More About Words…

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There is an old story about an elderly couple who was approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. They had planned a small celebration with family and close friends. As the special day approached, the wife ventured to share a concern she had about the relationship with her husband.

“You know, dear, it has been a very long time since you’ve said, ‘I love you.’ In fact, I can’t remember the last time you said it.” She held her breathe, hopeful for some sign of affection.

The husband growled, “I told you on our wedding day. If I change my mind, I will let you know!”

It’s a wonder that this couple had managed to be married for so long.

Spoken words are powerful. Words left unspoken also carry a power of their own. They morph by people’s imaginations. Assumptions run wild.

There are four phrases that should be spoken often.

  1. I love you (or I care about you). Relationships need to be nurtured. At home and in the workplace, people need to know they matter to you. With my husband and kids, I made a commitment to say “I love you” every day before they left the house. If something unexpectedly tragic happened, I wanted my last words to be “I love you.” When spoken, the expression of affection builds others up.
  2. I appreciate you. It’s important to mention specific actions or attributes that you appreciate. Naming somebody’s strengths and talents affirms their positive qualities and encourages them to continue expressing them. Appreciation also creates a sense of value in the hearer.
  3. I’m sorry. Be genuine and mention what you are sorry about. Admitting that you are wrong and sorry establishes a safe environment. Mistakes are learning opportunities. By your example, others will be encouraged to take ownership for their actions and apologize for wrong-doing.
  4. I forgive you. Embrace the humility of Jesus and be quick to forgive. Let go of pride and refuse to hold a grudge. We receive God’s forgiveness when we forgive others. The LORD has graciously forgiven us and continues to forgives, and empowers us to walk in forgiveness toward others.

Let’s bless others with our words. May we speak words of life and love, building people up and glorifying the LORD. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NLT).

Four Questions to Guide our Words

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Words are powerful. The LORD God brought creation into being through words. “Let there be______. And it was so.” (Genesis 1). We have the ability to speak life or death into situations (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, we must keep a tight rein on our tongues (James 1:26).

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of The Alpha Course and Vicar of HTB in London, offers three questions to guide our words. I have added a fourth. As we pass our words through the filter of these questions, our mouths become refreshing wellsprings of wisdom and revelation.

  1. Is it true? As Christ-followers we are called to honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Our words must embody truth. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT).
  2. Is it kind? With our words we build up or tear down. Is our motivation to benefit the hearer, or is it to get something off our chest? “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  3. Is it necessary? Is there a sense of urgency to avert danger or avoid a costly mistake? Perhaps it is essential to speak up on behalf of some else, or to highlight their positive achievements. Don’t use an opportunity to pridefully show off your knowledge. Instead determine necessity by being others-focused. “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
  4. Is the timing right? Is the audience able to give their undivided attention? Is there space to interact? If not, wait. Our words and the timing of delivery must both be right. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11).

Our words are designed to make a difference. In our families and in the places we lead, our words can set the tone of honoring God and one another, creating an environment of health, respect, caring, learning, and thriving.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

ALL Human Life is Sacred: The Leader’s Call

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Since 1984 the month of January has been set aside to promote the Sanctity of Human Life. President Ronald Reagan established January 22 as the official day, and churches observe it on the Sunday closest to that. However, as time has gone on, the entire month of January is dedicated to focusing on the sacredness of all human life.

Society values life according to the quality of life and the contributions one can provide. Certain segments of the population value a particular skin color, ethnicity, lifestyle, or political affiliation as worth more than others. If someone doesn’t conform, they are discriminated against, ostracized, or treated with violence.

God’s standards are different than society’s standards. God loves all human life. Every human being is sacred, created in the LORD’s image.  

We can go back to the beginning of creation to some of the earliest Sunday school lessons in Genesis chapter one. On the sixth day, God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us” (v. 26a, NLT). (The words “us” and “our” reference the relationship of the Trinity.)

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (v. 27).

At the end of the sixth day, “God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! (v. 31, emphasis mine). At the end of the first five days of creation, God saw that it was good. But this day with the creation of human beings in God’s own image, it was very good.

Just two chapters later, the first human beings fell from God’s original intention. They opened the door to disobedience and all its consequences. Thankfully, Jesus came to redeem us and give us new life. The fall may have marred humanity; nevertheless, every person is still created in the image of God. As a result, all life—from conception until death—is sacred and worthy of respect, dignity, and protection. All human life matters to God; what matters to God must matter to us.

