Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


How to Pray for Our Nation

Much like our nation as a whole, the Church is divided over our new President. One of the things we can all agree on is the need to pray for him and for our nation. Yesterday, in view of both President Trump’s inauguration and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, many churches prayed for our nation. Adam Darbonne, High School Director at Central Peninsula Church’s North Campus, led us in prayer and I believe this is a fine example of how to pray for our nation at such a time as this.

Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer, Ancient of Days, we bow before you this morning, our only King, and the sovereign God, who rules with perfect justice and love. 

You have commanded us to pray for all those in authority, and as we have prayed for President Obama over the last eight years, we now pray for President Trump. First and foremost we pray that he would repent and believe in your resurrected son. We ask that you would convict him of sin, and bring him to his knees in repentance. That you would humble him under your mighty hand, and lead him by your glorious light. Until then, we pray that your will be done in the government. Surround our leaders with your wisdom. We ask that you would use the government to restrain evil, bring justice in our country, especially to the downtrodden, hurting, and vulnerable.

We also pray that you would use us, your church, to be salt and light in the world, that we would be a voice and force for justice and love in our country and around the world. And as Paul says, teach us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and holy in every way, for this is pleasing to you. As we pray for justice for the vulnerable give us the courage and compassion we need to live as faithful advocates for human life—in all its expressions. How we long for the Day when “death shall be no more”—when life will flourish in the new heaven and new earth. Today we especially think about the lives of unborn children and the constant threat to those lives—even as we cry out to you on behalf of all kinds of women in all kinds of situations who are carrying those children in their wombs. Lord Jesus, we pray for the courage to stand up and care for the voiceless and vulnerable—those whom you are knitting together in their mother’s womb. Lord Jesus, may those here today whose stories are marked by abortion know your love, compassion and forgiveness this morning.

Finally, Lord, make us a compassionate church. Jesus, show us how to love and care for those women and men whose stories are marked by abortion. May we be a church who cares extravagantly for women in crisis. Lord, we long for your justice, compassion, forgiveness, and love. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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Growing Spiritually Strong Families

How can you grow a spiritually strong family? This is one of the questions our church is exploring as we began a series last week called, Building a Home: One Room at a Time. We’ll go from room to room in a typical house and talk about things like parenting, marriage, siblings, children, communication and conflict resolution. In my reading this past week I found a helpful little handbook by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called, Growing a Spiritually Strong Family. They had ten tips for couples who want their families to grow deeply in the soil of God’s love:

  1. Sink your roots: The best thing you can do for your kids is develop your own relationship with Jesus through the classic means of grace, like prayer, confession, reading the Bible and cultivating deep relationships with other believers. It starts with you. You can’t pass on anything you haven’t fully bought into.
  2. Pray with your mate: This may be the hardest yet most significant thing for couples to do. Less than 8% of believing couples pray together regularly and only 3% pray together every day. If you do this, I guarantee it will change your marriage! It’s hard to be mad at each other and pray at the same time. Find creative ways to do this. My wife and I have some of our best prayer times on long walks, and we’ve seen some remarkable answers.
  3. Give your children you: The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. Carve out time for them. When they’re in the mood to talk, drop everything and give them your undivided attention. Give them lots of bear hugs, kisses and pats on the back. Give them you!
  4. Eat right: Find a way to read and discuss God, Jesus and the Bible as a family. Make this a part of your everyday conversation rather than a once a week mandatory sit down. Find creative ways to spice things up like discussing a movie that touches on some area of biblical truth, throwing out questions with no easy answers or letting one of your kids lead a devotional.
  5. Set the course: Determine what your core values are as a family. What’s non-negotiable? One day one of our daughters announced she would no longer be going to church with us. Yeah, right! Lynn and I decided early on that church wasn’t a negotiable activity for our kids as long as they were under our roof. She wasn’t a happy camper but her resistance didn’t last long and today she holds that value in her own family.
  6. Romance your mate: Go on regular dates together. Study your spouse and know her well enough to know what communicates love to her. By the way, there’s a high likelihood it’s different from what communicates love to you. Don’t be afraid to show physical affection to your spouse in front of your kids. They may act grossed out, but deep down they’ll love it!
  7. Train your disciples: One of the best things our family ever did when our kids were young was take a mission trip to Mexico. Experiences like this stretch our kids’ faith and give them the thrill of seeing God use them to change lives. Each of my kids has traveled with me on ministry trips outside of the country and it’s been a great way to instill in them a vision for something bigger than themselves
  8. Fight the darkness: You need to be aware of the darkness in our culture and how it threatens your family. What kinds of movies and TV shows will you watch? Who will your kids date? By the way, I’ve found that just because other “Christian” families allow their kids to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for your family.
  9. Rest and refresh: Every family needs to make time during the week to set aside the work and the chores and just be together. God created the Sabbath not as a noose around our neck but to bless us. Try to set aside one day a week that’s different from the others in that it’s not about “doing” but rather “being.”
  10. Keep your covenant: Your marriage is the foundation for your family. It’s a covenant relationship you entered into before God who has made you one flesh. There is no room for the “D” word in your vocabulary.


