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Monday, May 24, 2021

Cursing

Introduction
If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, I invite you to go to our church website—www.pleasantgrove.cc—and scroll down toward the bottom of the page where you will see links to all our past sermons.  You can listen to them on our podcast or read them on our blog.

Throughout this series, I’ve been telling you that our words matter.  We were made in the image of the God who created the entire universe with words.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be land and water and plants and animals.”  And there was land and water and plants and animals.”  And God made us in His image—to be like Him.  That means our words are powerful too.

 

But a terrible thing happened.  Humanity turned their backs on God.  We walked away from the One who is the source of life and love and goodness.  We chose our own path—and it has become a path of darkness and death and selfishness and hate.  And so everything in our life has become rotten and corrupt.  Even the good things in our life—like love and joy and pleasure—have soured until they taste like a grape that looks and smells good in your hand but is rotten and sour when your put it in your mouth to chew.

 

And so, the words we speak—which should bring blessings and life—often brings curses and death instead.

James 3:6-12
And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

The Powerful But Uncontrollably Tongue

As a kid, I loved to read my older brothers collection of X-Men comic books.  One of the X-Men was a character named Cyclops.  Cyclops shoots a concussive force that looks like lasers from his eyes.  The force is about two Gigawatts of power (or the energy of a large nuclear powerplant). The drawback is, Cyclops can’t control his optic blast.  He must wear special glasses to contain his power vision.  (In the picture, you can see Cyclops touching his visor to release his optic blast against a villain.)  


I saw an X-Men movie once where all the heroes were fighting the villains and one of the bad guys knocked Cyclops' visor off.  His optic blast began spraying out, indiscriminately destroying everything in its path.  Cyclops had to close his eyes to turn it off, but then of course he couldn't see, which was a terrible handicap in the fight.


What do comic book heroes have to do with Christianity?  Well, Cyclops’ uncontrollable optic blast is an image of the uncontrollable human tongue.  Our words are incredibly powerful, but also so hard to control.  Sometimes I feel like the only way I can keep my tongue from destroying is to keep my mouth shut!

 

The Apostle James says people can tame all kinds of animals, but who can tame the tongue?  And it’s true.  People are amazing.  We’ve figured out ways to tame and train horses, lions, tigers, and elephants.  You can even go to Sea World and watch trainers directing Killer Whales. (Now think about that.  They’re not just whales; they’re killer whales! And people have them jumping through hoops and riding on their backs through the water!)

 

But when it comes to the human tongue, people can’t keep their own words under control. 


I was never one to use a lot of foul language while I was growing up.  My mother taught me better. However, when I was in college, I worked the graveyard shift stocking shelves at a grocery store for a time.  There were few customers  in the store during those hours and guys on the stock crew had a habit of using terrible language.  Though I wasn't given to cussin', I found their language was rubbing off on me.  Soon, I was cussin' too.  Even after I left the store, I had developed a habit that took effort to curtail that bad habit.

 

Cussin' is quite common in America in 2021.  Think for a minute what we are doing.  In the south, we call it cussin’ when people use foul language.  Cussin’ is slang for cursing.  What is a curse?  According to the dictionary, a curse is “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.”  Cursing is what witches do, using black magic to invoke evil power to hurt people.

People often think about all the evil and darkness in our world and wonder, "Why is there so much suffering and death? Why do little kids get cancer and die before they've even have a chance to live? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is our world so screwed up?" When I stop and listen to the careless curses flying freely people’s mouths all day long, I can’t help but think it must have a very negative effect on our world.

Words are powerful.  God created the world with words and we are created in God’s image—patterned after Him.  Our words matter too.  They can create or they can destroy.  So many times we are uttering curses, without even paying attention to the words we say.  I know these negative words have a tangible effect on people’s attitudes.  Offensive words and profanities are strong language designed to pack a verbal punch.  They get people’s attention and put them on edge.  I also wonder how all these curses invite dark spiritual forces into our world and into our lives—even if unintentionally.

