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σαπρός (Unwholesome)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

 

Yesterday Carl and I smelled something absolutely awful in his house. Bailey, his trouble-making Carolina dog, had just been let back in; she had evidently rolled around in the remains of an animal that recently reached putrefaction and it showed. We were gagging and gasping for air while attempting to find the source of the odor traumatizing our olfactory lobes. The deceased animal outside was found (kind of) and Bailey was forced into the bath. The sheer power of that stench was incredible.

Our words can have the same effect on a person’s ears that the decaying body of roadkill has on the nose. Ephesians 4.29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only words good for encouragement according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

I want to focus on the word “unwholesome” here. When we hear “unwholesome,” we might think of a dirty joke, curse word, or some other graphic form of speech. That can be included in this word, for sure, but we need to take a closer look at what it means in scripture.

The word is σαπρός (sapros) which means, “to be of such poor quality as to be of little or no value,” or, “bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful.” It generally described something that was rotten or decayed and completely useless. That really widens the range of words we can describe as being unwholesome. In modern Greek, σαπρός means “putrid” and is used to describe the same putrefaction process Bailey unfortunately rolled in. It was awful to smell, and putrid words are awful to hear.

The next time we speak to someone, let’s put our words through a simple filter. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is this rotten? Is it going to be beneficial to the person hearing this? Does it encourage?” If our words are closer to rotting flesh than graceful encouragement, we must rethink them before they escape our lips. It’s not just a good idea, it’s certainly imperative to godly living.

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6 Things About Gossip That I Don’t Like

Neal Pollard

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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The Art Of Conversation

Neal Pollard

With conversation, when both are active listeners, you are exchanging ideas. Along with this, there’s body language and tone of voice which give clues to what the words mean to the speaker. You negotiate, reason, affirm or deny, and continue through these patterns while discussing any number of subjects. This process is invaluable to building relationships, working together, and even evangelism. For all its advantages, social media lacks almost all of those dimensions.

MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle, in the book Reclaiming Conversation (New York: Penguin, 2015), makes the case that we are talking more than ever but we’ve lost the art of conversation.  Turkle observes, “From the early days, I saw that computers offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship and then, as the programs got really good, the illusion of friendship without the demands of intimacy” (7).  What demands? Paying attention, building trust, having empathy, and giving thoughtful responses (as opposed to rude, reckless ones). 

I’m not trying to militate against the use of social media platforms, texting, or emailing. But the more we gravitate toward those to do our “communicating,” the less we successfully navigate the more difficult, yet more rewarding, art of conversation.

When we read the Bible, we are struck–from beginning to end–with the pervasive importance of dialogue and conversation. From Genesis one, where we read the Godhead’s conversation, “Let us make man…,” to Jesus’ conversation with John in Revelation 22, conversation is indispensable. Not only did God create interpersonal relationships and the vehicle of conversation to build them, but He models it throughout the pages of Scripture.

This article seeks to inform, teach, and even persuade, but it is only one dimension of communication. One might argue that other forms of communication are not only necessary, but in many cases will be more effective. The snippets and soundbites of social media postings, much more condensed and lacking context, while being pithy and thought-provoking, are no substitute for what happens face to face in the tension, hard work, and unpredictable dynamic of conversation. Conversation necessitates practice, attention, and mental engagement. 

From the dawn of time, God observed that it’s not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). As suggested by the title of another book by Turkle, Alone Together, we find ourselves increasingly isolated from others and more ill-equipped for building real life relationships. The antidote to that is simple and so attainable.

Let’s engage people more. Let’s resort more to making real life connections and less to hiding behind screens. Let’s look for opportunities to do this with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Let’s connect more in real life. As with anything, the more we practice the better we’ll get at it. 

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Photo credit: Michael Hite

 

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What Are We Saying About The Church?

Neal Pollard

Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.

I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives. 

The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church? 

  • Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
  • Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
  • Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
  • Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
  • Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.

We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too. 

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“Vain Jangling”

Neal Pollard

The English language has done some changing in the 400-plus years since the King James Version was made available. Within its pages, you’ll find phrases like “straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12), “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas. 1:21), “bloody flux” (Acts 28:8), “filthy lucre” (Ti. 1:7), and “the thick bosses of his bucklers” (Job 15:26). There is a beauty and picturesqueness to the Elizabethan English, though. One example of this is in 1 Timothy 1:6, which warns against “vain jangling.” To me, that’s a vivid way of translating a compound Greek word translated elsewhere as “fruitless discussions” (NASB), “idle talk” (NKJV), “vain discussion” (ESV), “meaningless talk” (NIV), and “empty talk” (MEV). Have you ever heard anyone jangling keys or coins in their pockets? It’s usually a nervous tic and mindless habit, but it can loud and annoying. In the 17th Century, the word meant to “talk excessively or  noisily, squabbling” (Apple Dictionary, 2.2.2).

In context, Paul gives the culprits, the creed, the consequence, the contrast, and the cause of this “vain jangling.” The culprits are “certain men” (1:3) or “some men” (1:6). Their creed is “strange doctrines” (1:3), “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), and this “fruitless discussion” (vain jangling). The consequences are dire, as such will “give rise to mere speculation” (1:4). The contrasts are “the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4) and “instruction (in) love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The cause is revealed in verse 7, that “they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul had a particular circumstance in mind, but is there an application to us today?

In 2018, there are numerous platforms and avenues to communicate. It can be easy to forget that James’ warnings about the tongue are not limited to words which are audibly heard, but whatever we speak. I need to be cautious about being a religious noisemaker, banging and clanging with reckless abandon. My words have meaning, and they hold the power of spiritual life or death within them (Prov. 18:21). Thus, great restraint, copious forethought, and thoughtful execution ought to permeate my speech, wherever it is “heard.” Otherwise, I may simply be declaring my thoughtless ignorance, both uninvited and unwelcome, and come off sounding like three dollars of pennies churning in the pocket of a champion fidgeter.

