Jesus Christ! More than just swear words

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(image courtesy of brentborup.com)

Each of the last five summers I have gone back to work at the “other college” in Syracuse, New York. As I have mentioned here before, I left full-time employment there in September of 2016 so that I could devote my full attention to our ministry. It continues to be a blessing and a joy to take up my paint brush and roller for the summer months as I help the maintenance crew get the dorms ready for the new school year.

The friends I made while working there are for the most part still employed by the college. It is a relatively small crew made up of about 30 workers. Having worked with them for over 12 years, they were all aware as to my reason for leaving. Though they may not have completely understood my motivation for moving on, to a person they have respected it.

I make that last statement based on their reaction these days when I walk in on or are part of a conversation that is laced, shall we say, with colorful language. “Oh, sorry, I did not mean for you to hear that” is the common apology I hear when this happens. My normal response is something like, “That’s ok, I have heard all those words before.”

I was prompted the other day to respond differently to a ‘blue streak’ I walked in on. As I entered a new suite of rooms to begin painting, I found one of the maintenance crew struggling mightily to put a bedframe back together. Before I could offer any help he let out with a string of profanity that told me this was a problem that had him completely frustrated. He ended his tirade with a loud “Jesus Christ!”

I saw the embarrassment on his face when he realized I had heard everything he had said. Rather than merely laugh this one off, I felt prompted to respond in a different way.

Speaking first, I said, “You know, that last name you used does not really belong with the rest of what you said.” Smiling kindly at his reddened face, I went on, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God and I have found that He loves me all the time, even when my mouth is running way ahead of my mind.”

“I know,” my co-worker said in a much softer tone. “He just has never seemed real to me, even when I heard those stories as a kid in church.” There was a brief silence. Then he added, “I don’t see much evidence of any Son of God in my life.”

I would love to tell you that at this the choir of heaven started to sing or that this man fell on his knees in sudden joy. But none of that happened. I simply assured him that I had been in that very place he was in and that I knew all about confusion and doubt.

I then left him with this assurance: “Neither I nor God are here to condemn you for your language or for anything else. But please let me leave you this one suggestion. The next time you feel your anger taking off, think of Jesus first, and not as simply a swear word. Ask Him to make Himself more real to you, that you might be interested in getting to know who He really is.”

That’s where we left it. But I don’t believe the Lord has. My prayer for my co-worker and all those baffled by confusion and doubt is that they allow for the possibility of Jesus Christ being more than a cuss word and in so doing, crack open enough of their heart to find out that He is so much more!