I appreciate the Raineys’ wisdom. We have no guarantees that our kids will follow Jesus as adults, but I believe these are the kinds of things God uses to draw them to himself. My wife and I have had seasons where we’ve done many of these well, and not so well. Perhaps you to go down the list with your spouse and ask how you’re doing in each area. Decide how you’ll shore up those weak areas. Families are always a work in progress and sometimes we just need some markers along the way to help us measure how we’re doing.

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Mentoring Young Pastors

men·tor  ˈmenˌtôr,-tər/
an experienced and trusted adviser. “he was her friend and mentor until his death”
synonyms: advisor, guide, guru, counselor, consultant

Many people are talking about mentoring these days. Last week I prepared a message that had a lot to say about this from the story of Elisha’s succession of Elijah as the lead prophet in Israel. Before Elijah’s departure, there was an “in-between” period in which Elisha walked with Elijah and received his invaluable mentoring. Whether it’s Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, or Paul and Timothy, there’s a lot to learn about mentoring from these biblical examples.

A couple of years ago I ran across a verse that has come to define what I feel my purpose is for the rest of my life. Here it is: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Ps 71:18). Mentoring is all about declaring His power to the next generation.

I have the privilege of serving at Central Peninsula Church(link) church as Lead Pastor. I am going on my twenty-eighth year there. My greatest joy right now comes in mentoring some of the young pastors on our staff. God has blessed us with some amazing young men and women that are very much in their formative years of leadership. My own focus is on mentoring the young men. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in mentoring them:

  1. Pick strong guys. Maybe this goes without saying, but some older men are threatened by strong, talented young men. But as long as this strength is tempered with humility and a teachable spirit, I’ll take a young stallion any day over a gelding.
  2. Take them with you. I have the opportunity to travel a good deal on ministry trips outside the country. I rarely go alone. Usually, I bring one of these guys with me. The experiences we share on these trips is worth a thousand staff meetings!
  3. Meet regularly. This sounds so simple and obvious, but I’m often surprised how few Lead Pastors take the time to sit down and meet one- on-one with the guys on their staff. I meet with them at least every other week, apart from regular staff meetings.
  4. Speak hard truth in love. David Roper used to say, “God’s men bounce.” The idea is you can hit them hard and they’ll bounce back. I have found this to be true, so I don’t hold back, but also try to do it in the context of committed love.
  5. Invest in their marriage. If the enemy is going to pick one of these guys off, he’ll often try to do it in the context of their family. My wife and I try to meet often with them as couples. We share our own struggles and challenges and encourage them to put their marriage before ministry.
  6. Share history. Every church has a unique story. Learning and honoring that story is part of being a good shepherd. Young guys have a tendency to want to change that story instead of honor it, and certain things do often need changing! But for change to be truly redemptive, it must be born out of a respect for what God has been doing there all along.
  7. Expose them to other leaders. I’m not the only one who they can learn from. There are areas in which they would be much better off learning from someone else.
  8. Let them preach. Most young guys want to preach more. I try to balance the responsibilities I have to preach with the need they have to grow in their pulpit skills. While some guys are naturals, most need time in the pulpit to hone their craft. As much as you can, give it to them.
  9. Talk them up. Talk them up to the church, elders and key leaders. They will lap it up like thirsty hounds. We all like encouragement, and the young men you mentor need to not only hear it from you, but to hear it from others who have heard it from you.
  10. Learn from them. There is so much I learn from the young guys on our staff. I’m way behind when it comes to technology, current trends in churches and the right kind of jeans to buy. I try not to say, “We’ve never done it that way.” Okay, sometimes I say it, but not too much.

