What Others Say

Exceptional column. I think...inspired. Thank you for writing it.
- Diana M., Ranger, Texas

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Words and Their Consequences


When we were children we had a saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  We usually quoted this little jingle when words had hurt us, and it was usually followed by sticking out our tongue for emphasis.  Somehow this ditty has been passed down through the generations, even though it is not true. Words can destroy us.

It is not the well thought out words that give us trouble, words that we wrestle with before writing them down, words that we edit a dozen times before finally putting them in print.  The words that trouble us and cause our difficulty are the careless words, the thoughtless words, the words that escape our lips without thinking.  These words cannot be called back.  Unlike animals escaped from the cage, words cannot be hunted down and returned to captivity.

Sometimes the careless words run rampant causing unknown damage without our knowledge.  We don’t even remember what we said, or when we said it. But the damage is done nonetheless. 

We try to bury our careless words beneath repeated apologies.  “I’m sorry.”  Or “I didn’t mean it.”  Sometimes we are forgiven.  Sometimes others claim to overlook them. But words are rarely forgotten.  They lodge in the memory and cast a shadow on everything else. 

Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matt. 12:36) Jesus was referring to our final judgment before God.  Ultimately, when we stand before Him we will be required to give account for every careless word.  But, perhaps he had something else in mind.  Perhaps He was drawing our attention to the reality of human relations.  Careless words destroy relationships. 
We have seen prominent careers come to an abrupt end due to careless words spoken in the public arena.  Like the classic movie, A Face In the Crowd, few are able to overcome racial slurs and arrogant expletives caught on an open microphone.  But more damaging to us all are the careless words spoken in the privacy of our homes each and every day. Careless words chip away at relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children.  They leave families fractured and psyches shattered.

On the other hand, an encouraging word, the right word spoken at the right time, can make an enormous difference.  The opposite of careless words is not careful words, words that are guarded and self-serving, but caring words, words that are spoken in the interest of others.

Nothing is more important than learning the discipline of our speech.  James compared the tongue to the small rudder that turns a huge ship, or the bit placed in the mouth of a horse, able to harness the animal's great strength.  Careless words, he said, are like sparks that ignite an uncontrollable fire that consumes everything in its path.  “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2).

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Memorial Day

Next Monday is Memorial Day , the official start of summer!  Families will load up and head parks, lakes and camp grounds.  Spring is here summer is near.  Kids will soon be out for summer and new graduates will launch out on new adventures in search of their destiny.   But the celebration, fresh air and freedom has a deeper meaning.   It is a time for remembering those who laid down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. 

My grandfather fought in France during WWI.  My uncle entered Nuremberg in a tank at the end of WWII and remained there 2 months to recover from wounds.  Both of my brothers served in the Air Force during Viet Nam and my son served in the U.S. Marine Corps.  All of us have relatives who have served in the armed services.  Some have loved ones who left to defend our country and never returned.  On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember and honor those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice.”

What we know as Memorial Day originated at the end of the Civil War that claimed more lives than any other war in our history.  Officially, Memorial Day began May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York. In 1968 Congress designated the last Monday of May as a national Memorial Day to remember those who died in active service.  As time passed, the memorial aspects of the weekend have faded and for many it has become the first weekend for summer vacation.

The Bible recognizes the importance of memorials.  We need tangible dates and places to remember significant events and the values that give meaning to life.  The first memorial mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the living God.  When Moses met God in the wilderness and was commissioned to deliver Israel, he asked God to reveal His name.  God responded, “You shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me … the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial-name to all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15).

Our forefathers were not perfect.  They had many flaws and made many mistakes, but history is clear that most were people of faith in the living God.  A young publisher named Benjamin Franklin printed the sermons of George Whitfield that moved the colonies to Christ prior to the American Revolution. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a Christian novel to which Lincoln attributed the Civil War.  And Julia Ward Howe gave us the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, based on Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19.  Later, it was faith in God and His son Jesus Christ that sustained us through two world wars.

On this Memorial weekend, while we enjoy the laughter of our children and the love of our friends, let us remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, those who prayed and sacrificed and believed that we could “overcome.”  Let us trust the One who laid His life down that we might know God’s forgiveness and love for one another.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Graduation: Visions and Dreams


Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. Our grandson graduates from high school May 19 in Sundance, Wyoming.  

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to believe in themselves and to never stop learning. 

Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma has a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2007. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  Helen remained active, teaching, organizing and encouraging until her death two years ago at 97.

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities, or, as Helen said, the start of a new phase of life.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams. 

Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life.  Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, May 6, 2019

Rewriting the Rules


It is always important to know the rules.  We have rules at school, rules at work and rules at home. We establish laws to govern traffic: speed limits, stop signs, turn lanes and signals.  We pass laws for family, marriage, commerce and civil conduct.  We spend billions of dollars to employ law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers to make sure the rules are obeyed.

We even have rules for play. Every sport has its rules with umpires and referees to insure that the rules are enforced.  We have added instant replay to make sure their rulings are fair and objective.  Still, arguments erupt and tempers flare when either side believes it has been unfairly judged.  People are still arguing the stewards’ ruling that disqualified Maximum Security at the Kentucky Derby.

Some rules are unwritten. We assume we know them from birth. They are common to every culture on earth.  They are simple rules:  love your family and your friends.  Do good things for them.  Love your country.  If someone hits you, hit them back.  First come, first serve. Lend to those who can repay with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. Get even. They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.
Jesus’ words sound strange when compared to our natural assumptions about how life is supposed to work. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36).
Jesus rewrote the rules.