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Please Pass the Salt

If, as our oldest child has stated, life is a pie chart that can be divided into 4 equal parts of 20 years, then I am well into my third slice. As such, and with my family history of coronary disease, I should be more careful about what I eat and how much exercise I get. To be honest, I am not very good at monitoring either of these.
One area that I am successful in however, is keeping in check my salt intake. Other than sprinkling some on fresh sweetcorn, I rarely if ever add salt to anything I eat. I find the various tastes of food pleasing enough that I see no need to add more salt.
However, should you ever come to our house for a meal, don’t shy away from salt just because I do. Used appropriately, it can certainly increase how much you might enjoy the food, and, (though not a worry when Betsy cooks), salt can also add life to a bland offering. Also, many good recipes suggest that you ‘salt to taste.’ I like that, for it reveals a great truth; each person’s tastes, in food and in life in general, are different.
Perhaps you have guessed by now that the topic today centers on salt. As we look at the last section of Colossians at Lakeside Christian Ministries this week (vv.4:2-18), we discover the bible yet again makes a reference to salt. In both the Old and New Testaments salt is often mentioned for use as a seasoning, preservative and disinfectant as well as metaphorically signifying loyalty, usefulness and purity.
Colossians 4:6 uses it this way: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
A brief review of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church reveals that he wrote this it to believers in Christ who were being negatively influenced by some dangerously false teachings that were attempting to contradict the truth of God that these people had learned when they came to faith. In this short letter Paul gives a concise description of the facts: Jesus was/is the Son of God who came physically to the earth to bring salvation to absolutely everyone who would believe in Him. He then goes into what the practical application of this wondrous truth ought to look life in the everyday life of a follower of Christ. Included in this is the verse above with the instruction to have your conversation seasoned with salt.
Before adding any salt however, please take note of what our conversation is to be full of; grace. The word translated as grace here is rich in meaning. God’s grace is accurately defined as His unmerited favor. It is a gift He gives, not because we earn it or somehow deserve it, it comes from His heart to us simply because He loves us.
In using grace to describe what are conversations are to be full of, the Apostle Paul is reminding all readers to remember this great gift. Because we are to be always mindful of it, all that we say and do is to give evidence of this grace being active in our lives. For example, every conversation you have with me might not mention the Savior Jesus, but how I communicate, the words I use, the topics I discuss and even how well I listen all ought to reveal the love of God at work in my heart.
The Expositor’s Commentary says this about the grace we are to speak in: Grace, a word that usually denotes divine favor, seems here to be used in the broader sense of pleasantness, attractiveness and charm, as these ideas are all implicit in it.
As I consider this analogy regarding what Paul was/is telling his readers, I can easily see how it can be applied to all my conversations, especially those that have to do with the things of God and faith.
First, all my conversations are to be full of grace. This means that all I say, within a given context, is to be tied in to the goodness of God. We all know how badly words can hurt. The beginning of the third chapter of the Book of James discusses the power of the spoken word and how much harm can be caused by them. It is vital, then, that we all stay aware of the power of our words; remembering to have them be full of grace will go a long way toward helping us do this.
With this as a backdrop for how we speak to one another, we can then see the importance that only wholesome words being on our lips. As we practice this style of speech, we should find little to no room for slander or gossip to be coming out of our mouths. Speaking gracefully means to never publicly tear down another or to spread unsubstantiated accusations. Obviously, speaking one to one with another is most generally the appropriate place for rebuke or correction, but even that is to be done in a loving and graced filled way.
We are also to salt to taste. I like that, especially in this context. I can close my eyes and remember that last tasty ear of sweetcorn with just enough salt on it to really make the flavor pop. I like sweetcorn without salt, but I like it a whole lot more with it!
So it is to be with our conversations. Paul admonition is for believers to be able to express the truth of the love of God to everyone, and in ways that can be interesting and worthy of the other person’s attention. In a sense, it is up to all who profess faith in Jesus Christ to be able to add the proper amount of ‘spice’ to our discussions so that they will be enticing enough to make the hearer want more.
Much as a sour dispensation on the evil of sin in another person’s life will be unlikely to attract many to come to your table; that same conversation can be flavored with God’s never-ending mercy to all His creation, thus making it much more palatable. I am not suggesting that we water down the truth of God’s word in any way, He hates sin, but I am suggesting that we discuss the truth of His character in ways that invite questions and introspection, not heartless judgment.
Using the analogy of salt in our discussion means to bring scriptural truth from a bland, ‘I’ll eat some if I have to,’ list of ‘dos and don’ts into an engaging conversation that reveals the love of God toward all as the entrée. To do this well and in a way that honors God, I, as the believer, must know what is on the ‘menu,’ so to speak. Part of the work of every follower of Christ is to be continually growing in the knowledge of God.
We do this with daily reading of the Scriptures, praying that God’s Spirit would open our minds to a better understanding of what has been written. As Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4 NIV).
It’s not a hard recipe to follow: Have faith in Jesus, add liberal doses of the bible and plenty of prayer and the results are sure to be delectable. For we please God when we come seeking more of Him, and it pleases Him to give more of His unlimited self to those who seek. As the ‘the cooking process’ that is life blends these ingredients together, out comes a meal that is right and fitting for everyone. So please do pass the salt and apply it as needed, there is enough for all at the banquet table of our God!