We know air pollution and water pollution can have ill effects on our spiritual health.  What about spiritual pollution?  We can't study it with science like we can study other physical forms of pollution, but could polluting the spiritual realm with so many curses have ill effects our our spiritual health?  I can't help think it must.

Meanwhile, prayer and blessings are on the decline.  How many people still pray every day? How many say a blessing before their meal?  And we are so quick to criticize and slow to offer encouragment.  Our words tear down and curse when they ought build up and bless.

 

Jesus Saves
Christians have a saying, “Jesus saves.”  He saves us from sin and death.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  But Jesus saves us for more than just heaven.  Jesus saves us for this life too.  Jesus can change the way you act and even how you speak.  He can make you a blessing instead of a curse.

 

The Xman, Cyclops, wears a visor to control and contain his incredibly powerful optic blast.  Christians welcome Jesus in their heart to tame their uncontrollable behavior and their tongue.

 

Jesus said in Mark 7:20-22, “20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”

 

The human heart is full of disgusting wickedness and from the human heart flows all kinds of filthy behavior and language.  When Jesus comes to live in our heart, he begins cleaning us up from the inside out.  If we will allow him, Jesus will throw out all the evil desires and thoughts.  He will disinfect all the filth that coats the walls of our heart.  It’s a process that takes time—maybe even a whole lifetime.  Eventually, what flows out from our hearts becomes more and more godly—like Jesus.  Since he is living in us, our actions become more Christlike.

 

But we have to cooperate.  Jesus won’t force us to change.  We have to be willing.  We have to take our spiritual medicine and do the spiritual exercise that nurtures the change Jesus brings.

 

Tips to Quite Cussin’
Many of our spiritual habits that need to change are centered around our language. We cannot control our tongues, but Jesus can.

1. Ask Jesus to help you.  We can't fix our own problem, but Jesus can and he wants to .  If you ask Him, Jesus will help you control your tonge.

2. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. There few things more effective in helping change yhour behavior than having a good friend hold you to your commitments.  If you are tryien to clean up your language, tell a friend and ask them to hold you accountable.  Of course, sometimes our friends also use bad language.  Be honest with your friends and tel them you are trying to change the way you speak.  Ask them to honor your choice by refraining from bad language as well.  In doing so , you may bring new life to them as well.  If they refuse to honor your decision, it may be time to change your friends.  Do you really need friends who don't respect your choices or wish to help you grow as a person?  Are they really good friends?

3. Find some replacement words. I know this sounds silly, but say "shoot", "dagnabit", of "frick" instead of those curse words you shouldn't say.  Yes, you’ll sound ridiculous. But better to sound ridiculous than to spray out curses.  And the fact you sound ridiculous may help you with the next tip, because our ultimate goal is to change the whole way we think and speak.

4. Think differently. The goal is for curses to not even come to mind.  There will always be times when you pinch a finger in  a door or stub your toe.  But those don't have to be times when you spew curses.  Wouldn't it be great if a curse didn't even come to mind in those moments.  Ask Jesus to help you change the whole way you think so you're more and more like Him.
 

Conclusion

The ungodly bring curses and death.  But 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Christians have the incredible power to bring goodness and light.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  All the families of the earth will be blessed through us.  And God’s Kingdom will come upon the earth.  Therefore, let us surrender control of our hearts and our tongues to the Lord Jesus Christ that He may use them to speak life into our world.

 

Prayer of Confession and Pardon (adapted from the Prayer of Confession UMH 890)

I invite you to use this prayer (or your own) to confess your sins to the Lord and make a commitment to let Him lead you to be more and more like Christ.


Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen


And now, I would like to offer God's pardon with my own prayer for you.


Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Gossip

Proverbs 16:27-28
27 Scoundrels create trouble; their words are a destructive blaze.  28 A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.

 

Which words do you think are the absolute worst? A lot of church people would argue “damn” is a bad word and GD is the absolute worst (even though both are in the Bible).  Using God’s name to damn someone or something is strong language.  Others might say the F-word is the absolute worst—and for many years it was banned from TV and movies even though Ret Butler could tell Scarlett O’Hara in 1939 “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in the major motion picture “Gone with the Wind”.  However, if you polled the nation as a whole in 2021, you would likely find the absolute worst words you can use are racial slurs.  GD and F-bombs are dropped all the time—even on television—but saying the N-word will get you fired or even ruin your career. 

