Words That Build Or Destroy

I highly recommend watching the movie “Darkest Hour” and Gary Oldman’s Oscar winning portrayal of Winston Churchill during the dark days of WWII. The story was so fascinating that I’m now reading the book “Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink” by Anthony McCarten. In the forward to the book McCarten makes this interesting observation about Churchill and the power of language in a dark time.

When Winston died, it was said of him that in those dark days in 1940, when Britain stood alone before a monstrous enemy, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.

That phrase “he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” really struck me. Winston Churchill was able to harness the power of language to rally a beaten-down nation to rise up against fascism and ultimately defeat it. Sadly I’m not seeing a lot of that kind of use of language these days. I see, and hear, and read, statesmen on both sides of the political spectrum devolving into mean spirited, low blow, accusatory dialogue that divide and conquer people. Sadly I see even more of this in social media where everyday people are treating social media as this vehicle for stream of consciousness commentary, as if what they’re writing isn’t permanent (which it is in this information age) and isn’t hurting anybody because nobody is standing in front of them when they write whatever they want to write.

If you’re one of the readers of my blog, please lift your social media commentary to the place where all that you are writing is fair, avoids demonizing others, and builds bridges between people. Our words really do matter, and they are not neutral. Every word spoken or written has the power to either build or destroy. We must use our words wisely bearing in mind what James, the half brother of Jesus, observed about the tongue in the book of James.

The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.   James 3: 5-10

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Guns N’ Walkouts

As I write thousands of high school students around our nation are walking out of their classrooms to attempt communicating their concern to state and federal leaders about gun violence in schools. Now I know that I have different readers who have different reactions to my first sentence. Some may love this idea and this “enough is enough” expression from the students. Others may have a strong negative reaction, feeling as if these students are being goaded by a teacher’s union conglomerate who want to take away 2nd Amendment rights. Who knows, there is likely a smattering of truth in both of these reactions.

I’m just writing to say that I love my sons and I’m proud of them. As they got ready to go to school we talked about what they intended to do with this national protest. They explored all of the right questions without me asking. They wondered: Will this walk-out really accomplish anything? Who is watching? Does a walk-out in Santa Cruz matter and would it just be better to stay in class? Is this walk-out just a good excuse to ditch class? These are the kinds of questions we believers need to be helping our children ask about the world Jesus has called them to live within. We are, whether we like it or not, in this world – and yet not of this world. How are my sons, and your children, to stand for what they believe reflects God’s kingdom values?

This is especially poignant when you understand the world our kids have inherited from us as described by Jean M. Twenge PhD in her book iGen: Why today’s super connected kids are less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy —  and completely unprepared for adulthood — and what that means for the rest of us.  Dr. Twenge writes:

iGen is distinct from every previous generation in how its members spend their time, how they behave, and their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures, and they have no patience for inequality based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. They are a the forefront of the worst mental health crisis ind decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011 . . . the iGen idea: the world is an inherently dangerous place because every social interaction carries the risk of being hurt. You never know what someone is going to say, and there’s no way to protect yourself from it. – Jean M. Twenge

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Tears And Love

The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. – Frederick Beuchner 

Last night I got to listen to a team of six people from Faith Community Church share their personal experience serving God in Zambia last month. In a way it’s hard to both share and understand a life altering experience like theirs. Our team who went to Zambia found it hard to help the rest of us really understand what God did in them and through them. For those who didn’t go to Zambia, it’s was hard to really feel what the team felt deeply in their soul simply because we weren’t there. But every time someone from the team shared a story, and they couldn’t hold back tears, there was an immediate translation. I immediately knew that they had encountered the heart of God for the world they lived in. They had seen poverty and been moved by it. They had seen the injustice of hunger and been angered by it. They had seen generosity shared with them by people with so much less than them and they’d been sobered by the experience. They had also encountered God, and the power of Gospel, in ways they had not before and their tears moved my heart. As the Frederick Beuchner quote says, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.” My question to you my reader is simply this: where is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger, and what do you need to change in your life in order to more freely serve the kingdom of God and feel God’s pleasure as you work in that place?

