I like going to church on Wednesday nights.
It’s my mid-week boost.
I love to worship with the beautiful music, pray with fellow believers and hear the sermon.
My pastor, the Rev. Mike Washburn, has a rotation of speakers and, sometimes, I even get to speak.
Last week, Pastor Mike gave the sermon from an incredible book of the Bible called James.
He had us turn to Chapter 3 which includes Scriptures about our mouths — specifically our speech.
The chapter starts with something that can make you swallow hard if you do any speaking or teaching:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
My pastor says teachers are influencers and I believe that’s true.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, a preacher or a president — you’re going to have influence on someone.
And we must be careful about what we say.
James provides examples that create visual metaphors of how powerful our little tongues can be.
For instance, if we put a bit into a horse’s mouth we can guide that huge animal’s whole body.
A small rudder is used to guide an enormous ship.
Those who’ve experienced the wildfires in California should have no trouble picturing his next example: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
That’s a scary verse, but we all know of situations where lying, slander, gossip and harsh words have ruined friendships, divided families and created a world of hurt.
I remember the modern-day parable about a woman who went to her pastor. She’d spread some gossip and later discovered what she said wasn’t true.
When she asked the pastor what to do, he took a small pillow from his office. It was windy when he took her outside. He tore the pillow. All the feathers from the pillow flew out into the wind and went everywhere.
“Now, go pick up all the feathers,” he said.
Obviously, she couldn’t do that and the visual aid provided a powerful example of the damage done by her unrestrained tongue.
In his sermon, my pastor gave a Biblical example of how the words of 10 guys caused decades of damage.
The story begins with 12 Israelite spies sent to scope out the land God promised their forefathers to give them.
Two of these men — Joshua and Caleb — come back with a good report and urge their countrymen to go in and take the land.
But 10 others give a bad report filled with fear and discouragement.
These 10 men obviously had seen many of God’s miracles — which included parting the Red Sea — but their faith had dried up.
As a result, they ended up negatively influencing an estimated 1 ½ to 2 million people, who wailed and wondered why they weren’t still slaves in Egypt — even though they’d been treated so miserably there.
They complained against their leader, Moses. They talked about finding a new leader and going back to Egypt.
God decided that only the grouchy guys’ children (along with Joshua and Caleb) would go into the Promised Land.
All those grumblers never set foot in it. They’d wander in the desert for 40 years — one year for every day those spies were scoping out that territory.
Ten people really messed things up for 2 million of their countrymen.
Wait a minute, you say.
Isn’t 40 years a pretty harsh sentence for a bad attitude mingled with doubt and fear?
Actually, that may have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Those same Israelites had crabbed about not having water, then food.
God brought water out of a rock for them and sent them manna from heaven.
When they complained about the manna and wanted meat, he sent quail. (Not quite like having Kentucky Fried Chicken dropped off at your doorstep, but it was meat for them nonetheless.)
Then the Israelites made and worshiped a golden calf, while Moses was on a mountain getting the 10 Commandments from God.
Even with all that, the Israelites still had an opportunity to see their dreams fulfilled.
But what those 10 men said affected the destinies of so many people who believed their gloomy forecast over God’s centuries-long promise.
It pays to be careful with words.
Now, go back to the third chapter of James and you can read his words on how every type of beast, bird, reptile and sea creature has been tamed by mankind.
But no one can tame the tongue.
“It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in his image.”
Ouch — again.
I hate to think about conversations where I wasn’t trying to say anything wrong, but should have stopped talking a lot sooner.
I’m reminded of the mental checklist we should make before speaking:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
How tempted are we to share stories and details that are better left unsaid?
James continues with: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
“Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives or a grapevine produce figs?”
You don’t have to be a sailor or a farmer to answer those questions.
What’s in our hearts often comes out of our mouths, which is why I love the words of a shepherd turned king named David:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
I’ve prayed those words many times.
And I’ve often prayed something else David penned centuries ago:
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
A clean mouth starts with a clean heart — and keeping that heart clean can be a full-time job.
That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to help us.
As my pastor would say, “Let the Holy Spirit take control of your tongue.”
Here’s something I pray a lot: “Lord, please let your thoughts become my thoughts; your words become my words and your actions become my actions.”
Or “Let my thoughts, actions, words and deeds be a reflection of you.”
When it comes to watching what I say, I need all the help I can get.
I’d never want my pastor to destroy a perfectly good pillow just to show me why I should have monitored my mouth.