100 years ago, wrong or right, the N-word was used freely and openly by people of all colors in social settings.  Even US presidents like Woodrow Wilson, Lindon B Johnson, Harry Truman, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt unashamedly used the N-word.  It just wasn’t considered a bad word 60 years ago.[i]  Things are different today.  Celebrities like Paul Dean have had their careers disrupted or ruined because of the N-word.  Even Madonna—who made a career of scandalous, unapologetically provocative behavior—had to issue an apology a few years ago for using the N-word. 

In the 1600s, the foulest words you could use were swear words associated with God’s name.  Swearing by "God’s bones" or "God’s blood" was considered extremely taboo and not to be used in polite company.  Such foul language was fit only for sailors and pirates.  (Incidentally, the term “bloody” in the UK, as in “You bloody bastard!” may have descended from the swear “By God’s blood!” which eventually shortened to “bloody” and is still considered quite offensive in the England.)

One term we use today to “pretty up” our cussin’ is the word “darn”.  Where did the word darn come from?  Do we say it just because it sounds sort of like damn?  Darn actually evolved down through the centuries from a phrase used in 16th century swearing, “Eternal damnation”. “Eternal damnation” got shortened to “tarnation” (used by miners and cowboys out west: “Tarnation, these misquitos are eating me alive!”).  Then, “tarnation” was shortened again to just “tarn” and then that became “darn”.  What started out as one of the most offensive things you could say in the 16th century has now become a rather inert word that might be used by Ned Flanders sort of folk.  Can you imagine Ret Butler telling Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn.”  It just doesn't have the same punch.

Putting Pearl Earrings in a Pigs Ear
We like to pretty up our words to make them more palatable.  For instance, we don’t eat pig; we eat pork.  Pig is English; pork comes from French and Latin.  I guess pork taste better to us than pig.  The same rule applies for hamburgers.  We don’t eat cow; we eat beef because beef was originally the French/Latin word and so “100% all beef patty” sounds more appetizing than “100% all cow patty”.  I guess if you give food a fancy name, it’s easier to swallow.  Snails become escargot. Squid becomes calamari.  It’s the same animal, but if you give it a French name on the menu, people will pay top dollar for it.  If you call it by the English animal name, it's fish bait.

And that brings me to another form of foul language people try to pretty up—gossip.

Gossip is one of the vilest forms of speech that comes from human lips, but—ironically—it is the one that’s most common and accepted in polite society.  If you come into a church dropping F-bombs and GD, even the most accommodating congregation will soon escort you out the door.  However, gossip is often runs wild in churches.  This despite the extensive prohibitions against gossip throughout the Bible.

Leviticus 19:16 - Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.

Proverbs 11:13 - A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.

Proverbs 16:28 - A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.

Proverbs 17:4 - Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.

Proverbs 20:19 - A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.

Proverbs 25:23 - As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger!

Proverbs 26:20 - Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.

I could go on, but it would take too long.

Just based off the number of times the Bible speaks negatively about gossip, you would think Christians would be far more concerned about gossip than cuss words.  I think Jesus and the apostles would be.

In Romans, the Apostle what Paul listed gossip right alongside some of the most despicable sins.

Romans 1:29-31
29 
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.

Notice, Paul lists gossip among such despicable sins as murder and hating God.  Wow! 

You need to understand, destructive, sinful, disgusting language is not limited to so called “foul language”.  When people gossip, they are speaking in ways repugnant to God—even if they use polite acceptable words. Gossip is hurtful and offensive and God hates it.

Definition of Gossip
The dictionary definition of gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”  That’s the technical definition, but gossip is sneaky language that easily disguises itself in our conversations.  If we don’t clearly understand the nature of gossip, we may engage in gossip without even knowing we are doing so.  Also understand that not everything people label as gossip is gossip. Sometimes, people are just ashamed and if you say anything about their shameful conduct, they will accuse you of gossip.  Sometimes we do need to talk about each other's business; that's part of what living together in authentic community means. 

