Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: Small but Mighty


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September 16, 2018
James 3:1-12 & Psalm 19

It is exciting when a baby says her first words: mama, daddy, ball, milk… phone!

We celebrate their vocabulary with lots of praise. Last Saturday, one of our grandsons who is 1 ½ was staying with us. He was wandering through the house calling out my “grandma name” which is “Nono.” Hearing him say my name made me happy. Between our first efforts at speaking as a toddler and our last words in life, we say thousands and thousands of words. Some of those words we are glad that we said. There are other words we still regret saying because of the damage we caused. Words have lasting consequences. We know this because we’ve been scarred by and have hurt others with our speech.

In our present sermon series, we are studying the book of James. James is a short letter to Christians that contains cautions about our behavior. One of his main concerns is about talking. Words are powerful because they can influence lives. What we say is important. You may forget a few sentences you once said, but the words may be remembered by someone else for the rest of their life.

James uses the image of fire to describe the effects of our words. Words can spread like wildfire and cause much more harm than we ever imagined. A fire can start small and spread and cause the loss of hundreds of homes, of forests, and lives.

We remember this past summer there were wildfires out West with tremendous damage. Read again James’ description:

“A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.

By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it.”

In 2004, a movie came out entitled “Hotel Rwanda.” The film tells a portion of the story of what happened in the country of Rwanda in 1994. There were growing tensions and conflicts between two groups of people who lived there: the Tutsis and the Hutus. The President of the country died in a plane accident which was then blamed upon the Tutsi rebels. The movie brings out the role that words had upon the political situation.

A radio station broadcast news of the day and they referred to the Tutsi people as “cockroaches.” They were an infestation in the country. People listened on their transistor radios to the derogatory words spoken, words which became slogans and fanned the flames of hate. In the movie’s story, the manager of a hotel there is a Hutu and his wife is a Tutsi. Circumstances lead him to try and save as many Tutsi people as possible from genocide. He offered them sanctuary inside the hotel, and later tried to lead them to safety. His efforts did save some people, but in the Rwandan war, over half a million Tutsis civilians and their supporters were killed. Over half a million people.

Words spoken can influence how we think about other people, how we look at them, how we treat them. Our tongues can ignite a fire that could possibly burn out of control.

Gary Chapman is a pastor and author whose writings focus on relationships. In one of his books, he used a unique metaphor for words saying that words can be like “bullets or seeds”. As bullets, words are meant to harm, to injure, to leave a mark, maybe even destroy. Words as seeds bring support and respect. They nurture and promote well-being. Words that encourage life take root inside and help the listener to thrive. What do your words accomplish?

In our time, almost anyone can send out their words to a large audience. Through social media, we can instantly share our opinions, our likes and dislikes. We can pass on what others have shared with us: true or false, for better or worse. What started out as one comment can easily snowball into an avalanche.

We can make fun of and degrade people we will never even meet! A young man who was being bullied at school said that he could never escape, the taunts from school followed him home on his phone.

Kate Bowle is a professor at Duke Divinity School where she teaches those who are studying to be ministers. She is also a wife and mother of a little boy. In 2015, at age of 35, she discovered that she had Stage 4 cancer and is undergoing cancer treatment weekly trying to extend her life. In her public writings, she has expressed what she is going through when you are in your thirties and facing your death.

She has received many responses from friends and strangers everywhere telling her what she should do and what she should feel, with many responses coming from other Christians. As you will see, some of their words have not been particularly helpful to her soul.

They give her reasons for her illness; they said that God is teaching her a lesson, that her sickness is a consequence of her sin. They point out that she is whiny and that you can’t always get what you want. Someone told her to just keep smiling, that her attitude will determine her future. Words were shared that tear down faith, not build it up.

She has also received the gift of words that lift her up and bring healing to her soul. Words from those who have also walked through the valley of the shadow of death. People who have expressed to her how, even on the darkest days, somehow they knew that God had not abandoned them. They pray for her journey, her healing and for her peace.

The acronym THINK was constructed years ago but I believe it is still an excellent guide whether you are talking on the phone to your Aunt Sue or on Twitter. It is attributed to Alan Redpath who was a British evangelist and pastor in the 1900s.

Simply ask yourself before speaking/writing: is what I am about to say True –Helpful –Inspiring-Necessary –Kind?

Pay attention to your words. How often do we justify our destructive words by saying that the other person deserved it, that they started it, or that they unloaded on us and so we paid them back?

Notice how others react to what you say. When someone is upset by our words, do we respond by saying they are just “too sensitive or they can’t take a joke.” Let’s listen to ourselves. Remember to think. Be careful in what you write and what you say. Look again to verses 9-10 —“With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. No more should we bless God and curse people who have been made in God’s image.”

James calls on us to examine ourselves closely — to focus on the words that come out of our mouths – words that reveal who we truly are.

This is the most convicting thing I will say today. Our words reveal our hearts. We may deny it, but it is true.

In one of Jesus’ teachings, He said we will know what kind of tree it is by its’ fruit. Words show the condition of our hearts. Jesus taught “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Anger, jealousy, insecurity, pride, hatred, hurt, bitterness, can come out of our hearts and be revealed in our words.

We will face moments when we think “Where did that come from, I can’t believe I just said that!” Then is the time to ask God to show you what is not right in your heart and ask God to give you His guidance and power to deal with it. It is also the time to apologize for the hurting words you have said.

This spring, there was a young boy named Harrison in Chesterfield, England who made his debut as a goalie for his soccer team. Harrison has had quite a few health challenges in his life, and it means a great deal that he is able to play soccer.

Unfortunately, in that first game, his team lost 11-0. His dad, Allan, posted a video of the game which featured all the saves that his son had made as a goalie. The dad did a very vulnerable thing. He asked if soccer fans would share some words of support with his son Harrison. This was a risky request because anyone can be ridiculed o line, even children.

Wonderfully, soccer fans from Canada, America, and India sent messages of support. Dozens of professional soccer players responded. One player wrote: “Brave as a lion and kicks it a mile. Keep up the good work.”

Why did his father ask for their input? He said that he just wanted to get the message to his boy to keep on playing, to not give up.

I believe that our heavenly father wants us all to pass on messages to the rest of His children: messages of wisdom and guidance, messages of hope and encouragement, messages of truth and forgiveness.

To share words that bring life, and not words that diminish another human being.

My grandmother died when I was eight years old, but fortunately, she wrote notes and letters to me. I still have a few of them. She shared words of love and support with me that still are affirming after all these years.

Words do last a lifetime. What legacy are we leaving?