Coarse Discourse

Neal Pollard

Is it just me or are we much more open about using profanity in ordinary discourse? Our sitting president has exhibited an unprecedented amount of “curse words” in the public square, even if transcripts of historic documents reveal that a great many of the last several presidents have used language salty enough to make sailors blush. Hollywood reactors to the president have seemingly been trying to “trump” his salacious speech and have, in many cases, upped the ante in indecent language. Recent news story include Bette Midler, congresswoman Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Hillibrand (aka “Senator Potty Mouth,” via The Daily Mail) using shocking words that the thoroughly secular media acknowledges as inappropriate and indecent—at least measured by cultural norms and moors.

I have to admit being thoroughly baffled by church members, even teachers and preachers, who adamantly argue that Scripture has nothing to say about such things. Implicitly, even explicitly, their point is that such speech is legitimate for a follower of Christ. While we must be careful not to make laws God does not make in His Word, neither can we be so reckless as to hurt Christ’s cause by encouraging the Christian to mimic the world’s behavior, speech, or attitudes without discernment. When godless media, non-believing coworkers, classmates, and cul-de-sac compadres, and others in society associate certain words with the rebellious, humanistic lifestyle, shouldn’t we take pause?

Is there room in Paul’s admonition to Ephesus (4:29; 5:4) and Colosse (4:6) or Jesus’ public discourse (Mat. 12:34ff) for the kind of words that so many in society still find shocking and inappropriate? Are the principles of godly influence (Luke 17:1), salt and light (Mat. 5:14-16), example (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12), and the like not enough to cause us to feel strongly about how we use our words with people? Do we feel like well-chosen swear, scatological, and smutty words are essential to successfully relate to and connect with the rougher elements of society in an effort to win them to Christ?

We can relate to and reach people without resorting to irreverent and indecorous words. We can keep pure in speech without becoming isolationists in society. It does not have to be an either-or proposition.  May we realize that what we say (and how we say it! See Gal. 5:20, Rom. 3:14, and Jas. 10, for example) will impact people like we do not realize and in ways that we do not realize. It extends well beyond just our speech, but our words paint a picture of us for the very people we should desperately want to reach for Jesus. Please, give thought to the power of your words (cf. Prov. 18:21).

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THE POWER OF THE TONGUE

Neal Pollard

One of the leading stories in today’s news concerns a young woman, Michelle Carter, facing manslaughter charges for allegedly coercing her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. He was 18 and she was 17. While at earlier points in their relationship she tried to dissuade his talk of suicide (he had attempted suicide before meeting her), by the end she was insistent and even steered him onto the subject of taking his own life. The night he succeeded in killing himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, she even urged him at one point to get back into the truck. The hundreds of text messages she wrote are disturbingly callous and malicious, and she faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Her words are at the heart of this case, and prosecutors say she is complicit in his death because of all that she said (The Washington Post online, 6/7/17, Kristine Phillips and Swati Sharma).

It is incredible to consider that this young woman used her words to so discourage and deflate another human being, to even actively push him to die. Yet, Scripture tells each of us that, spiritually, we all are exercising the power to either promote life or death through our words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.…”  This is why Paul urges us to give thought about the character and nature of our speech, saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). Our speech can kill in many ways:

  • Vulgar, coarse speech that can encourage others to think of the unwholesome and sinful
  • Hypercritical speech that can deflate and discourage people’s good works
  • Gossipy speech that can cause people to be divided and distanced from undeserving victims
  • Dishonest speech that can lead people astray from the truth
  • Railing, sinfully angry speech that can be self-destructive to the speaker
  • Hypocritical speech that can cause people to be turned off by Christianity

We may be prone to excuse our words as harmless when in fact they can be a matter of spiritual life and death for ourselves or someone else. Our prayer should mirror that of the psalmist, who pleads, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). We possess such power! Let us harness it and use it for life, not death (cf. Jas. 3:2-12).

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Before You Type Or Talk Today

 

Neal Pollard

A pick, a poke, a controversy,
Hit and run, a verbal grenade,
We may see it as clever, though without mercy
And own it like an accolade

But are we making people think
When what and how we say it scars?
If it causes a stir, a strife, a stink
Instead of edifying it maligns and mars?

People should be thinking anyway
And what they think should be of good report
Let’s meditate on what we say
Not load up on sarcastic, sardonic retort.

The world already knows that tactic
And uses it at the drop of scarf and hat
It brightens no story, dresses up no didactic
But stokes the fire and escalates the spat

Here’s something requiring greater skill
You won’t find it in general practice
Restraint and kindness, grace and good will
Be a rose in a field of cactus.