It's important to now what is and what isn't gossip. So, here are seven questions that may help you decide if it's gossip.

Is it Gossip?
1. How Certain am I that the information is factually correct?
If it's not true or only partially true and you are spreading it, you are a gossip.  Don't do it.  Sometimes, however, we don't intend to gossip.  Maybe we're
not sure if something is true and we're talking to people because we're trying to find out.  We may even say something like, "I'm not sure if this is true, but I heard..." Maybe we are hoping to get more information, but that's not usually the way it plays out.  The person we ask that question may begin spreading the information as truth.  The next thing you know, everyone's accepted your initial question as a fact.  If you are trying to find if the gossip you heard is true, then go to the source--the person the gossip is about.  They will set you straight.  Otherwise, it may be best to keep your mouth shut.

2. Was the info given in confidence?
If someone shared something with you in confidence (or assumed confidence), then it's a terrible form of gossip to share that with others. Deep meaningful relationships are only possible if people know they can trust you to keep a confidence. Sometimes people need to share something with you and ask for help or maybe even just vent. They need to trust you won't turn around and share that with others. One reason gossip is so evil is it erodes our ability to have deep, meaningful relationships with other people. We end up angry, hurt, and isolated and the whole community it damaged.

3. Is this important enough to share?
Not everything you hear si important enough to share.  Just because something is interesting, fascinating, or juicy doesn't make it important.  Is someone's life or spiritual/emotional/physical health at jeopardy if you remain silent?  Is it truly important or are you just wanting the enjoyment of talking about this situation?  Be honest.

4. Am I telling the story to build others up in Christ? 
Sometimes we do need to talk about each others business when it means building each other up in Christ. In the Church, your business is my business if it is about growing in Christ.  But gossip is not about building each other up in Christ.  Gossip is about derive our entertainment at the expense of someone else's situation and it's distrusting.  I can often tell when someone is about to share gossp with me; they get a certain gleam in their eye.  I don't like to gossip, but I love to eat a good steak.  I get a gleam in my eye when I'm about to eat a juicy ribeye.  When someone who loves gossip is about to share it, you can almost see the same gleam in their eye.  They've got something juicy to tell and they can't wait to devour it.  It's disgusting.  Most church people would agree pornography is distrusting.  I want everyone to understand that gossip is just as distgusting.

5. Am I telling this story to protect others in Christ?
As I said before, it's not necessarily gossip if keeping quiet could truly hurt someone.  However, we need to be honest in answering this question.  Are we truly trying to protect someone or are we making an excuse to give us the opportunity to have the pleasure of talking about someone else's business?

6. What is my motive for telling this particular person about it?
Although we sometimes need to talk to about each others business, we don't necessarily need to talk to everyone about each others business.  Why do you want to tell this particular person about this situation?  Are they the right person to talk to?  Do they really need to know?  Be very careful who you bring into the conversation.  Be clear when you are speaking in confidence and expect people to keep your confidence.

7. Have I prayed about it?
Ask God whether you should talk or remain silent.  Consider: if Jesus were sitting in the room with you during the conversation, would he be pleased with what you're saying?  The fact is, Jesus is there.  He is not pleased when we gossip.

If you are prone to gossip, everyone you talk to likely knows you will talk the same way about them when they're not around. You don't want to be known as a gossip. People want to feel like you have their back, not that you're always talking behind their back.

Conclusion
Gossip is poison—even though it taste sweet. It destroys the person who shares it, harms people who hear it, and hurts people about whom we gossip. Gossip is a deadly evil.

If you are more concerned about “cussing” in the world outside the church than you are about gossip in the church, then you need to check yourself. You need to pray to the Lord for forgiveness for the times you engage in the evil of gossip. You need to repent and make a commitment to clean up your foul language or else you may be in danger of eternal damnation.

How we use words matters. Our words can either build up and bring life or tear down and bring death. Let us pray our words bring life instead of death.

