Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Big "C"

119 words.

That's all that was showing in my sermon file when I opened it last Wednesday afternoon.

119 words.

Just 119 words.

Immediately, all kinds of thoughts screamed through my head:

"Wait just a minute! How can this be? I mean, I just finished this sermon earlier today. I've been working on it for almost three weeks... and I was finally finished! And that was this Sunday's sermon too! I mean, I know that there were almost 4,000 words! What happened? Why are there now only 119?"

Panic set in. I had thirty minutes before a counseling appointment, and two hours before I was supposed to teach my Wednesday night lesson. I immediately called my Bible software's technical support line, explained the problem, only to be told after just a few minutes, "Unless you deleted the file, there is really no way for us to retrieve the lost data in a file. The easiest fix is to reenter the data."

Easiest? I was obviously speaking to someone who had never written a sermon in their life!

When my counseling appointment showed, I was literally numb, possessed with a single thought: "How can I get those words back?"

I wish I could tell you that was the only time that I had ever had that thought, but unfortunately, it's not. There have been more times than I would like to admit where I've had the exact same thought - "How can I get those words back?" - but none of the previous times had anything to do with a sermon.

You know, when it comes right down to it, most of the words that we want to "get back" are those that we have "let loose" in one of three forums:

1) Gossip
2) Angry remarks
3) Careless criticism

I would be lying if I said that I'd never been guilty of the first two (and I just preached Sunday about honesty, just saying), but my main issue, I know all too well, is the big "C." Way too many times, my words are simply careless.

I'm not sure who originally said this, but I saw it online today and it made me laugh (which I needed):

"If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf."

But, not so funny:

"Careless words stab like a sword..." (Proverbs 12:18 NCV)


"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36 ESV)

You see, my original thoughts for this post (that I was supposed to write last week but didn't because of the "missing words") were in the abstract. But this morning, God decided that He wanted for it to be personal.

So, just a few hours ago, somebody commented to me about something that I said a few weeks ago that, quite frankly, I don't even remember saying.

Now, I trust that I did say it, because unfortunately, it sounds like something I would say... not out of spite, not to inflict hurt or pain, but to just try and be funny... to try and get a cheap laugh, even at the expense of someone else, who may or may not know anything about what's being said (which, in this case, they didn't).

I'm really not so sure what that says about me as a person; I just know that I don't like it. Not one bit.

In the short time today that I've had to think about this, I now believe that my words may very well have been the catalyst for incredible harm.

Which brings me back to... "How can I get those words back?"

I can't. I mean, it's just not possible. That ship has sailed.

All I can do now is own them... and do my best to try and make amends for them... and hope to never forget this feeling so that I am more careful with my words in the future.

I fear that I may be sharing too much information about my "fallenness," but I am reminded every day just how much work (and sometimes how much hard work) there is for me to be more like Jesus.

I have so far to go.

But I desperately want to get there.

In an earlier post, I shared some of my 2019 goals, including to "walk/run/walk 365 miles." My wife and I have been able to keep that pace, thus far, in spite of the cold, wet weather that we've had so much of this winter.

However, a few weeks ago, while running downtown in front of the Police Station, I tripped on the uneven pavement and went sprawling. Wearing gloves (again, it's been cold!), I landed on my left hand but immediately rolled on my shoulder and got up, injury free (or so I thought), other than my pride.

I was reminded of my falls (both the physical and the verbal) when I read Patrick Allan's words last week:

"If you trip with your feet, you can get back up again and carry on business as usual... If you trip with your tongue, you unleash more than just words. You share thoughts, desires, or perspectives that may hurt others. Once you've said something hurtful, you can't undo it. There's no getting back up; there's only asking for forgiveness and hoping they'll pull you back up."

So, that's what I will do. I will extend my right hand (not the left - my finger hurts too badly!) and pray that those who my careless words have hurt would be willing to help me back up again.

And, I'm going to do my very best to make sure that the next time I say, "How can I get those words back?" I'm talking about nothing more earth-shattering than a misplaced note from my desk.

(By the way, God is good. Through some technology gymnastics, I was able to recover more than 60% of my sermon last week. But more importantly, when I extended my hand earlier today, I was graciously pulled to my feet and given forgiveness.)

God is good. That is anything but a "by the way." And it's so much more than even a main point. It is our entire message!

And it can be said in a lot less than 119 words!