When entering today the public sphere
And the marketplace of varied ideas
Let the Jesus in you shine bright and clear
So they can look at you and believe He is!

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Tychicus: Trustworthy Transporter

Neal Pollard

Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.

Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?

  • Bitterness and resentment?
  • Gossip and talebearing?
  • Negativity and pessimism?
  • Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
  • Dishonest, deceptive words?
  • A different gospel?
  • Harsh, railing verbiage?

Or…?

  • Gentle, kind words?
  • Faithful counsel?
  • Positive, joyful speech?
  • Encouragement?
  • Thoughtful, considerate messages?
  • Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
  • Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?

What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing?  Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!

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Poking The Bear

Neal Pollard

It’s not a Social Media phenomenon, but those platforms have proliferated this problem.  Begin by making a provocative statement about race, religion, politics, other social issue, matter of judgment, or the like, then step back and watch while the unrestrained and undisciplined scratch and claw at one another. Soon, the issue is obscured by hateful remarks as combatants escalate the rhetoric. The tactic is utterly worldly, yet too often it is brothers and sisters in Christ with the sinister stick in their hands jabbing at the hibernating grizzly! My consistent question is, “Why?”  What is the purpose? Certainly, we should all be more critical thinkers, but such tactics as these generate much more heat than light. Rather than logical, rational points and counterpoints, they usually produce ad hominem attacks, reductio ad absurdum, and other Latin diseases!

When you consider how the New Testament governs our speech and guides our conduct in dealing with each other, you have to ask where the above-mentioned ploys fit in.  Here is a sampling of admonitions and instructions the Holy Spirit gives us through Scripture:

  • “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
  • “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer intimate friends” (Prov. 16:28).
  • [God hates] “one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:19b).
  • “Pursue peace with all men…” (Heb. 12:14a).
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).
  • “Love does not act unbecomingly” (1 Cor. 13:5a).
  • “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
  • “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…” (Acts 4:32).

Be careful. In an attempt to be clever, relevant, and cutting edge, could we instead be alienating, divisive, and polarizing? There’s a big difference. May we all pray for the wisdom to differentiate. Especially in a divided world that is watching how those who claim to be Christians speak, interact, and treat them and each other, may we “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mat. 10:16).  Be dove-imitators, not bear-pokers.

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6 Things About Gossip That I Don’t Like

Neal Pollard

The wonderful congregation I work with and the school overseen by its elders have been the subject of rumors and hearsay through the years, some of them preposterous and even as opposite from the truth as could be. Like everyone else, I’ve been the subject of gossip on many occasions. As masterfully and humorously portrayed in the 15th episode of the first season of the Andy Griffith Show (“Those Gossipin’ Men”), gossip can seemingly appear, full-blown, out of thin air. It can be personally hurtful, but it’s part of the territory of living and breathing.  Here are 6 things I particularly dislike about the ugly specter of gossip.

  • It’s GallingIt “reveals secrets” (Prov. 11:13). It separates friends (Prov. 16:28), yeah even “intimate friends” (Prov. 17:9). While cowardly, it still takes a lot of nerve!
  • It’s Obstructive. Billing itself as “helpful” and “instructive,” it usually serves the opposite purpose. It “reveals secrets” (Prov. 20:19) and is the hallmark of idle busybodies (1 Tim. 5:13).
  • It’s Spurious. As previously mentioned, gossip is as apt to be false and inaccurate as it is to be trustworthy.  Even if there is a grain of truth, it can have an admixture of inaccuracy blended in.  Tragically, it is often received as the truth and nothing but the truth.
  • It’s Sinful. Find it listed alongside “strife,” “jealousy,” “slanders,” and “arrogance” (2 Cor. 12:20). God calls the spreader of such “a fool” (Prov. 10:18). It’s an “evil weapon” (cf. Isa. 32:7) and “stubborn rebellion” (Jer. 6:28). See also Romans 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:3, and Titus 2:3.
  • It’s Inconsiderate. Few gossips would want to be treated the way they treat their subjects (Luke 6:31).  Repeatedly, Christians are urged to “be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32). We’re to love each other without hypocrisy and “be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).  Gossiping is rarely wrapped in forethought and careful circumspection.  It’s not “friendly fire.” It’s just fire.
  • It’s Presumptuous. Gossip is acting with entitlement, believing that it is fair and right to spread (whether true or false) information about the subject thereof. The gossip believes himself or herself qualified to share something about someone else, and such are usually mortified if the tale is traced back to them.