Father, forgive us for using foul language, especially when disgusting gossip was disguised as pretty words.  Help us to be honest, faithful, gracious, and loving when we talk to and about one another.  Help our most important motive be love and to build one another up in Christ.  Father, You created the whole universe with words; You spoke and it was.  You made us in Your image and gave us powerful words to speak.  Forgive us for deforming Your image by speaking words that bring darkness and death.  Fill us with Your Holy Spirit that we may speak words of light and life from this day forward. Amen.



[i] https://chicago.suntimes.com/2016/8/30/18420888/5-white-u-s-presidents-who-used-the-n-word

Monday, May 10, 2021

Strong Language

Introduction
I will never forget the first time I saw my mother cry.  I was still quite young and my mom was trying to close a window.  Somehow it pinched her finger and it must of hurt pretty bad.  It made her cry.  I remember how it shocked me.  I had always seen her (I guess like many young children see their parents) as super human.  I knew children cried--I had cried many times--but I didn't know mama's could cry.  I don't remember her saying any bad words when it happened, but she did cry.

Growing up, my mother taught me not to use bad language and I so I avoided it.  There was one time I was at my uncle’s house and he and my cousin were playing catch with a baseball.  One time it missed the ball and it rolled over into the hedges my uncle had recently trimmed.  I ran over and carelessly stooped down to pick up the ball.  One of the recently pruned limbs cut to a sharp point jabbed me directly in my naked eye!  It hurt!  And it scared me too!  I jumped up screaming "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!" (Only, I didn't say shoot.  I used a bad word that sounds the same.)  To my credit, after only four expletives I realized my aunt and uncle (who wouldn't approve of such language) were looking on and quickly switched to "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!"  To their credit, my aunt and uncle never said anything about my language, but they did make sure I made it to the doctor to get my eye checked out.  Thankfully, I didn't gauge my eye out and go blind.  I just had to wear an eye patch for about a week.

Have you ever though about what makes a word a cuss word?  I mean, why is it ok to say your baby has a poopy diaper but another four-letter word for the same bodily function is considered highly offensive?  Part of the reason is the value society places on some words.  Another reason is sometimes people intentionally use certain words to make a strong statement that won’t be ignored.

Categories of Bad Language
There are actually several categories of language people consider taboo.  We tend to use several terms to describe foul language and often use them interchangeably.  Technically, however, each term describes a different category of taboo language.

Profanity is using words that profane what is sacred. (Last week I talked about how our actions can also be profane and that’s even worse than using profane words.  You can read that blog here.)

Cussing (or cussin’, as we say in the south) is slang for cursing as in “She placed a curse on her ex boyfriend”. (That really gave me pause when I thought about how frequently people cuss in America these days. What spiritual damage might all these curses floating around be doing to our society?)

Swearing was originally religious act. We still see a remnant of this religious practice in our moderns courts of law.  People may swear on a Bible to “…tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” However, swearing is taboo if a person swears falsely or swears flippantly (which is why we often use swearing to describe using bad words). Originally, the category of swearing was reserved for taboo language that misused words associated with religious oaths. Today it can describe any kind of bad language people shouldn't say.

Dirty language is a category that uses words for foul things, private acts, or subjects that ought to be avoided if possible. Of course, even unsavory subjects must be discussed from time to time. In those situations, there are polite ways to discuss using the bathroom, spreading manure on your corn field, or making love to your wife. Dirty language takes those delicate subjects and intentionally uses strong taboo words in order to intentionally make language offensive.

Strong Language
And that brings me to a final category that is the subject of today’s message—strong language.  Strong language is a category that intentionally uses words from any of the previous categories to make a bold statement that gets people's attention. In church society, we usually avoid using strong language.  We prefer to be nice and polite (most of the time).  However, we do read several situations in the Bible where people used strong language to make a critical point.

Matthew 3:5-10
People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Brood of Snakes!
John the Baptist was a wild and fiery preacher sent to prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah.  John appears at the beginning of the New Testament, but he followed a long line of Old Testament prophets who often used strong language to shock their listeners into paying attention God’s Word.  

