Monday, November 26, 2012

What Not to Say

Since the world takes great pleasure in watching reality T.V. shows and in listening to music where people say pretty much whatever they want, no matter how lewd, crude, or rude, I find it compelling to write about this phenomenon.  As a fashion lover, I used to enjoy watching the show, "What Not to Wear," but eventually quit due to the cruel, unkind remarks made by the show's hosts.  Their mean and rude lashings towards the guests became a serious turn-off to me.  I mean, what we wear shouldn't even really matter.  But it was not a huge shocker that the show did as well as it did--we are much more concerned about the "outside" appearance in our world than we are about the "inside."  You can have a mouth like a snake and cuss like a sailor, but if you are wearing Dolce & Gabbana, you're lookin' good.

Let me begin this blog post by stating emphatically and sincerely that I need to be reminded of the things I am about to say as much as anyone.  The tongue is a sharp weapon, and I too, have sadly and ashamedly fallen prey to saying things without thinking first that have been hurtful or offensive to others (and I've been known to have "sailor" moments, as well).  We all put our foot in our mouth from time to time, but the hope and goal is for that to be a very rare occurrence (or at least, that should be our hope and goal).  I have found myself telling close girlfriends that if I ever say anything that hurts or upsets them, I want to know about it because I want to be able to apologize and attempt to rectify what I have said--I would never intentionally hurt anyone I loved (or anyone I didn't love, for that matter).  Their response is always, "Oh, Steph.  You'd never be capable of saying anything hurtful."  But the truth of the matter is, without God's spirit anointing and leading us, and without us seeking Him daily for help and guidance, we're all pretty much social idiots and are capable of a lot of wrongdoings--conversationally and otherwise. 

I also want to state that I do not desire for this particular blog post to become a list of proper social etiquette rules or a compilation of dos and don'ts for personal conversation.  There are plenty of excellent books out there on that topic for those who are seriously interested and which are authored by people much more credible and thorough than I (of course, none of those books have ever made it on the best seller's list--color me surprised).  I also do not want this blog to become a place where I regularly vent my own personal frustrations on a subject.  No one wants to read some one's rantings or rebukes.  But frankly, in a world and society where etiquette towards others and concern for edifying others are rapidly becoming dying arts, a little exploration of those items might be good.

One of the things I hear family and friends complain about most is that of hurtful words spewed to them by others.  The amazing power words exhibit in our lives is truly remarkable.  When someone says something truly edifying to us that encourages or builds us up, we never forget it.  It feeds our soul at the moment we hear it, and it continues to feed us long afterward. It also frames our opinion and thoughts about that person in such a lovely way.  The same is true for harmful words.  We not only never forget them, but they roll around in our head and haunt us for many years to come.  They likewise, frame the person who uttered them in a very negative way for us--they no longer feel "safe" and we envision them as a dragon spewing toxic waste in our direction (not a pretty picture).  Essentially, the person who dished-out the harmful words has shot themselves, too, because no one truly wants to be placed in a negative light or frame with anyone else (sorry for all the photography metaphors--can you tell I love to take pictures?!). 

Words have such immense power in our lives that psychologists actually say they can form our very being.  Our identities are strongly and deeply rooted in the stuff other people say to us and about us.  When we love and value others in our lives, we likewise put a great deal of stock in what they say to us--regarding us and pretty much everything.  One can make or break a child by what they say to them--everyone knows this.  This doesn't change when we become adults.  We can still be blessed or poisoned by the words of those around us, and amazingly enough, it doesn't take much for it to go either direction.  The old saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me," has to be one of the largest standing myths ever recited.  What a total farce that is! Most of us who have been the brunt of some one's brash jokes or crass, snide remarks feel like we have been beaten-up afterward, so obviously that old quote doesn't have a lick of truth behind it. 

While standing in a checkout line in a department store years ago, I happened upon a coffee table book placed strategically by the register (guess they were hoping for impulse shoppers). It was a book about social etiquette and grace.  There were many good thoughts in the book--suggestions like, don't compliment one person in the presence of others unless you plan to compliment the others (and do); give direct compliment/s, not indirect ones where you attempt to give the compliment via someone else (because then you make the middle-man feel as though you don't think anything good about them OR you don't care enough for the actual recipient to tell them yourself or to be certain they receive it); don't look at some one's photographs and compliment everyone else in the photo but them (or worse say, "that doesn't even look like you"--obviously, it IS them, so in some way it has to look like them--cameras don't lie); if you don't have anything good to say, say nothing at all; don't look at your watch while someone else is talking; pretend you have a word odometer on your lips and try to have a lower count than the other person/people present; don't expect to always receive encouragement and compliments, yet dread having to give them in return; imagine hearing what you are about to say from someone else and if you know you wouldn't like it, don't say it (basically, use the golden rule); when someone apologizes, just accept it, don't rub it in their face or refuse to admit your part in it (because frankly, apologizing doesn't mean the other person is admitting they were the only one in the wrong, it just means they value the relationship they have with you much more than their own ego--so be flattered, but be humble, too).  The list could go on and on.  

