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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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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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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The Assassins In Our Midst

Neal Pollard

They are on the loose and nobody even seems to be hunting for them. They have struck countless times. They strike daily. Yet, they will never make the nightly news or the local paper. They do their deeds with seeming impunity. At times, their actions cause the weak and fearful to simply follow or at least stand by and say nothing. While they may escape the earthly courts of justice, they will give an account in the heavenly one.  Who are these brutal killers?

Some strike at the personal level, assassinating the character of a brother or sister in Christ through gossip, slander, and backbiting.  This type of assassin takes the good name and reputation of their victim and shreds it. Sometimes what they say is true but it should not be said. Usually, it is said in the absence of the object who is left unable to defend or explain. As often, what they say may be untrue, distorted, or crafted in such a way as to portray the object in the most unflattering or unsavory light. With practice, these assassins can seemingly wield their deadly weapon with seemingly seared conscience. Whether careless or calculated, they fire their darts with blind indifference. They leave a wake of carnage.

Some strike at the good works of a congregation, school, or program of work.  With what appears to be little interest in fact-finding, for motives often unknown and perplexing, they often slander, misrepresent, or inconsistently apply rules they themselves cannot and do not live up to. At times, they make themselves the judge and create the standards whereby others are deemed fit or unfit to survive their assaults. But in doing this, they are hopelessly inconsistent. They face the prospect of facing merciless judgment, they themselves having been merciless.

Some strike without respect of person. Their tongues are unbridled, their passions and self-control are unchecked, and their disposition is volatile and ungodly.  They are quick to fire, and their speech spews venom and acid.  Most tragic is when they aver that they are speaking as a Christian or as an ambassador for Christ. People who witness their cold and brutal attacks are left to assume that such is what constitutes Christianity.  Repulsed, the world violently turns away and vehemently reacts against any and all efforts to teach even difficult and sensitive subjects the world is prone to reject.

James unapologetically condemns such careless slapdash strikes!  He says, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:5-10). Before loading up and taking aim at someone, may we consider the eternal implications of it. Thankfully, such assassins can be reformed and retrained through remorse and repentance. May it be!

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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.

Temper And Tongue

Neal Pollard

Without wading into the waters of political correctness or questioning motives, Donald Sterling can blame his temper as much as his girlfriend’s surreptitious audio recording.  He joins an infinitely long line of those whose unrestrained anger has cost them much more than they anticipated.  While most people will not pay the earthly price Sterling appears destined to pay, so many have permanently damaged relationships and paid with their souls for failing to conquer temper and tongue.

James clearly sets forth God’s view on the matter.  “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (3:6). “It defiles the whole body” (3:6). “It is set on fire by hell” (3:6). “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). It can reveal hypocrisy at a disgusting level (3:9-12).  James’ words are so convicting, yet, having privy to them, we still stumble with our speech.

I have seen the untamed tongue, so often fueled by anger and even rage, tear churches apart.  But, what has it done in the lives of individual members of those congregations?  Certainly, we think of it as characteristic of those outside the body of Christ, but so often it ignites deadly fires in Christians’ lives.

If I am honest with myself, I should be more concerned with the spiritual impact my tongue has on my soul than other deeds of the flesh.  There are so many ways for me to stumble over my tongue—gossip, lying, outbursts of anger, wrath, deception, filthy or suggestive speech, greed, and just about every outlet of sin seems to intersect with the misuse of the tongue!

James speaks to our hearts when he says, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (3:10).  Can I comprehend the impact that has on my soul, not just yours?  Rather than counting up ways you offend me with your tongue, may I have the humility and honesty to examine my use of my tongue and see how it might be hurting you and, even more importantly, hurting Almighty God!  Lord, help us see the power of the tongue.