Yet, indignation should be tempered with realization.  Few have so mastered the tongue that they are above the fray we mention here.  Let’s be convicted to practice saying good and kind things behind each other’s backs. Remember to investigate before you propagate, and even then only carefully and prayerfully. Usually, prayer and care will render the “juicy tidbit” dead on the floor of your mind, safely unspoken and incapable of doing any harm. Remember the famous words of 19th Century Michigan poet Will Carleton: “Boys flying kites haul in their white winged birds; You can’t do that way when you’re flying words. Careful with fire, is good advice we know Careful with words, is ten times doubly so. Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead; But God Himself can’t kill them when they’re said.”

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Lessons From Yogi Berra’s “Yogi-isms”

Neal Pollard

One of the great American personalities of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, has died. The 90 year old died Tuesday, September 22, in West Caldwell, New Jersey.  In his wake, Berra, a Hall of Fame catcher with the New York Yankees in the 1940s-1960s, left a book full of memorable quotes, such as:

  • “It’s deja vu all over again”
  • “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours”
  • “if I can hit it, it’s a good pitch”
  • “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “it gets late early out here”
  • “a nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore”
  • “if it’s an emergency, it’s usually urgent”
  • “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
  • “never answer an anonymous letter”
  • “pair off in threes”
  • “I really didn’t say everything I said”    (via USA Today and Fox News)

Yogi’s inimitable wit and wisdom will long outlive him.  Those of us who were born after his amazing baseball career more likely remember him for the Yoo-Hoo ads or the Aflac Commercials. However, observers of human behavior can learn a lot from this legendary figure.

—“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Yogi reminds us of the influence we wield by the very words we speak.  Paul would urge us to let our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” so that we will know how we should answer every man (Col. 4:6).  Daily, people hear our speech. Are we “killing” them or “saving” them?

—Cause people to think.  The longer you mull over a “Yogi-ism,” the more profound it becomes. With the Bible, our source material is unmatched. Whether a preacher or a Bible class teacher or a one-on-one Bible teacher or even as a Christian being light and salt in the world, the “attention getter”—not to ever draw attention to us but to the Lord—is powerfully effective. Jesus caused hardened officers to confess, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). He had a wisdom and insight we’ll never attain, but we have a message unmatched by even a wordsmith like Berra.

—You will be remembered. Do you remember how the writer of Hebrews memorialized righteous Abel? “…Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks” (11:4).  Of course, how we are remembered is etched by the lives we live in these bodies. We will be recompensed for this before Christ one day (2 Cor. 5:10).  We’ll be remembered by the people we leave behind, from the eulogy and obituary to the memories people keep with them of us. We’ll be perfectly remembered by God (cf. Rev. 14:13).

We lost an iconic cultural figure with Yogi Berra’s demise. But people like that continue to leave an impression on us after they are gone. As Christians, may we live so that when we die the impression we leave can influence and positively alter the eternal destiny of those we touch.

Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.

Bad Breath Babbling

Neal Pollard

You want to do some appetizing research?  Go to the Mayo Clinic website and read about what causes bad breath. The harbingers of halitosis include food that gets stuck in your teeth, tobacco, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth (this occurs most frequently when sleeping at night, thus “morning breath”), oral infections, and many similar pleasant precipitators (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/basics/causes/CON-20014939).  Now isn’t that a joyful matter to ponder!

Well, have you considered the very graphic imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4:29 to describe improper speech?  He says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…”  That word “unwholesome” is an interesting word (ESV—”corrupting”).  It is from a Greek word meaning “to cause to decay” (TDNT).  The footnote of my Bible says “literally, rotten.”  The Greeks used the word to describe what offends the sense of sight and smell, but it came to describe even offensive sounds as an ancient fragment from Theopompus Comicus used the word to describe the “unpleasant sounds of flutes” (CAF, I, 746). They used the word to describe bad vegetables and rotting fish (WSNTDICT).

Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul does with the word.  In guiding the Ephesians in how not to walk, Paul gets graphic by warning against “smelly speech.”  Get the picture by considering the descriptive word.  When you talk, does what you say have the figurative effect of compost, fish carcasses, and the like?  Or, let us come at it by way of contrast, as Paul does.  Instead of uttering waste dump words, use “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Throw away trashy speech through uplifting, timely, graceful talk!  Is what you say helpful to others? Does it build them up? Does it bring them closer to Christ? Is it just the right word at the right time?  If so, it’s like moral mouthwash!

If not, then let God’s diagnosis hit home!  Clean up your conversations.  Make sure what you say to others is to them a breath of fresh air!

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”