In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see if Yahweh or Baal were real.  They both built altars for sacrifice and then Elijah invited the prophets of Baal to ask their god to send fire from heaven to to consume their sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal cried out in prayer all day and Baal didn't answer.  So, Elijah started taunting them.  In verse 27 he mocks: "“You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself."  Now, Bible translators tend to soften strong language, because they know these things are going to be read in church.  But you can be sure when Elijah mocked the false prophets, he was intentionally using strong terms for Baal when he said Baal was "relieving" himself.

The prophet Amos called the women of Samaria “fat cows” in Amos 4:1.  

In Galatians 1:8, the Apostle Paul says anyone who corrupts the Good News message about Jesus should be damned to hell by God. (Again, our modern translations clean it up a bit so we can read it in church, but Paul used the Greek word anathema and it literally what it means to be damned to hell, and God is the one to be doing the damning.)

John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of snakes.  Sweet Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 12:34.  A brood is a large number of offspring from a mother animal.  Usually, we talk of broods being from birds or snakes.  However, I have heard some mothers jokingly referred to as having a brood of children when they have a lot of children.  In the case of John the Baptist (and Jesus), he was saying these Pharisees were the offspring of a snake.  In other words, he was saying, "Your mama’s a snake!"  Now, it’s offensive to talk about someone’s mama! Those are fighting words!

Also, remember that in the Bible in Genesis 3, the Devil was a snake that slithered up and deceived Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit and causing sin and death to enter the world.  To call someone a snake in our culture is pretty bad.  In the Bible, calling someone a snake had an extra strong meaning.  John the Baptist was saying these religious leaders were children of the Devil.  That’s strong language.

John offended on purpose.  Sometimes it takes strong language to verbally slap someone upside the head and get their attention.  The way the Pharisees and Sadducees were living was leading them to eternal damnation.  Even worse, they were taking thousands and thousands of people to hell with them.  First century Jews looked up to these Pharisees and Sadducees as their religious leaders who were supposed to know the right way to live in order to please God.  John (and Jesus) verbally slapped them for their damnable behavior.

What do you do when you see someone carelessly walking and texting on their phone and they’re not paying attention and they are about to step out into the road and get run over by a car?  Do you say, “Excuse me sir.  I don’t want to bother you, but would you mind being more careful.”  No.  That won’t do the job.  You scream: “Hey!  Look out!”  You pick the right language for the right occasion.  And if the person keeps being careless day after day, you might even start yelling, “Hey!  You idiot!  Stop looking at your phone and pay attention or you’re gonna get killed!”  That might be what it takes to shake a person enough to make them be more careful.

A wise person learns to use the right words at the right time in the right way.  There's a place for strong language, but overusing strong language weakens its effect and using it inappropriately is just rude and ungodly.

Bleeping Expletives
There is another category of bad language people often use—expletives.  An expletive is what we might call an empty word added to fill out a sentence.  Comedian Grady Nutt joked of inventing a few harmless cuss words for pastors to use.  (Here's a funny clip of his routine.)  He joked it wasn't fair for ministers who stumped their toe to exclaim "Behold!"  So he invented boogley and blotchey.  So you could say, “Get your boogley feet of my blotchey bed.”  You could say the words boogley and blotchey are empty, meaningless words.  But they’re not really empty, pointless words are they?  They intensify the the language.  It’s one thing to say, “Get your feet off my bed.”  It’s stronger language to say, “Get your boogley feet off my blotchey bed.”  It carries more passion.

The more common custom in our day, is to use taboo words as expletives.  People don’t say boogley and blotchey; they use foul words we all know were quite offensive in the past, but today those offensive words have almost become common place.  It may soon be that some of the words our mama told us not to say are just the new adjectives everybody uses. 

I hope that doesn't happen, because I believe words matter.  Words shape our attitudes and affect the way we relate to one another.  I don’t want our world to be a place where offensive language is just the normal way people talk (and treat each other).  I want our world to be a place where people are kind and patient and gracious to one another.  I want love to be the prevailing attitude in people’s hearts.  I want goodness and purity and holiness to abound.  And so I want us, as Philippians 4:8 says, to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  My prayer is that we will use words that express thoughts that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, and excellent, and worthy of praise.

