who anticipated disaster and took a different route to avoid it altogether. Never heard of them? That's the whole point. If you are someone who has already voiced toxic opinions, then you can't take back what you have said (or typed) but you can step toward the higher ground.

Can I leave you with the most amazing example of what this looks like? 2,000 years ago a man named Jesus took everything that His haters could throw at Him and the only defense He took was with the truth that He proclaimed. As a result, He received a death sentence. Even then He chose to respond not with hate but instead took the higher ground on a cross perched on hill outside of town. He did this for you and He did this for me so that we could be saved from our sin and ourselves and thus take the higher ground in the future - that perch from which we could also treat our friends and neighbors and fellow country men with the same love and respect that He afforded to us.

Get out of the water and take to higher ground. It's not too late.

Who's got your back?

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