Tag Archives: power

It’s not “Just Words”


Language has meaning.  Even if you don’t feel the impact of the message personally either because you don’t understand its context or you are not a native speaker, language is never “Just Words”.  In the Ten Commandments, God tells us not to use His name in vain, either in ordinary conversation or as a cuss word.  He tells us that using his name in ordinary conversation offends Him.  It’s his name, so He has the RIGHT to be offended if we take his holy name and make it common or trashy.  You can say, “its just words” but it’s not.  Let me give you some examples.

For example, you can’t just hop into a second language and flash about their swear words simply because they don’t have the same impact on you as they do on native speakers.  Their naughty words might sound funny or hollow to you, but they pack a powerful linguistic punch for their native audience.

In language school we had a teacher who said she thought the SH– word sounded chic and sophisticated.  She would just pop out this word any time she thought it was fun, and we would all cringe and ask her not to say that word.  She thought our reaction was funny.  We were offended.

A good writer will choose words that have a powerful impact.  For example, another blogger that I read used the phrase “50 shades of…” to catch the attention of her readers.  You can say that those are just words, but they have a cultural context now that the erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey has become famous.  She chose those words to get attention.  She chose them for their powerful cultural impact.  She chose them for a reason.  Words are not JUST words.

Recently I got into a Facebook argument over a picture title.  Newsweek printed a picture of President Obama on the cover with the title “Second Coming” which is a clear reference to the Christian belief that the Messiah Jesus will come a second time to rescue his people.  Clearly Newsweek is implying that Obama is a messiah come for a second term to rescue his people.  Those are not just words.  They were chosen for their powerful implications, their religious connotations.  They were intended to communicate more than just the message that Obama is beginning his second term.

My argument went something like this:

John (I’ll call him “John” because that’s his name, see, words have meaning.):  Newsweek is a political magazine not a religious magazine.  Second, I’m not sure anyone including himself has ever called the President the Messiah… (other people were commenting here) it’s called a play on words.  It actually happens a lot in titles… go back in history and see how many others you could say this about.

Me:  (I decided to join the discussion because this John guy was being an Ass- there, words have power.  Were you just offended that I said that word?)  It IS a play on words and it was chosen to communicate a specific message.  That’s WHY we Christians are offended.  Newsweek has hijacked language that is powerful and meaningful to US Christians and applied it to a human.  It would be equal to saying the President is Allah or the President is divine.  We fully capture the INTENTION of the play on words, we aren’t stupid.  We GET it.  and that’s WHY we are shocked and offended, John.

John:  So now you’re saying there is only Christian words and sayings?  That seems a little narcissistic to me.  Words are words folks.

Me:  No, I’m saying there are words that are powerful to other groups too, but these specific words “Second Coming” have meaning to us Christians because we use them to talk about Jesus.  If they had used words like “Rabbi”, that would have been offensive to Jews, “Allah” would have been offensive to Muslims, each group has words that are powerful to them.  It’s not narcissistic, it’s language.  It’s meant to be powerful.

John:  Look, I get what you’re saying, but the “second coming” isn’t owned by Christians.  Words are words.  It would be totally different if they called him Jesus or Messiah or pastor or rabbi, but they didn’t (here he totally contradicts himself by saying it would be different if different words were used.).  Article titles are meant to shock and get you to read the article or catch your eye.  Don’t be offended by the little stuff.  Some native Americans believe we are reincarnated also a second coming.  Don’t take a title personal is all I’m saying.

Me:  And all I’m saying is that I have a RIGHT to be offended.  I AM a writer.  I know for a fact that writers chose their words carefully and intentionally in order to communicate a specific message as concisely and powerfully as possible.  I never said Christians own these words.  I said they have a powerful meaning to us.  Since the words “second coming” clearly have no significance to you, I think you should just say that this is an offense that you do not understand.

So that was the extent of our argument.  Words are not just words.  Words have meaning and power.  Because they are powerful, we should be careful how we use them.  We should be reverent of God’s name, we should be sensitive to religious language or imagery (from ANY religious group) because they have a RIGHT to be offended if we hijack their terminology and profane their holy words.  And finally GOD has a right to tell us how we can and cannot use his name.  Do not take the name of the Lord in vain, don’t use it commonly or crassly.



So on his way down the mountain after preaching “The Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus was healing and touching the people who pressed in around him.  He was on his way to Peter’s house to have dinner with Peter’s family.  As he entered the town of Capernum, a Roman Captain came up to Jesus in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick.  He can’t walk.  He’s in terrible pain.”

Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.”

“Oh no,” said the Captain, “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble.  Just give the order and my servant will be fine.  I’m a man who takes orders and gives orders.  I tell one soldier Go and he goes; to another Come and he comes; to my slave Do This and he does it.”

Shocked and taken aback, Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across thins kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works.  This man is the beginning of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions- streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s Kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.”

Then Jesus turned to the Captain and said, “Go.  What you believed could happen has happened.”  At that moment his servant became well.

This is the story of a Gentile who had a surprising amount of faith.  This is a man who understood authority.  He knew how to obey commands and how to give commands.  He knew that Jesus had authority over sickness and death.  He believed that Jesus only needed to speak the words and the miracle would occur, he didn’t need to come to the house and touch the sick servant.  This man amazed Jesus with his grasp of the Spiritual Reality of Jesus’s power.