Paul speaks of Christians as “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We must represent Him righteously and accurately. We may be the first and only megaphone through which Christ is proclaimed, so let us speak accordingly. Let’s make Him proud, for His message is “words of sober truth” (Acts 26:25), not vain jangling.

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It Didn’t Go Like He Planned

Neal Pollard

G. Gordon Liddy once related a bazaar story about a man, jilted by his girlfriend. Apparently, he tried to commit suicide in front of his rival (the girl’s new boyfriend). He pointed the pistol at his chin, pulled the trigger, and fully intended to die. However, the bullet somehow ricocheted off his teeth and fatally struck the other fellow. Intending to “end it all,” the young man was charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder, kidnapping, and assault.

That was not in his script. He had not planned it to go like that. He was going to show his counterpart, his girlfriend, and the rest of the world that his emotional wounds were so great that he was going to engineer his final exit strategy. How remarkably foolish!

How often, though less dramatically, does this occur? In words or actions, we tell others, “I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry!” With such haste and waste, we rashly do something we live to regret. We put our souls in jeopardy to get even with actions or words we perceive  offensive and injurious to us.

Solomon warned, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29). When we act without weighing the consequences, we rue the choice we make. Appropriately, the wise man again said, “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few” (Ecc. 5:2).

Spiteful actions are futile and sinful (Psa. 10:14; Luke 18:32). “Get even-ism” is a sickness and a symptom of worldliness. It disregards Christ’s mandate for God’s children to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). It is written, “If you have been foolish in exalting yourself
Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32). If everyone practiced this sage advice, fewer would overreact and more would overcome.

Think before you speak. Consider the consequences of rash decisions (remember Jephthah?). Avoid the tragedy of thoughtlessness. The failure to control our lives results in a punishment far outweighing a jail sentence.

Consider the words of this poem, written anonymously.

“Boys, flying kites, haul in their white-winged birds,
But you can’t do that when you’re flying words.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes drop back dead,
But naught can kill them when they’ve once been said.”

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My Social Media Pledge

Neal Pollard

  • I will try to use social media to encourage and edify others (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 14:26b).
  • I will avoid the shocking, inflammatory, and divisive tactics increasingly characteristic of S.M. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:2,4; etc.).
  • I will ask, “Would I say this in the way I am saying this?,” if face to face with this person or this group of people (Prov. 23:7).
  • I will not use Social Media to pick fights or put people on the defensive (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1ff).
  • I will not be Nellie Nitpicker and Contrary Charlie. About. Every. Single. Little. Thing.
  • I will respect that my connections have connections that are not Christians and I want to be sure to say what I say in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • I will sever connections with individuals who consistently display a lack of self-control with their words and attitudes. Souls are too precious.
  • I will abhor the thought of doing what would put Christ to an open shame (cf. Heb. 10:29).
  • I will double-check myself to avoid bragging and self-promotion (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
  • I will conquer the desire to have the last word, pile on, or fight fire with fire (Mat. 5:39-42).
  • I will not let the false teaching, bad attitude, or meanness of another be my rationale for behaving in a way that brings Christ shame or jeopardizes my own soul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • I will always be trying to set the table for productive evangelism or retrieving the wayward (Jas. 5:19-20; Col. 4:6).
  • I will always try to portray the doctrinal, moral, and ethical values of my Lord, thus avoiding reflecting and glorifying whatever values conflict with His (Mat. 5:14-16).
  • I will try to promote, not pummel, the bride of Jesus, appreciate, not attack, the elders, and unite, not untie, wherever possible.
  • I will shun passive aggression in myself first, but also in others.
  • I will deal with dirty laundry in its appropriate way, which is not on Social Media.
  • I will actively try to show grace to everyone, including cantankerous curmudgeons.
  • I will, foremost, realize my own imperfections and try every day I use Social Media to do so in the way Jesus would, if He had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn, etc. In a way, through you and me, He does. I will let that sink in!

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Open Mic At Bear Valley

Neal Pollard

It is one of the preacher or teacher’s public speaking nightmares. And it happened to me yesterday morning between Bible class and worship services. I had no clue until I began to be approached by multiple members. My wireless mic was “hot,” and I was visiting with several people and, true to form, I was having plenty to say. As far as I know, I said nothing personal or embarrassing, but after I was informed of my amplified voice I began thinking back to who I spoke to and what I said. My private conversations were being broadcast throughout the auditorium, foyer, nursery, and beyond.

The Bible gives us some insights into what the day of judgment will be like. How much is accommodative language and how much depicts what it will be like is something we must leave until we are there. Yet, there are some statements made that are not open to interpretation. Solomon writes, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14). There is appointed a day when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16; cf. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus taught, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mat. 12:36-37). Clearly, the words we speak—even those which are not public—are subject to the universal judgment at the end of time.

With that in mind, I want to be more careful to control that hard-to-tame tongue (cf. Jas. 3:2ff). Lying, gossiping, complaining, bitter, slanderous, angry, malicious, backbiting, or jealous words can flow freely, especially in private conversations. I may think I am covered by the cloak of secrecy or privacy, but how would I speak if I knew that everything I said what being broadcast for everyone to hear? If I could think of my speech in that way, how much more positively would I speak of others, of my own circumstances, of the church, and of my God?

Yesterday was good for me! If all of us could experience an unplanned moment like that at least once, it might cause us to reflect on what we are saying when we think that those around us can’t (or won’t) hear. It might help us live soberly, righteously, and godly in view of the end.

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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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