There is a place for strong language.  The prophets sometimes  used strong language.  John the Baptist and even Jesus spoke the harsh truth when they called the Pharisees a brood of vipers.  Those weren't empty words.  They had meaning and godly purpose.

Flee from the Coming Wrath
Today, I want you to hear me when I say, you need to get your heart right with God.   Are you listening?  Do I need to use strong language to offend you out of your indifference?  John asked the Pharisees: “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”  

A common site in New Testament Israel was a farmer burning the tall grass and weeds off his field to clear it for the next season of planting.  As the fields burned, snakes that were hiding in the tall grass would come slithering out to escape the fire.  John had this common sight in mind as he scolded the Pharisees "Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?"  And then Jesus came preaching, "Repent!  The Kingdom of God is near!"  In other words, a day of reckoning is coming.  You're going to be held accountable.  You better repent and turn to God and start living right.

The same is true for us today.  The Day of reckoning is coming.  It is closer than you think.  Either Jesus is going to come back for us all (as He promised he would one day) or you are eventually going to die and face God's judgment as an individual.  Thankfully, we can repent because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross.  Jesus invites us to turn away from our sins and swear to follow Him as our Lord.  We can be forgiven for all our past mistakes and sins and even find grace for the ones we might make in the future.  We must trust Jesus and choose to follow Him as our rightful Lord in order for that grace to be applied.  If we do, we don't have to fear the Day of Reckoning.  For when God comes to judge us, he will no longer sin a sinful person.  Instead, God will see His perfect Son living in us.

Won't you trust Jesus and turn to Him today and so be saved?

Monday, May 3, 2021

Profanity

Exodus 20:7 You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

Introduction

Have you ever looked up at the clouds and saw they were shaped like animals?  One minute, you see what resembles a cow.  But a few moments later, the wind blows, the clouds move, and the cloud changes to something else.  


Our words are like the wind reshaping world around us. We need to be careful how we use words, but that can be tricky.  The meaning of the words we use and how we use them changes from one generation to the next just like the clouds above in the sky.  And words can mean different things in different communities.


A young pastor had an unfortunate experience on his first day pastoring a small church.  He grew up in the city.  So on his first day as the pastor, he was full of wonder driving through the countryside.  Unfortunately, he offended half the congregation in his opening remarks when he talked about all the bulls and cows he saw on the way to church.  Unknown to the young minister, the polite society of this rural community only used the words cow and male cow! “Bull” was a profanity to their sensitive ears.  Can you imagine the horror of finding out half the congregation thought you were cussin’ them in your very first sermon?


Do you consider the word “bull” a profanity?  I guess some communities do.  There may be words you consider profanity that others don’t.  One polite way to refer to a person’s backside is to call it a fanny.  We even have “fanny packs” to hold stuff when you go for a walk.  However, don’t ever call it a fanny pack if you take a walk in Ireland. Fanny is a very vulgar word in Ireland.  (Call it a bum bag.)  Meanwhile, while in Ireland you will find the Irish sprinkling the word “F.E.C.K.” liberally throughout their conversations.  They use this word on TV and radio; even nuns and priests use “F.E.C.K.” in polite company.  For them, it simply means “very” or “extremely”.  So they might say something like "That fecking idiot told the nun he was wearin' a fanny pack! How vuklgar!"


Last Sunday, I shared that words matter.  Today, I want to talk about profanity.  We have a serious problem with profanity in our society.  However, profanity may not mean what you think it means.

Profanity is deeper than just using cuss words.  Profanity is desecrating something that is sacred--whether it is God’s name and reputation or something sacred He has made. Ultimately, profanity is living with the attitude that nothing is sacred.


The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Corinth about their problem with profanity.  Listen to what he said.


1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 27
20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!

27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.


Desecrating the Holy
In the first century church, what we now call Holy Communion was still full meal.  Just as Jesus originally shared dinner with his Disciples at the Last Supper, New Testament churches would gather for a special dinner to eat and drink and remember their sacred Savior.  As they dined, they would break bread and recount what Jesus said: “This is my body, given for you, and this is my blood shed for you...”  Jesus told his followers to do this often and remember how he died on the cross for their sins.  Though these meals served the common function of nourishing the body, they were also sacred and holy.