Psalm 139 provides beautiful imagery of God’s loving, abiding presence. He is constantly thinking about us with precious thoughts that cannot be numbered. Verse 13-16 depict the caring, skillful craftsmanship of the pre-born baby in the womb. While the words were written by David, they describe God’s relationship with every person.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Every human being is sacred and priceless. God loves each and every one of us. Nothing can diminish a person’s worth—not age, sickness, disability, hardship, oppression, or any other barrier.

With that in mind, we must embrace the beauty of life. Life becomes even more beautiful when we surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow Him to transform us.

Nobody is exempt from the beauty of life. In the Book of Revelation, we get a glimpse into heaven.

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9, NIV).

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When we pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), we ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven establishes the pattern to follow. Heaven has a great multitude of Jesus-followers from every nation, tribe, people and language. Here on earth, despite the ugliness, messiness, and brokenness people may encounter, life is still sacred, it is still beautiful, and it has breath-taking variety.

As Christians and servant leaders, we must consider every person as created in the image of God, and we must look at them through the lens of God’s love and potential. Then, we will be prepared to truly love our neighbors—all of them.

Note: I made the words “all” and “every” bold to accentuate the point that no person is excluded from being treated as sacred and valued.

One Word for the Year

Welcome to 2021. For many people, the passing of 2020 brings a sense of relief, not because the new year magically rid the world of all its problem, but because we have successfully lived through a year considered the most difficult one in recent history. When the clock struck midnight, the weariness of the past 366 days (2020 was a Leap Year) was lifted, and replaced by hope for better days. Even though the coronavirus is still here and social and political issues continue unchanged, the new year brings a renewed determination to flourish.

The new year also symbolizes the new life and new start available through trust in Jesus Christ. We can pack up our mistakes and offer them to the LORD, in exchange for a clean slate and another chance to do better.

I have a meaningful tradition for starting the new year with fresh faith. I select One Word for the Year.  Instead of making a new year’s resolution (which has an eight percent success rate), I spent time in prayer (talking and intentionally listening to the LORD) and choose a personal word to direct my course for the year and provide inspiration to become a better version of myself. It usually takes serious and deliberate time with the LORD to come up with your One Word, although I have heard from some colleagues that they asked God for direction and immediately discerned their One Word.

I can attest to the power of One Word, as I have practiced this for several years. Last year my One Word was “fearless,” with the accompanying Scripture verse: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a, NIV). Little did I know how often I would come back to that word to face problems and challenging situations with courage.

Last summer, I realized that the non-profit I lead would be unable to have our usual annual fall fundraiser due to COVID-19 restrictions. As we converted to a virtual format, stress and anxiety began to mount an attack on my mind and health.

At the perfect time, my assistant gently approached me saying, “What is your One Word for the Year?”

I tried to pull the word from my memory without success. I ran to my office and found it in the middle of my bulletin board. The bright red graphic emphasized the word like a neon sign. How could I forget? I raced back and breathlessly announced, “It’s ‘fearless.’”

“I think the LORD really wants you to remember your word, especially now,” my assistant pointed out.

“Point taken,” I agreed smiling. “Thanks for your help.”

There are different ways for identifying your One Word for the Year. You know how the LORD relates with you. I encourage you to connect with God in the ways that work best for you. However, if you’d like some direction, here are some basic steps for choosing your One Word for the Year.

  1. Reflect. Think about the past year. Is there a direction you’d like to change or a quality you’d like to add to your life? In what area does the LORD desire you to growth?
  2. Imagine. Think about what the perfect day would feel like. Focus particularly on how you feel during this perfect day. This is best done during quiet time, meditation, or prayer. Is there a Bible verse the LORD keeps bringing to your attention?
  3. Create a list. Set a timer and create a list of words. No erasing or changing words. Once it’s on paper, leave it alone and keep going. If you prefer, Google a list of words as a starting point. If you already have a particular direction for your word, write it down and add as many similar words that come to mind. Continue to pray.
  4. Review and refine. Review your list. Highlight or circle your top three. Pay attention to how each one makes you feel. More importantly, to which word do you feel the LORD leading?
  5. Ask yourself: Which of these words am I most willing to commit to? If the word merely interests you, most likely you won’t make the changes necessary to implement it. Commitment is the key to success. Take as long as you need to think and pray this through (but don’t procrastinate).
  6. Choose your word. Which one has the LORD confirmed to you? Which one are you 100% committed to? That’s the word for you!

Make sure you write and post it somewhere you will see it regularly, even daily. Be as creative as you want to highlight the importance of your One Word for the Year.

My word for 2021?

“Expectation.”

The Scripture verse is: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Heb. 11:1, NLT).

I would love to hear about your experience with One Word for the Year. I am celebrating with you!

Note: One Word for the Year can work for your team, department, or organization. It is a simple yet powerful tool to bring focus to your efforts and activities.