Words that Hang, Haunt, or Heal


Colorful microphoneWords matter. As we enter an election cycle, we’ll hear a plethora of words. Christians must make sense of those words and also ensure our own replies bear the marks of Jesus.

Politics is a nasty business in general, but like all professions, people can be good or bad at it. We should celebrate those who show a measure of political skill and astuteness. We must also be careful that our own political speech respects not only words in the present, but also those in the past and future.

Case in point…

Christians in 2008 lambasted a senator who made little effort to complete his first term (his first national office of any kind) before running for president. They deemed this “opportunist” “irresponsible” and too callow for the highest office in the land, with scant national leadership experience and next to none internationally. The vitriol leveled at this senator reached a fever pitch, with people wringing their hands over his rush to the Oval Office.

Today, we have three GOP presidential candidates, each with enthusiastic evangelical Christian support, who are first-term senators that have yet to complete their terms, yet no one in evangelical ranks is calling them “irresponsible” or “opportunists” or is criticizing their inexperience or their rush to be president.

I call shenanigans.

Really, the double standard here is not worthy of the Body of Christ. Problem is, it’s the kind of selective forgetfulness that makes Christians look foolish in the eyes of lost people. We use words to express ourselves, but then they hang us later.

It’s not just in politics where this happens, either.

In charismatic Christian circles, we have self-named, nationally known “prophets” who supposedly speak for all charismatics, making eschatological claims or calling this person “the antichrist” or prophesying some oddly worded thing that supposedly comes from the mouth of God yet never comes to pass. Later, the world stage changes, and the old antichrist is forgotten, replaced by the latest bad boy in the news.

Or, we have regional or local area seers who go around speaking to individuals and prophesying over them, always something wonderful and amazing, yet that wonderful, amazing word never happens, haunting some poor recipient who now wonders how God could fail. That is, until the next wandering prophet minstrel show blows through town and those burned replace the failed word with a new one sure to forecast something even more amazing just for them.

Shenanigans again.

Or in noncharismatic circles, we get church leaders who announce some new program that promises to revitalize the congregation, and it’s sold, sold, sold until the people in the seats relent mentally to this greatest initiative ever—until it fails a year or two later and the leadership moves on to the next new whizbang thing, leaving everyone else to wonder what the heck happened.

In all these cases, the word pronouncers and announcers hope we have the memory of a fruit fly. And sadly, we tend to.

Christians can’t live this way, though.

We can’t be people who forget what was said. We can’t be people who say things we don’t practice or don’t stick with.

And while we can’t NOT hold others responsible when they attempt to backtrack or whitewash, neither can we withhold forgiveness for careless speech when it’s sought with a contrite heart.

The Kingdom of God does not rest on halfhearted words, retractable “truths,” and broken promises. It doesn’t apply truth selectively. And while it does hope for the best, it acknowledges we are dust and failure lingers as our human condition.

I confess that I’m not a perfect person, not even close. Sometimes, my memory isn’t tack-sharp, but this is not to say I don’t try to be consistent. I’ve been writing Cerulean Sanctum a long time, and even my perspective has changed. Some old posts don’t perfectly reflect everything I believe now, or nuances crept in over time, yielding a tangential view that trumps an older, once-primary perspective.

But growing in Christ means acknowledging shifts and failures in words and views. It means saying, “I was wrong” or “My view on that has changed, and here’s why.” It means not forgetting what we say, because words have power, and the wounding words of yesterday, though forgotten by us, may still linger in another person’s life, wreaking damage day after day.

Maturity isn’t about never changing a perspective or never making a mistake. It’s about owning up to our tainted speech, our human frailty, and helping others own up to theirs too.

Perhaps when we do, true healing will come, and with it a fruitful life.

Three Little Words We Christians Need to Say


The worst teaching we get here in America is to always stick up for ourselves. From the time we take our first steps, the mantra we hear over and over is to stand up for our rights and stand against “the bad guy.”

But in the rush to always reinforce the American collective mentality, found in our forefathers as they battled British “oppression,” humility has taken a devastating hit. Somehow, we lost the way to fight for what is good while simultaneously being humble people. Worse, our lack of humility causes us to gloss over atrocities, both individual and collective.

And no entity in America has suffered more for this than the Christian Church.

Here are three little words you almost never hear in the average church:

We were wrong.

Or the individual version:

I was wrong.

Our inability to confess to failures continues to compromise the effectiveness of the Church in our country. Swept along by the spirit of the age, the Church here has forgotten what it means to be humble. Haughty, arrogant, prideful, judgmentalAs a result, like other failed institutions wracked by hubris, the Church has been lumped with all the pride-filled transgressors and relegated to meaninglessness in the lives of most Americans. And for those people who have not thrown the Church on the dung heap, usually Christians, they continue to be slaves of their own pride, unable to say those three little words.