I love mentoring. I love this stage in life where I’m “in-between” the call to mentor others and my own departure from the scene. What a privilege it is to declare his mighty deeds to all who are to come!

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I’ve heard it said many times, as the men go, so goes the church. This is one reason I’m so happy about what happened a couple of weeks ago at Mt. Hermon Conference Center. The church I serve in Central Peninsula Church (CPC) held a Men’s Retreat there. We’ve been doing this at the same place for over 30 years. A few years ago we almost canned our retreat because our numbers were down. I’ve even been told from a good friend who works at Mt. Hermon that churches doing men’s retreats are few and far between these days. But in the last few years we’ve experienced a revival of sorts among the CPC men. At this last retreat we had about 250 men, which I think broke a CPC record for the amount of guys at our conference. This has always been a multi-generational retreat, with teaching, small groups, recreation, food and time to just hang out. None of that has changed, but what are some of the things that have contributed to this resurgence of men coming to our retreat? 

An extension of ministry that takes place all year long
Twelve years ago we started a men’s ministry at CPC called Men’s Fraternity. We didn’t hire anyone to start this. We did it organically with existing leadership. It started small; we kept it simple. We provided a hot breakfast. We taught on men’s issues and we set aside time for small group discussion. We met on Thursday mornings from 6:00-7:30 am, September through May, because most men are available during that time. We had about 25 men meeting at first, and steadily it grew. Today we have over 150 men who show up each week. We now have a dedicated staff person to lead it, but volunteers do the bulk of the work. A cooking crew even shows up at 4:00 am! I believe that Men’s Fraternity has been the foundation for a successful Men’s Retreat.

Don’t let money be an issue
There are a lot of men who see the price tag of a typical men’s retreat and just can’t justify forking out the cash for a weekend away with the boys. We decided we didn’t want money to hold anyone back from coming. Instead of charging for the retreat, we now take an offering during the retreat to cover the expenses. We know that some men can’t cover their costs, while other men can cover more than their own. Each year we’ve seen God show up and provide more than enough through this offering.  

Involvement from elders
As our elders discussed the future of our Men’s Retreat a few years back, we realized that many of us weren’t even going! How could we encourage our men to attend when we weren’t even willing to take the time to go ourselves? Our elders committed themselves to attending the retreat. We even held an elders open forum on Saturday night in which men could ask our elders anything they wanted. It was a huge hit! When our elders engaged, the men of the church followed!

Perhaps a men’s retreat isn’t the answer for all churches, but for us it has been a catalyst for genuine transformation among our men. One of our men emailed me recently with this testimony: “It was great to have dinner with you at the retreat on Saturday. Thank you for sharing your time. The retreat was amazing and I’ve walked away with a new peace in friendship and fellowship with many men in the CPC community. I am really in awe of what God has done within CPC and I have never fellowshipped and worshiped in such a deep and meaningful way as I have last weekend. I am hoping that as God continues to do His work in my life and that of my family’s, that I will be able to give back to the CPC community…” 

May his tribe increase!


The Case for Expository Preaching

For the past three decades I’ve been committed to expositional preaching. Expository preaching is committed to explaining and applying a Biblical text to the audience. It begins with the conviction that all of Scripture was breathed out by God and has the power to change the life of a person who hears and obeys it. Most of the time, expository preaching means preaching systematically through books of the Bible. This is in contrast to topical preaching, which begins with a topic and then looks for biblical references that address that topic. I’ve found that there are several benefits to expository preaching.

Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to present truth in balance. As I preach through books of the Bible I’m forced to deal with the difficult themes of Scripture as well as the more appealing ones. I must deal with both grace and truth, wrath and mercy, theology and practice. In every biblical book, there’s a mingling of different themes that makes possible the apostolic goal of “declaring the whole counsel of God.”

Preaching through entire books of the Bible prevents me from worrying about what to preach next. Before I begin preaching through a book, I lay out the entire series of messages according to paragraphs. Each message will be an exposition of that paragraph, also allowing me to focus on a single theme which has emerged from my study. Every pastor knows the panic that can set in when he doesn’t know what to preach on next. I’m glad to say that this has seldom been an issue for me.

Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to model for people how to study the Bible. Every pastor wants his people to be able to feed themselves from the Word of God, but many people feel intimidated by the Bible and inadequate when it comes to how to study and interpret it. While not a Bible Study per se, expository preaching allows me to model sound interpretation and application of a biblical passage. People are able to observe how to move from understanding the biblical author’s intent to the application of that truth to the modern audience. I’ve seen how this rubs off on folks in both their small group Bible studies and their personal study of God’s Word.

