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Words Matter

January 7, 2021

A response to January 6, 2021

I remember teaching my very first college class.  After introducing myself and giving a bit of my background and training I launched into my first lecture.  As I observed my students feverishly taking notes as I taught, I had this thought: They really believe me right now.  I think as a young 20 something it was one of the first times in my life that I understood the simple yet profound truth that words matter.  As a pastor for nearly 36 years I have been reminded time and time again that words matter. 

In Proverbs 18:21 we read, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”  Words not only matter words are powerful.  I hope will not soon forget that on January 6, 2021 the world witnessed the destructive power of words.  Yesterday, as I watched the live stream of the tragedy in our nation’s capital, I found myself shaken, angry, and deeply saddened.  And it was not lost on me that it began with words.  Words matter.

I went to sleep last night knowing that I needed to use my words given to me as a gift from God to speak into what our world witnessed.  I woke up this morning with that same realization.  I have read what many have already uttered or written.  From my perspective as a pastor the question is simply this, how should a person who claims to believe and follow the teachings of Jesus respond to this?  Three not so profound thoughts come to mind:

Use your words wisely and carefully.  As humans we have been granted the gift of speech.  Another verse in Proverbs tells us “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18).  We have witnessed in living color the horror of reckless words.  We can’t change that.  But we can each individually choose to use our words, spoken, written, posted, texted, Tweeted etc. wisely.  There has been a lot said over the past four years about white evangelical Christians.  I would simply say this, if you claim to follow Jesus, then you need to make sure that the words you use truly reflect the Jesus you claim to follow.  Your words must be words of love, even in correction, healing, and peace.  Words matter.

Be a person of peace.  Jesus made it abundantly clear that those who would follow him should “Love their enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44).  Over the past 5 years I have heard and read more vitriol than I can remember coming from “christians.”

I use the small “c” and quotes because the kind of anger and venom I have heard and read over the past five years, does not reflect the person of Jesus Christ.  God calls us to be people of peace and to leave judgment up to him.  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  The operative term in this verse is “as far as it depends on you.”  I am responsible before God to be a person of peace.  The rest of that chapter reminds us that God will avenge and we are to be people to show love, grace, and practical kindness to those who would be our “enemies.”   A person of peace understands that words matter.

Don’t confuse politics with Jesus.  I once had a conversation with a gravelly voiced itinerant preacher from North Dakota, a distant relative of my wife.  I don’t know how we got on the topic of politics, but his words ring in my ear to this day.  “Scott, I used to be a Democrat because I thought they were for labor.  But I soon realized they were just out for themselves.  So, I became a Republican because I thought they had conservative values. But frankly they weren’t any better than the Democrats.  Now mind you, I vote in every election.  It is my duty as a citizen.  But every election I do the same thing.  I just write in Jesus.  Because he really is the only answer.  If we would just follow Jesus and forget about politics, it would all work out.”  There is not a law that comes out of Washington D.C. that is going to impact eternity.  There is not a law that will be enacted in any state in our union this year that will change anyone’s heart.  There is not a city ordinance that will impact anyone spiritually.  Pray for our leaders, pray for the peace of our country, but don’t put your hope in political rhetoric or systems.  Don’t ever confuse politics with Jesus. 

What we witnessed on January 6, 2021 was ultimately the result of reckless words that had been part of the national conversation for years.  When you and I as individuals determine to live lives that truly reflect the clear teachings of Jesus we will realize that we can be used to help others, and maybe even change lives.  Because words matter.

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