With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. – James 3:9-10
Rebekah and I headed in to Raleigh Sunday, to visit with First Presbyterian Church downtown. I had been a couple of weeks ago, when Rebekah was in Florida; but I have to tell you, going to church together is so much more like going to church!
As it was Rebekah’s first time, she stood up when they asked who was visiting. So we scored some “first-timers” pound cake (see photo below).
More importantly mega-kudos to senior pastor Ed McLeod for an excellent message. He preached from James 3, commenting extensively on an idea that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time, and he did it very well.
I’ll begin this post by stealing Ed’s opening illustration. But it’s not really stealing because it’s a story I already knew, and unattributed to begin with. Or, as Ed said, “I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know that it is true.”
Stripped down, this story – and Ed told it beautifully, with more detail – illustrates a profound truth I learned many times in just my first year teaching:
A Major League Baseball player volunteered by visiting prisons, sharing his story and listening. One day an inmate asked, “How did you make it into the majors?”
He answered, “When my dad played catch with me he always said, ‘If you keep throwing like that, one day you’ll be in the majors!’ and, ‘if you keep catching like that, one day you’ll be in the majors.’ My dad always encouraged me,” the ballplayer said, “and it turns out he was right.”
The inmate replied, thoughtfully, “I understand, and you’re on to something. You see my father always told me I was no good, that I was worthless, and that I wouldn’t amount to anything. He said one day I’d most likely end up in prison. It turns out he was right.”
Let me pose Rebekah’s famous Bible teaching question here: “So what?”
The so what? is the deep truth from James that words are incredibly powerful, and that we live in a social-political climate right now where communication across the board seems saturated with angry, negative, hateful, divisive, condemning, damning, spiteful words.
The deep truth is that we have the opportunity, instead, to reverse the tide of conflict and negativity.
A few years ago I dedicated several pages to this idea in my book, The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian. Listen to this series of quotations:
“If our vocabulary is littered with negativity, bitterness, sarcasm, hateful expressions, or bigotry, then our thoughts will likewise be governed by the shape of these words.”
“If, however, we use words of grace, expressions of life, phrases of encouragement, and sayings of benevolence, our thoughts and ultimately our actions are lifted up.”
“The average working vocabulary has been variously estimated between 10,000 and 25,000 words. I wonder how many of those are words of grace? The English language includes upwards of a half million words, so there are certainly enough to choose from if we want to enrich our selections.”
“As Christian disciples we can make an ongoing decision to fill our hearts and minds with the powerful and healing words of God. We can cultivate a deliberate vocabulary of grace, words that possess the authority to transform us…”
Words not only with the authority to transform us, but with the authority to transform the world around us too.
In John 6, Jesus asks his disciples of they are going to join the crowds of people walking away from his message when things started to get difficult: Then Jesus said to the twelve followers, “Will you leave Me also?” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, who else can we go to? Only you have the words that give life…”
Only Jesus has the words that give life. – DEREK