Preaching through books of the Bible saves time because I only have to study one text instead of several. I’m always concerned when I hear a sermon that includes several different verses from all over the Bible. How in the world did he have the time to study all of those passages in context? Most often, I’ve found that he hasn’t, and he’s practicing what we call proof-texting. Proof-texting is when a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they’re citing. As I like to say, they have a good sermon looking for a text! I have found that it takes me several hours to interpret a single passage. Expository preaching allows me the time to do that thoroughly.

I close with a wonderful definition of expository preaching from my late mentor, Ray Stedman, “Exposition is preaching that derives its content from the Scripture directly, seeking to discover its divinely intended meaning, to observe its effect upon those who first received it, and to apply it to those who seek its guidance in the present. It consists of deep insight into and understanding of the thoughts of God, powerfully presented in direct personal application to contemporary needs and problems. It is definitely not a dreary, rambling, shallow verse-by verse commentary, as many imagine. Nor is it a dry-as-dust presentation of academic biblical truth, but a vigorous, captivating analysis of reality, flowing from the mind of Christ by means of the Spirit and the preacher into the daily lives and circumstances of twentieth century people.”

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An Elder’s Authority


Authority is not power and control. Power and control may work over the short term but will eventually fail. Power is the use of gift, position, and opportunity to control others so they serve the elder and his aims. Often elders claim their power is from God and they seek to justify it by well-meaning claims, but their claims are marked by destructive attitudes that bring great hurt to our Lord’s sheep. Authority, on the other hand, is the use of gift, position, and opportunity to release others at the right time so that elders and others serve Christ together. Elders do lead people, but not for their own sake. They do it because of their concern for their growth. They don’t seek power. Henri Nouwen wrote about the dangers of power: “One of the greatest ironies of … Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power…. What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people … the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”

The apostles were concerned about the misuse of authority. In 2 Cor 1:24, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his own apostolic authority: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, …” In the same letter he describes with disapproval how they reacted to certain leaders among themselves: “For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face” (11:20). Peter, too, is careful to warn the elders not to govern by “lording it over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3). And John speaks strongly against Diotrephes “who loves to be first… even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 Jn 1:9-10). These first-century examples of church bosses indicate how easily churches can ignore the example of Jesus.

One of the ways we see in Scripture that Paul and others exercised their authority was that instead of giving orders they urged and appealed as fellow elders and brothers. In 1 Peter 5:1 he says, “I appeal as a fellow elder.” Then in Philemon, Paul clearly believes Philemon should set his slave Onesimus free, but he doesn’t deliver an edict. Instead he says, “…although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (Philemon 9).

Ray Stedman is now in heaven. I miss him. The church needs more elders like Ray today. Let me close with something Ray wrote several decades ago: “The task of the elders is not to run the church themselves, but to determine how the Lord in their midst wishes to run his church. Much of this he has already made known through the Scriptures, which describe the impartation and exercise of spiritual gifts, the availability of resurrection power, and the responsibility of believers to bear one another’s burdens, confess sins to one another, teach, admonish, and reprove one another, and witness to and serve the needs of a hurting world. In the day-to-day decisions which every church faces, elders are to seek and find the mind of the Lord through an uncoerced unanimity, reached after thorough and biblically-related discussion. Thus, ultimate authority, even in practical matters, is vested in the Lord and in no one else.”


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An Elder’s Authority

In 1979 I traveled with Ray Stedman to Brazil. Ray was in his prime. I was just a young man, very wet behind the ears, as they say. I saw Ray in action. I saw a man who exercised pastoral authority in wise and effective ways. He was a man who had innate personal authority. When he spoke, people listened, but he spoke only when he felt it necessary. He listened to others who differed with him, even when they were lowly interns. I learned more about authority from Ray Stedman than from anyone else, before or since. I learned from him that genuine authority doesn’t demand control or power. An elder or pastor is one who isn’t afraid to make mistakes, listens, doesn’t need to have all the answers, champions others, is humble and patient.

Elders have authority, and they can’t be afraid to exercise that authority. The responsibilities Scripture assigns to elders require that they have authority to accomplish them: teaching God’s truth, equipping the saints, exercising church discipline, and confronting false teachers. But where do elders get that authority to shepherd a church?