What Does It Mean to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain?
Many Christians share how offended they are when people take the Lord’s name in vain--whether it is as extreme as using God’s name to damn something or someone or even something as simply as using God’s name to express ecstatic excitement like--“Oh my god! I love your new car!” Many have shared how hearing God’s sacred name used this way is extremely offensive, and I understand.  You love the Lord and revere Him and you want to honor His name.  That’s noble.

However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition of using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond merely the words you say.  When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation.  You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world.  God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives.  Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner that said, “We are God’s people.  Look at us and you will see what God is like.”  So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people.  

In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world.  In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...”  You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty.  Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere words.  

Profanity - Definition
Profanity is becoming more commonplace in our world today.  People use profane words and even use the Lord’s name in vain. We hear it in the workplace, at school, and profanity has even become more prevalent on TV shows where the FCC used to censor offensive language.  We also live in a time when our attitudes and actions toward one another are not very gracious.  People are angry, divided, and mean-spirited to one another.  I suspect the two go together.  Our words matter.  They affect our actions.   If we speak profanity, we soon act profanely.  And the more we act profanely, the more profanity comes out our mouths.

Just because something is sacred, doesn’t mean it also must be somber or boring. There are many sacred ceremonies full of joy and celebration. At a wedding, we sing, we dance, we laugh, and we love. It’s a wonderful celebration, but it’s also a sacred time when a man and a woman stand before God and a group of eye-witnesses and promise to love each other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for the rest of their lives.

Sacred moments don't necessarily have to be religious ceremonies either. One of my church members just had a baby. This is a time of pain and joy, and it is also something very sacred. So something sacred doesn’t have be a sombre or even "religious".
However, there’s a fine line between sacred joy and profane behavior. Unfortunately, the Corinthian church had completely abandoned the sacred nature of Holy Communion. Some would hoard a bunch of food to themselves while others didn’t get anything to eat at all. Others were drinking so much communion wine they were sloppy drunk and acting very vulgar. The spirit and remembrance of Christ’s love was not their focus. They were desecrating the sacred memory of Jesus and how he died on the cross for our sins. Appalling!

However, I want to make sure you understand the prohibition against using God’s name in vain goes far, far beyond mere the way people use words. When Exodus 20:7 says, “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain...”, the word name means God’s reputation. You see, the Israelites (to whom the Lord gave these commandments) were supposed to represent God to the world. God set the Israelites apart as His royal representatives. Everywhere they went, it was like they were carrying a banner with God's name that said, “We are God’s people. Look at us and you will see what God is like.” So then, it would desecrate God’s perfect, pure reputation if His people were dishonest, disrespectful, vulgar, immoral, bad people. God would not put up with His people sullying His name with their bad behavior. This command was more about behavior than words.

In the same way, Christians today are to represent Jesus Christ to the world. In the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God...” You can live your whole Christian life without ever saying GD or even OMG, but if your bad behavior misrepresents God’s character, you are just as guilty. Scripture repeatedly shows that behavior that profanes God's name is far more offensive than mere bad words.

I don’t want to be na├»ve nor a prude. However, I believe Christians are to be salt and light that makes our world a better place. I believe the words we use matter and affect the world around us. We need to be gracious and loving to one another in both our words and deeds. 

Furthermore, we need to remember that God made the whole world. It is not that the church sanctuary is sacred and the world outside is not. All of life is sacred. We gather around the sacred table in the sanctuary to share Holy Communion. but then we will go out and interact with people all week long. They are sacred too--living beings God created and loves who have a purpose. The environment is sacred and God command us to be good stewards of creation. Our own bodies a called "living stones" in the temple of God. We house the Holy Spirit of God. We are sacred and out to treat our own bodies as sacred spaces. All of life is sacred, but too many people in our times live as though nothing is sacred. This is profanity--in its deepest sense. And Jesus wants us to live a different way, a better way.

How can you do that this week?