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Wisdom From A Demon

Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want.  – Your affectionate Uncle Screwtape

My wife and I are re-reading the brilliant book The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. In the book master demon, “Uncle Screwtape” tells his dear nephew what’s up when it comes to working as a demon tempter attempting to destroy the work of God in the life of God’s highest creation – humanity. An imaginary demon’s insight into the dangers of prosperity, especially in our consumptive culture, is really sobering and really true. So I ask myself today, and I ask you, are we finding more of our place in the world or is the world finding more of its place in us?



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The Beauty Of A Loving Church

Last week a few beautiful moments took place in the life of our local church. One of those moments is the one that would usually get the most attention. We sent out a team to Zambia on an international mission of compassion and hope. They did the incredible work of presenting the hope of Jesus out in a distant village, and they did it through a massive soccer tournament where they hosted, fed, and shared the Good News with local soccer clubs. Our team returned home last week and we got to hear all the amazing stories of how God used them on this trip. The things they shared truly are worthy of attention and celebration because they are beautiful works of God!

At the same time our Zambian team made their long trek home, a small group of women did something just as beautiful even though it wasn’t going to get much attention. You see, one of the men in our church became very sick a few weeks ago. He was hospitalized for an entire week with a very serious virus, and had now come home to his wife and 3 sons for a very long recovery process. His wife is now carrying a heavy load and needs support. So the women of her bible study set up a good time, and worked within her wishes, to clean her house and get things all set up for a long road of her husband’s recovery. These women came in gently, respecting the family’s dignity, and worked alongside of them to get their house in good running order. Just a simple, respectful, helpful and beautiful act of love. So cool! I still can’t believe I get to be the pastor of the amazing and beautiful people of Faith Community Church!

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Is Our Church Vital To Our Community?

I just finished reading “Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World” by Tim Muehlhoff, Richard Langer, and Quentin J. Schultze. Let me share this thought with you today:

Church historian Bruce Winter points out that ancient Christians often served as benefactors to help better city life. They “paid for public works from their private resources in order to enhance the environs of their cities.” Government officials made sure to take notice of such benefactors—both religious and nonreligious—and publicly acknowledge them. Winter argues that this type of public praise is what the apostle Paul is referring to when, in discussing the power local officials have to punish bad behavior and reward good, he writes, “Do what is right and you will be commended” (Rom 13: 3) . . . Winter sums up his argument: “The picture emerges of a positive role being taken by rich Christians for the well-being of the community at large and the appropriateness and importance of due recognition by ruling authorities for their contribution” . . . Many Christians today also feel the desire to meet the needs of their communities, but remain isolated when projects are accomplished internally with church funds and volunteers. Unlike Christian benefactors in the New Testament, believers today often give only to explicitly Christian projects. While we may minister to a community, are we perceived as being an integral part of it? Sociologists refer to the resources a community has at its disposal as social capital. Much like a hiker takes stock of supplies—three matches, one flashlight, a single canteen of water—a community takes stock of its resources when facing a tragedy. For instance, they may know that the Rotary Club can answer an appeal for money, the local high school can be used for an emergency shelter, and so on. A local church must ask whether it is perceived as vital to the community’s social capital or just a group of people who merely take care of their own.

What do you think?

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Our Political Atmosphere Isn’t Hopeless

As far as I can tell the group Better Angels is not a Christian organization, but they are a grass roots movement seeking to reduce political polarization in America one guided conversation at a time. Their work provides a hopeful sign of what we all would like to see happen – listening to one another, and having a better understanding of where we can all come together. In their signature “Red/Blue Workshop” they bring together 7 conservative-leaning participants and 7 progressive-leaning participants for moderated activities and discussions that clarify disagreements, reduce stereotyped thinking, and begin building the relationships needed to find common ground. Better Angels reminds us through pure use of communication skills what the Gospel already tells Christians – no matter what our political leanings we are all the same and it is possible to live in peace. Check out this video and see if it doesn’t provide a little hope.

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