All authority in the church is derived authority. Even Jesus’ authority was delegated authority. He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Authority isn’t an elder’s; it’s Christ’s, and elders have authority only as He exercises it through them. If an elder doesn’t rely on Him alone, they may have the title of elder, but not the authority. They may have the power to make others do what they want, but they’ll lack the moral leverage and respect that calls others to follow them. They may have control for a short time, but they’ll never have genuine authority. Being an elder doesn’t bestow authority on them; instead it gives them opportunity for divinely given authority to be recognized. They either walk with Christ or they fall on their faces. How then do they get authority?


An elder’s authority comes from the Lord Jesus. He’s the one who makes a man an elder. In Acts 20:28, when Paul is addressing the Ephesian elders, he says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Not only that, but when others know they’re obedient to Him, they more willingly follow their leadership as their shepherds. His authority over their lives gives them authority in their lives. They gain authority the same way Christ did, through vulnerability, love, and self-sacrifice.


They also get authority from who they are, because knowing Christ makes them more like Him. Their authority comes from their person more than their position, from trust earned more than from power delegated or control exercised. They gain authority as they grow in Christ-likeness. Christ’s sheep know His voice and recognize it when they hear Him speak. If they hear His voice through an elder, their confidence in him grows and their trust in him deepens. They can tell, however, when Christ’s name is being masked by their own interests, and then they’ll resist authority at every turn. Ultimately an elder’s authority comes from their character tested over time.


Elders get authority not only from who they are, but also from serving others. In Matthew 23:11 Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” A spiritual man of high moral character who won’t humbly serve others will not earn authority from followers. An elder’s authority comes from caring for people, meeting needs, leading people to obey God and His Word, calling people to take a stand for Christ, calling people to be accountable before God, and organizing people to work together. If elders are to have authority, they must serve others well


Motives make a difference. Peter told elders to “shepherd the flock of God,” and appealed to them to be examples to the flock and not to use compulsion or seek sordid gain. They’re not to lord it over others, but to exercise oversight of them. Many people think exercising oversight means establishing control over others. But nothing could be further from the truth. The elder cares for his sheep; he encourages growth. Even when they must discipline the sheep, their concern for them should be care and growth, not punishment. They’re motivated to nurture, not to overpower.  An elder’s primary concern is his accountability to God, not authority, because their Chief Shepherd may return at any moment. When He returns, they’ll give an account of how well they carried out the job He gave them. He’s the owner and He’ll be concerned about the way they treated His sheep. Did they provide green grass and still waters for them when they were hungry? Did they protect them from wild animals and thieves in the darkness of night? Did they pursue them when they wandered off? They’re to care for them as Jesus cares for us. As Peter wrote, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25). Oversight means loving care and concern, a responsibility willingly shouldered; it can never be used for personal gain.

Check back tomorrow for how Elder’s lose power and as I wrap-up these posts.

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The Life-Giving Tongue

If death and life are in the power of the tongue, how do I bring life with the things I say to others? Let me suggest a few things, all from the book of Proverbs. 

Good words are few. The Lord’s Prayer is only 56 words long, but the Department of Agriculture needed 15,629 words to discuss the pricing of cabbage. It’s not using many words that makes a difference; it’s using the right words. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who retrains his lips is wise.” The more we talk, the more we sin. It could be misleading information, thoughtless advice, sarcasm, or expressions of pride. The wise person will use words sparingly. The Quakers used to put it this way, “Never break the silence, unless you can improve upon it.” Another proverb makes the same point with irony. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is counted prudent.” Strong, silent types are NOT always wise, but we usually think they’re wise, especially compared to those who are constantly spouting off. Words are like dollars. As we print more dollars, they become inflated and the value of those dollars goes down.

Good words are true. Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal faithfully are his delight.” The contrast here is between those who lie and those who deal faithfully. To lie is to deal unfaithfully with those around us. Think how our society depends on truth. What would it be like if we couldn’t believe what we read in our newspapers?  At the heart of journalism is a commitment to tell the truth. How would you feel about that over—the—counter medicine if you couldn’t trust what’s on the label? What about sports? We know how important it is not to cheat. Play by the rules or the whole thing falls apart. In relationships there is no community or friendship apart from truth. Where there is no truth there is no trust and where there is no trust there is no real community.

