To help us understand the importance of this new sermon series we need to understand something about frogs.
Yes frogs. If you place a frog into a kettle of boiling water it will immediately jump out because it recognizes that the environment is hostile and life threatening.
If you take that same frog and place him in a kettle of room temperature water it will stay there and be quite content.
If you place that kettle on the stove and turn the heat on low and then slowly, very slowly, turn the heat up – the frog will continue to remain in the kettle quite content until he is quite dead. The problem is that the frog never feels his environment around him, the water, changing and becoming hostile so he never works to get out. This is what is happening with us.
We are the frogs living in the kettle and the culture in which we live is the water. We know that our culture has changed and not for the better, the stove has been turned on, but the heat is rising so slowly, changes are taking place so slowly that we have grown content with the way things are. As we see changes that we may not like we say, “it’s just a generational thing”, “it’s just how kids are today.” “There is nothing we can do to change this so we might as well go along with it.” With this attitude, over the last 50 years we have gone from this…
This is a picture of Miley Cyrus twerking on TV but the picture waso vulgar and inappropriate that this was all I could show you. The water around us is boiling, the environment is hostile to our and faith and our lives, but we have grown used to is so we don’t do anything about it. In his book Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel says,
We know something doesn’t feel quite right. We are not growing closer to God and following Christ the way we would like, but we can’t put our finger on it. Even though we believe in God and want to please him, we find it hard to serve him passionately and consistently. We want to move forward spiritually but feel like we’re running against the wind. We want more – we know there’s more – but we just can’t seem to find it.
If this sounds like where you are living today, if you take one step forward in your faith only to fall two steps back a week later, you are not alone. Most of us feel this way. Instead of moving closer to God we often feel ourselves moving farther away from God and we know that the world in which we live is not helping, but we aren’t quite sure what to do about it. Because we live in such a toxic environment, I am excited and hopeful about this sermon series because the goal of this series is to help us identify the hot water and learn how to jump out. For the next six weeks we are going to explore how toxic fears, relationships, beliefs, our culture and unhealthy comparisons we make in life hold us back from experiencing more of our faith and more of the life God wants for us and then we will look at some biblical and practical ways to come clean. Today, we are going to start by looking at how toxic words are slowly tearing us down and what we can do about them.
There is a well meaning phrase that we used to teach children because we thought it helped overcome negative words and name calling, but it is a statement that is fundamentally untrue. You know the phrase, it begins, sticks and stones may break my bones… (but names can never hurt me). Now we all know this is not true. Names hurt and if names and hurtful words are said over and over and over again, they not only tear us down but they shape the way we see ourselves and begin to define we are.
For many years as I was growing up, this is what I heard, fatty, fatty 2 X 4, can’t fit through the bathroom door. I heard that and many other names because I was overweight. I was picked last for every team in gym class and overall bullied and teased about being fat. Those words have shaped my life. People don’t understand me when I say this, but I still think of myself and see myself as being fat. While I have spent 35 of my 50 years not being overweight, because the first 15 years I was and heard about it almost daily – it has fundamentally shaped how I perceive myself.
Words and names have power, the Bible makes this clear. Look at Proverbs 18:21, 12:18, 15:4,
Words have power. The best example of this is the story of creation. What was it that created the world? It was the word of God. God spoke and it happened. God said, let there be lightand it happened; there was light. God spoke and the worlds came into being. God spoke and we came into being. God’s word has power and our words have power. Our words have the power to create life – maybe not the way God’s did, but we have the power to create life in ourselves and others, but our words also have the power to wound and destroy. Our words have the power to lift up or tear down. Our words can bring health or sickness, joy or sorrow, peace or war, life or death.
What kind of words do you remember hearing in your life? Can you remember the words that have brought you joy, health or life? My guess is that you may have a hard time thinking of those words, but you can quickly and easily remember the words that tore you down. What’s sad is that we can remember the harsh, critical and unkind words more than the good ones. I can still remember where I was on the playground outside Lily B. Haynes Elementary school when I was teased for being overweight, but I don’t remember where or when teachers told me I was doing a good job. I know they probably did and I’m sure those words helped, but I don’t remember them. I read once that for every one negative or critical word we receive it takes six positive words to balance it out. All this tells us that negative words hurt more and go deeper and last longer than positive words and yet think about our culture – it is filled almost exclusively with negative words.
Watch just about any news station and you hear people talking over one another about our world’s problems and many of their words are spoken to tear down their opponents. Even in the midst of the Naval Yard shooting this week, politicians on both sides were speaking negatively about one another. At a time when we should have been coming together as one nation and building each other up as a community, our words were still tearing others apart. This is the culture we live in. Whether it is in school, sports or politics, this is the culture we live in, too many of our words tear others apart and no where do we see this more clearly than in social media.
A number of years ago I joined twitter, but I am not there anymore. First of all, being a preacher, you all know that there is no way I can say anything in less than 140 words let alone 140 characters. But the real reason I didn’t stay on twitter was because most of what I saw and read was not just negative but vicious and I just didn’t like filling my mind with those thoughts, attitudes and words. People feel free to use words on social media that they would never use publicly and those words have consequences in our culture. Just this week there were 2 stories about the vicious words on twitter when a college professor and a political leader both called for the death of their opponents children. While one has apologized for his remarks, those words are still out there and the other person has refused to apologize and even stands by what he has said. These words are shaping who we are and who we are becoming. They are shaping our culture and they are destroying us.