We live in a cynical age. I would argue that our cynicism is borne out of witnessing far too many instances of pride run amok. When that pride is only reinforced in the wake of obvious failure, when confession and remorse should be the response—and yet are not—we throw another log on the fires of “wisdom” and harden ourselves further, like Damascus steel, over the flames.

When was the last time a church confessed publicly that…

…all the money dumped into the new youth program hasn’t made the teens better disciples?

…for all the talk of community, people in the church were getting no help finding work or were unable to pay their bills?

…the enormous building campaign was fueled more from a need to outdo neighboring churches than to lift up Jesus?

…the beloved special speaker brought in for a yearly teaching series is doctrinally wonky?

…it personally failed the young person who wound up pregnant/in jail/homeless/drug-addled?

…the latest spiritual bandwagon it jumped on went off a cliff?

…the nationally known Christian, whose ministry it supported unquestionably, needed to be questioned more throughly, long before the scandal broke?

Why is it we are so afraid to say we blew it?

Why is so much swept under the proverbial rug?

I know so many charismatics who have come to me over the years glowing with some exciting “word of knowledge” they received from some “Spirit-filled” leader or traveling prophecy show and yet that “amazing word” never came to pass. And still those same people are the first ones in line to grab another “word.”

Some bizarre denial mechanism exists in Evangelicalism that takes all that failure and walls it off in our psyches as if it never happened. This hardens some to the point they become unable to discern anything. Others wind up wrecked on the rocks of those failures, and in the midst of everyone around them denying the problem, end up walking away from the Church—and often from God.

How is it that we cannot weep with those who have been burned by the inability of the Church to say We were wrong? Are we THAT filled with pride?

People keep wondering how we can fix the horrible mess we find ourselves in as Christians in America. Confessing our pride and our failures would be a great start. They used to call that repentance, though I know that word is not popular when applied to us. Usually we reserve it for the other guys. You know, the sinners.

A nation of people who are not humble will be humbled. A Church that asserts pride-driven power will be brought low. God is not mocked, and placing ourselves on a platform on His level, demanding rights only He can possess, is a sure recipe for a butt kickin’—ours.

You and I are dust. Remembering that would go a long way toward fixing a world of problems.

And maybe, just maybe, if we were a lot more humble, people who are dying for real answers to real problems would again look to America and the American Church for solutions.

Every revival starts in the ashes of humility.

A Church That Makes a Practical Difference


My wife comes from an Evangelical Friends background, a splinter group of the Quakers. Her experience was always with the more doctrinally solid and conservative part and less with the group known for social action and a more liberal theology.

But curiosity is a powerful lure, and early in our marriage we attended an “inner light” Quaker service just to see what it was like.

For about an hour, people sat quietly, communing with God, listening. From time to time the silence would be broken by someone who felt led of God to share  a spiritual insight. Also, people would stand and request prayer for various issues or needs, some of which were quite personal and sad. The group would then pray for them.

Say what you will about this more liberal sect of Quakerism, but I was struck by the simple truth that time was given for people to share real needs.

I know far too many Evangelical Christians whose churches are not aware of their suffering. Creating a safe place for sharing those needs and getting them addressed in prayer and with practical action would seem like a lifeblood activity of any local church. Why then is it so rare?

People with needs are often afraid to confess those needs before the church for the following reasons:

Pride, as their invincibility and bootstrapping will be shaken

Fear, as someone will certainly question their faith

Disappointment, because they anticipate that nothing will be done because nothing ever is

Resignation, because they asked once before and were rebuffed

I once told an Internet friend who had been out of work for a long time and suffering greatly that he should stand up in the middle of his church service one day and just say, “I need a job. Can any of you help?” I suggested to another that he call a well-known parachurch ministry in his area that is always talking about how men must be the breadwinner in order to be good Christians and ask them, “What jobs do you have available for me to do so I can be the man you insist I must be? I can report to work tomorrow.”

The sad thing about both those cases is that neither the church nor the parachurch ministry would encourage that kind of confession. But if not the Church, then who?

Every church should have a time on Sunday morning to allow people to share their needs. I don’t care if it takes an hour to run through all those needs, the whole church needs to hear them. Because no one knows who sitting in those pews might have the immensely practical solution that confessor needs. And church leaders need to stop thinking that they alone can handle all these problems and start turning them back to the laity.

Even more, the church needs to take a Sunday now and then to have those people who confessed a need update the church on how that need did or didn’t get met. That allows the whole church to see what God is doing. And isn’t that exactly what a lot of us need to hear? Doesn’t it seem that sometimes the only places God is working are in some distant land? That’s not at all true, but the way we bury both needs and the rejoicing in met needs, we in the seats just don’t hear enough of either to think much of this Christianity thing we do. How sad!

None of this is rocket science. It takes no great leap or huge bankroll to make happen. Every church in America could start this Sunday. We just have to do it.