Good words are fitting. It’s not just enough that words are true. It’s possible to say something that’s right and true but totally inappropriate. Good words are also fitting.  Words that are fitting are timely and appropriate. Proverbs 15:23 says, “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word.” An apt answer and a timely word are easily recognized by the response that they invoke. They bring joy and delight to the hearer. To speak words that are fitting requires that we think as much about where and when we say something as what we say. Think back to words that have harmed you in the past. They might have been true, but chances are they came at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Good words are fitting words.

Good words are calming. Proverbs also says that good words are calming words. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” A gentle, soft and tender word calms a situation that’s about to get out of control while a harsh word just makes things worse. Here is a secret about how to deal with potentially explosive situations. Your spouse is angry at you because you got home late from work. You’re irritated because you did everything you could to get home early, but all you want to do is sit down and read the paper. In a slightly accusatory way she tells you she needs some help in the kitchen and why won’t you ever talk to her. You don’t feel like doing either. But how you respond may be the difference between a tense moment that blows over and World War III. Good words are words which by their tone and content defuse a situation.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, has lectured throughout this country on the powerful, and often negative impact of words. He often asks audiences if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, another person. Invariably, a small number of listeners raise their hands, signifying “Yes.” Others laugh, and quite a few call out, “No!” Telushkin responds: “Those who can’t answer ‘yes’ must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you can’t go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you’re addicted to alcohol. If you can’t go 24 hours without smoking, you’re addicted to nicotine. So if you can’t go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, then you’ve lost control over your tongue.”

Most of us would have to admit, that’s me. So the real question is, how can we tame our tongue? Complete mastery of the tongue is impossible for any of us, but we can make progress. We don’t have to go through life tasting the bitter fruit of an out of control tongue. Proverbs says a number of things about this as well. I will write of that in my next post.


Words Matter

Words matter. If there’s anything the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin situation teaches us, it’s that. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is nonsense. Words do far more damage than sticks and stones. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but they can’t kill our spirit like words can.

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of our words. This past year, if someone paid you ten dollars for every kind and helpful word you spoke about others or to others, but also collected ten dollars from you for every unkind word you spoke about or to others, would you be rich or poor? If the New Testament is right, we might all be broke. James writes, All kinds of animals have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

The words we say create most of the problems we face. Most problems at church or in the workplace are the result of words. Most divorces aren’t caused by adultery or desertion; they’re caused by words. Most conflicts between parents and children aren’t the result of some generation gap; they’re the result of words. Think about your own relationships for a moment. What has been said to you that has stung or crushed your spirit or just took the wind out of your sails for days? It might have been something said to you many years ago, but you remember, and it still hurts. Think about the things you’ve said that had the same impact on others. Once those words were out of your mouth they could never be retrieved. You really can’t take it back, can you? Our words become an enduring part of every relationship we have.

That’s why the Bible says so much about our words. It teaches us the words we speak will make or break the relationships we have. Learn to season your speech with grace and your relationships will grow in depth and in joy and in peace. Leave your tongue unbridled and it will poison your own life and those you love the most. No where is this more clearly stated than in Proverbs 18:20-21:

With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

These verses speak of the power of the tongue to impact our lives and those around us. The tongue has the power to inflict both life and death. Because of its power, we’re encouraged to “love it,” which means to respect it and to use it with care. If we do so the product of our speech will bring satisfaction to our lives. We’ll “eat its fruit” and enjoy the blessing the wise use of our speech brings to our relationships.

The tongue can do great harm or it can do great good. When Daryl Green was being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, he reflected on the impact his father had on him. He said, “Everyone else told me I was too small. But my dad said, ‘You can run the ball.’ Everyone else said, ‘No,’ but my dad said, ‘Go.’” Green was reflecting on the difference words made in his life. Words contain the power of death: “You’re too small.” But they also contain the power of life: “You can run the ball.” What a difference words can make! With your words you can hurt or you can heal, you can build up or you can tear down.

In my next few posts, I’ll get more specific about the kind of words that bring life and the kind that bring death.

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A Legacy of Mercy

Is the legacy of Christianity merciful or merciless? Yesterday I preached on 1 John 3:11-24. The message was called, “Love Life” because at the heart of the message was the idea that those who claim to know God must love like God. I had intended to include a quote from historian Rodney Stark in which he argues that Christianity’s emphasis on mercy was the primary factor that captured the attention of the ancient world. Stark writes: “In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security. In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. Thus humans must learn to curb the impulse to show mercy. Showing mercy was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful.” My hope is that the church today might continue this legacy of mercy while still holding onto the truth of the Word of God.