While we can’t control what other people say, we can control what we say and we can control what we choose to listen to. If we want to come clean and begin to rid ourselves of toxic words and the power of toxic words in our lives then we start by choosing what we will listen to and what we will believe about the words we hear.
When I was a new pastor in Altoona, we made some changes that upset a few people and they made sure I heard about it. One of the men who was unhappy wrote me a letter and told me I was doing the work of the devil. Another man told me I was going to destroy the church. A Sunday School teacher kick me off his property with a few choice words. I’ll be honest, those words hurt. They hurt a lot, but a very wise pastor who had been down this same road himself told me that I had to choose what I was going to believe about myself. So I spent some time thinking about it and I realized that I was not doing the work of the devil and what I was trying to do was not destroy the church but help build the church and prepare it for the future. I was trying my best to be faithful to the mission of Jesus. My family, friends and other leaders affirmed all of this with me so I was able to let go of the lies others were saying about me and hold on to the truth.
We can not control what other people say and what they say about us, but we can control what we choose to listen to and believe. There comes a time when we have to evaluate the words of others and decide if they are truth or trash, to help us with that there is actually an app called truth or trash. It shares some statements we often hear and asks us if we think these words are truth or trash. There is one statement I read on the app which said, you are powerless. Now the truth is that we might feel powerless a lot of the time, but that statement is trash because the Bible says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, so if those words come into our head, or if we hear them from others, we need to reject them.
Not only do we need to hold on to the positive words said about us and get rid of the negative, but we need make sure that we concentrate on saying positive words. Look at Ephesians 4:29. Every word has power which is why God tells us that every word we say needs to be positive, faith-filled and something that lifts others up. Think how much better your marriage might be if every day you said only positive things about your spouse. How much stronger would our children would be if we only said things that built them up and inspired them. Think about what a better place our schools would be if student’s only said kind and inspiring words about their class mates. Think how much better our work force would be if employers spent more time encouraging their workers instead of criticizing them and think about how much different our nation would be if in politics we found ways to encourage each other even when we disagree.
Now I know you are thinking that sounds great, but it will never happen, well it won’t unless we commit ourselves to beginning to make it happen. Most of us think of many positive things we could say about people during the course of a day, but we just don’t say them. I want to encourage all of us this week to say them. If you see someone doing a good job – tell them. If you are proud of your kids – tell them. If you appreciate your parents – tell them. If you value your friends, like your teacher, appreciate your elected officials – tell them! If God had just thought about creating the heavens and the earth and never said a word, we wouldn’t be here, but God spoke. God’s word was shared and it created life. Our positive words when spoken can bring life. So if you think something positive and good – share it. If you think something negative, harsh and critical – keep silent. What did our parents tech us? If you don’t have anything nice to say… (or again, Ephesians. 4:29)
Not only do we need to think about words said to us and words we say to others but we also need to think about the words we say to ourselves. Too often the running commentary in our own hearts and minds is negative and critical. I’ll never measure up. I’m not good enough. I can’t do this. We need to change those words and fill our minds and hearts with positive faith-filled words that will shape our lives. I think David did this when he fought Goliath. David knew that the odds were against him when he went out to fight Goliath. In fact, many people told him that. Goliath told him that. Goliath taunted David and bullied him and cut him down with insults but David not only rejected those words, he filled his heart and head with positive words. Look at 1 Samuel 17:45-48, while these words were spoken by David to Goliath, I wonder if they were really spoken by David for David. I think he needed to hear this about himself. Those words made a difference.
We all need to hear positive words about ourselves and sometimes we need to say those words out loud, or write them down so we can see them in order to believe them. Craig Groeschel tells a story about man who was struggling with depression and Craig really didn’t know how to help him. He finally told the man that before he could leave his office he had to came up with 100 positive things to say about himself. The man resisted, as most of us would, but Craig insisted so finally the man gave in and said, Ok, I am a good writer, which he was, so Craig put that on the top of the list. Then the man said, I am funny, which he was, so Craig added that to the list. Then the man quickly said, people say I look like Robert Redford – which was not at all true so Craig smiled at him and wrote down – you are very funny – at which point the man smiled. They kept going until they filled several pages of paper with 100 positive things. Craig gave the list to the man and he left.
About a decade later the man saw Craig and he was so excited to introduce Craig to his wife and son. His life had completely turned around. As they were talking the man opened up his wallet and pulled out several worn pieces of paper and handed them to Craig. It was the list of 100 positive things about himself and he told Craig, I don’t need this anymore because God has written all of these and 100’s more on my heart.
Negative words tear down and destroy but positive words really do build us up and bring life. We need to write these words about ourselves, we need say them to ourselves, at times out loud, so that they get written on our hearts and we need to start saying these positive things about others. While we live in a world full of toxic words, we can make the choice today to come clean and “let no unwholesome words come out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building others up.” It is a choice we can make today and it is a choice we can make every day. The right choice brings life. The right choice brings faith and the right choice begins to turn our culture and world around.
Soul Detox ~ Toxic Words
Write down 100 positive words that define who you are.
Write down 25 positive things about 2 people you know and share these words with them.