I also think it is important to mention that we are all too good at being critical with each other and not good enough at being encouraging.  We can easily find the faults in others but it is very hard for us at times to see the good.  We are called to see the good, not focus on the bad.  We need to focus more on our own bad, and much less on that of others (as well as, focus much less on our own "good"). Basically, we need to do the opposite of what we're inclined to do--look upon the good of others, and think a little less good of ourselves.  But this is becoming very foreign to us today.  Reality T.V. and our current society tell us to, "Stand up for yourself, air your grievances with boldness, and tell people what you really think."  I'm not promoting self-deprecation to the point of having low self-esteem or advocating anyone becoming a metaphorical doormat in any realm.  Jesus Himself stood-up for righteousness and for God's truths at all cost, and He sure didn't do everything everyone wanted Him to do every second they wanted Him to do it.  He wasn't here for popularity, and He sure didn't kiss the hind-ends of those who piously thought they knew more than He--and He was a perfect man. But Jesus was full of love and mercy--He was here to serve, not to be served.  We are rarely taught how to think higher of others than ourselves, and as for, "serving others," we really don't understand what that even means most days.  Even when we do serve others, we typically just go through the motions of it blindly.  We are so easily distracted with our own thoughts, needs, and wants.  It just isn't in our nature to easily be "others" focused.  Even from birth, we are pretty much crying out, "It's all about me, and I have some immediate needs to which you need to tend!"  We are also rarely taught how to exercise our feelings and opinions in such a way as to not hurt others.  Instead, we do so with no filter applied and with total disregard for the ramifications (or the other person's feelings). 

It is an exceptionally sad thing when this happens in the church or in the body of Christ (the larger church).  God hates it when believers knock each other down with harmful words in the area of callings, service, and gifts.  He clearly states that He gives every believer different gifts and different callings.  If everyone did the exact same thing/s He has asked you personally to do, who would do all the other work that you aren't doing in the body of Christ?!  No one's gifts, talents, service, abilities, or callings are more superior to anyone else, and God does not equip everyone to do the same ministries.  I say this in utter love--if you are a believer who ever finds yourself wondering why others aren't involved in your particular ministry or calling, get over yourself, get on your knees, and give God the glory that He gave you the ability to do anything at all.  Anyone could find one verse in God's Word to support that their particular calling or ministry is an awesome, necessary one--because they all are.  But He is working differently for different causes and purposes in the lives of your fellow believers.  It is also a fact that there are many different ways believers can support particular ministries--it may not look like your anointed path, and that is okay. It doesn't mean they are turning a blind eye to that particular need, but they aren't "sinning" because they aren't supporting it your way.  There is much work to be done in the Kingdom of God, and God forbid your fellow believers start expecting you to do their particular ministries and get equipped with their specific gifts.  It is also very easy for us to view the service of others as less than ours, because when you haven't actually done a particular work in the church, you don't appreciate or fully value what goes into it.  We exaggerate our own work and devalue that of others too often in the church, and we all know from experience that when you get involved in anything new, you are shocked at how much goes into doing it properly.  The person who hands out donuts and greets visitors on Sunday morning is as important to God as those who are leading, teaching, or going on mission trips, even if that doesn't "look" as noble or fancy.  In fact, God says as many positive things in His Word about encouragers and hospitalitarians as He does about leaders, teachers, missionaries, and preachers.  If I expected every Christian woman who had sinned in premarital sex to go tell the teen girls how it was a huge mistake just because I have chosen to do that and God has called and equipped me to do it, I'd be pretty smug and proud--and probably, God wouldn't even bless my ministry anymore.  Don't belittle the gifts and abilities God has given to every special member in His body and likewise, inflate your own.  Let His Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit--you are not the one who decides, equips, or calls anyone to do anything. If you aren't involved in every possible ministry listed in God's Word, then stop attempting to transfer your particular calling onto everyone else.  The body has many parts and we are all essential for the survival of the church, and every part needs encouragement and appreciation.  We are called to view other's gifts as higher than our own.

What does the Lord say about words, the tongue, gifts, and how we are to treat others with edification and encouragement?  He says a great deal about it, and His statements aren't commands for only those with the gift of encouragement--we are ALL called to be encouraging to each other (this is one area where the Holy Spirit truly does desire for everyone to partake)!  I want to close with some Scripture on this topic--God's Word is more powerful than anything I can ever say anyway.  I pray that my words are pleasing to God and that He graces me with many more days, weeks, months, and years to edify and bless those He has placed in my life--those who are not only better than I, but who I desire to love more than I love myself.  What else are we here for but to learn to love Him and to love each other selflessly for His glory?!  All else is vanity. 

Scriptures on the tongue, on edification (building-up and encouraging others), and on gifts:

Ephesians 5:3-4, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."

Ephesians 4:29, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

James 3:6, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."

Psalm 34:13, "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile."

Psalm 39:1, "I said, 'I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.'"

Proverbs 21:23, "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity."

Psalm 35:28, "My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long."

Proverbs 10:20, "The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value."

Proverbs 12:18, "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Proverbs 15:4, "The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit."

Proverbs 18:21, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." 

Proverbs 17:4, "Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander."

Proverbs 25:23, "The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, an angry countenance."

Psalm 140:3, "They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent; Adders' poison is under their lips. Selah."

Psalm 57:4, "My soul is among lions; I lie among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword."

Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." 

Matthew 7:1-5, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

1 Corinthians 12:4-27, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."