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.

Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

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“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).

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.