Word Power


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Zechariah 4:1-14, Ephesians 4:17-32, Matthew 9:1-8

Speech has the power to build up or to tear down. We might claim words are only words, but they impact the world around us and inside us in real ways. The words our parents speak to us in childhood can enhance or undermine confidence throughout our lives. Gossip can destroy reputations. Journalists can topple empires and poets can terrify dictators. As people following Christ, we are called to use our words constructively.

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”

Gossip may be the low-hanging fruit of evil talk, but it is a bumper crop. Not every truth needs to be spoken to every person, especially uninvolved parties. On the occasions we find it necessary to share a harsh truth, our words can be direct without being vindictive. A message that shames or belittles for our momentary satisfaction is not necessary to offer correction or guidance. As rhetoric grows more divisive in this age of anonymous internet comments and confrontational “reality” television, we are encouraged to have an opinion about everything. In matters where we lack knowledge or have no stake, it’s perfectly acceptable to have no opinion at all and stick with it. When we “tell it like it is,” consequences be damned, we reveal more ignorance than wisdom. Bernard Meltzer advises us to ask ourselves if what we are about to say is true, necessary, or kind; if it’s none of these, perhaps we should practice silence.

Yes we must speak up to confront injustice. To share the gospel. To teach each other. But always – always – we are speaking to other children of God.

Words matter because they are manifestation of thoughts, and therefore ignite action. Let silence be a dam between your thoughts and your lips. Release their power in a controlled fashion so as not to leave chaos in your wake. What you hold back represents potential; what you spill can not be reclaimed.

Comfort: Your words have the ability to give grace to those who hear.

Challenge: This week, be especially mindful of when you are silent and when you speak.

Prayer: Loving God, be present in my thoughts, on my lips, and in my heart. Amen.

Discussion: How many of your unnecessary, unhelpful, or unkind words could be replaced with better words or silence?

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Celebrity Gossip


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Genesis 37:25-36, 1 Corinthians 2:1-13, Mark 1:29-45

The fastest form of communication known to humankind may be … gossip. The most mundane fact becomes interesting if someone tries to keep it a secret. Celebrities and publicists take advantage of this quirk of human nature all the time by “leaking” information to stoke curiosity about a project or event that otherwise might have garnered little notice. Both giving and receiving such information produce a thrill of being part of an inner circle.

So why would Jesus – with his incisive understanding of human nature – bother to tell a man he had healed of leprosy to “say nothing to anyone?”

Maybe it was because he knew that the wrong kind of fame would attract the attention of his enemies sooner rather than later. Even for Jesus, fame was a difficult beast to tame. Like many modern “superstars,” he quickly became a victim of his own success. He wanted to control the spread of his message, but the more famous he became, the less he was able to travel and teach freely, or to find solitude to renew himself. Eventually he stayed put while the crowds came to him.

If the healed man is any indication, it seems that while God invites us to cooperate with “the plan,” its eventual success doesn’t hinge on our individual compliance. Our disregard may even be turned to an advantage. Jay Bakker, son of controversial televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker, abandoned the church and turned to substance abuse as a reaction to scandals plaguing his family. Surely substance abuse is not part of God’s plan for anyone, but his experiences equipped him to co-found Revolution Church, a successful ministry reaching many people neglected or feared by more traditional churches.

It can be comforting to believe everything happens for a reason. Could it be even more comforting to believe that, no matter why something happens, even if it initially seems to go against the plan, God can turn it toward his purpose? From loose-lipped lepers to prodigal sons, we can all be instruments of the divine will. Who are you going to let in on the secret?

Comfort: You can be part of God’s plan, but it won’t be derailed when you are.

Challenge: Be sure information you pass along is true and necessary.

Prayer: Loving God, please help me to discern your will, and to trust you when I can’t. Amen.

Discussion: When have you seen seeming disaster turned around for good?

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