It’s been my experience that people who respect authority themselves, are in turn respected when they carry authority.  We used to tell our youth group kids, “You can’t expect anyone to respect your authority if you don’t respect the authority above YOU.”  Kids who had a hard time showing respect did not make good leaders, no matter how charismatic they were.  As a matter of fact, kids that had a hard time with earthly authority, really struggled with the concept of God’s authority.  (Perhaps the military would have been a good option for those kids to teach them how to respect authority.)

Part of respecting authority requires trusting in your leader and his power.  Is he trustworthy?  Is he powerful?  Then you can trust that he sees the big picture even when your vision is myopic.  Just like the servant doesn’t get to ask the master “why” but he just follows directions- trusting that the master has a plan- so are we to trust our Master.  Jesus is the Master of more authority than anyone on earth has ever wielded, and yet we still doubt his power to help us when we pray.  That shows that we don’t understand authority, and likely we aren’t very good at respecting the human authorities God has placed over us either.

Today, try to set aside all the other imagery about Jesus that you have accumulated in your mind.  Just for today, when you think of Jesus, I want you to focus in on the idea that he gives an order and all of creation obeys his words.  He can nod his head and heal your body.  He can look at your fear from the corner of his eye and your nightmare will flee.  This is your God.  This is the One that you can trust with your needs and petitions, the One who wields all authority both in Heaven and on Earth.  Is this image of Jesus the same as the one you’ve been carrying in your mind?  If not, then your image of Jesus isn’t big enough.  Time to expand your view of Jesus to panoramic.

Blessed with the Gift of Flight


Parrots in the Aviary

You wanna hear something sad?

Last year we went out to the coast and stayed at a hotel that had an aviary on the grounds.  I like birds, so I was excited to go see what kind of tropical birds they had on display.  They had beautiful Tucans and all kinds of parrots and peacocks and owls and some kind of vulture.  My favorite birds were the Scarlet Macaws.  There were mango trees above the cages, shading the birds, and some monkeys were in the trees eating fruit.  Of course those greedy monkeys never finish a whole mango before they drop it and reach out for another one, so there were all these mangos with just one bite taken littering the ground under the trees.  So my kids and I picked up a few green mangos and pressed them against the side of the Macaw cage.

Those big birds got all excited.  They would use their big, sharp beaks to scrape off bits of mango through the fence.  We just had to watch our fingers.  It was a lot of fun to feed them.  But the sad thing was that there were taller trees around the aviary and they were full of flocks of wild Macaws.  They were absolutely stunning in their freedom.  It was such a contrast to the caged birds we saw in the aviary.  The caged birds didn’t actually LOOK any different than the wild birds, but they lacked that sense of majesty and awe that we saw in the wild birds.  I felt bad for the caged birds who watched their cousins fly away wild and free, being just what God made them to be: Awe-Inspiring.

Pressing Mangos against the fence

In our ministry we have the opportunity to cast vision in the local church.  My husband travels around Costa Rica training lay people and pastors on how to start small group Bible studies on University campuses.  The cool thing is that sometimes at his seminars there are other kinds of people- not just students- ordinary people who have regular jobs but they’re interested in reaching out to their co-workers.  That’s really cool for us, because they are taking our ideas and expanding them, seeing potential for application in their lives, and getting excited about sharing Jesus with their co-workers.

But the frustrating thing is when we find these willing co-laborers trapped like a Macaw by a pastor who tries to control them.  Sometimes pastors can be very controlling of their people.  Sometimes people feel like they need to ask their pastor for permission to do ANY kind of ministry, even if it’s outside of the church.  For example, many of our students tell us they must ask their pastor’s permission before they start a group on their campus.  We’ve also had other adults in the church tell us they want to start a Bible study among their co-workers, but their pastor won’t give them permission to do it… so they don’t!  Some people who WANT to do something big for God feel like those caged Macaws looking wistfully at their brothers and sisters who fly freely above them.  They long for that type of freedom and mobility, but they feel caged and tied down by an authoritarian leader.

But really, this is mostly a type of culture clash for us Independent Americans who don’t like anyone telling us what to do.  We need to learn that “process” is not always a bad thing.  Most people who live in a Group Centered society like many of the Latin American societies, don’t find this to be a problem.  For them, they see themselves as a member of a group and they want the support and authority of the group leader behind them before they step out and try something new.  This works fine if the pastor is generous with his power and truly passionate about expanding the Kingdom of God.  This works fine if the group member isn’t frustrated and discouraged by the slow process of gaining approval and consensus among the group.  Sometimes it’s only the missionary who sees this as a problem.

It’s a fine line that must be balanced by us missionaries.  We come to a new culture with an entire life time of cultural baggage that we don’t even realize we carry.  We have our own ideas about how things should be done.  And if we aren’t careful, we can turn our cultural presumptions into Doctrine.  (Isn’t Efficiency in the Bible somewhere?!?)  Sometimes it’s best if we just sit back and let the people do it their way.  We present a new idea and let them hash out the details of how this should be done and what this will look like in their world.  The culture we are working in has it’s own set of processes and procedures, and it’s not a good idea to try to short cut these steps.  It’s a challenge for us missionaries to give the pastors freedom to lead in their own way and it’s a challenge for pastors to release their people into ministry.  This is not an easy thing to do.  Power is a heady thing, and sometimes it can lead to abuse.  Working together in building the Kingdom of God means opening up the cage and letting the birds fly free. It’s a hard thing to do.

Lucy and I are feeding mangos to parrots