It may reveal our age... but who remembers “Smokey Bear?” Smokey Bear first appeared in 1944 in ads for the U. S. Forest Service...
That means, if my math is right, Smokey Bear turns 75 years old, this year! And in 1947 his famous “only you can prevent forest fires” campaign was born.
Of course, to this day, the “Smokey Bear campaign” remains one of the most recognizable public service announcements ever conceived... right up there with the “School House Rock” and “The Crying Indian” of Keep America Beautiful...
Thanks to Smokey, we all know the damage a forest fire can cause. From the tiniest of sparks an entire forest or whole community can be destroyed.
And we’ve seen that happen. In California wildfires were scattered all over the state this past year, with one of the most destructive being the “Camp Fire” - which wiped-out over 153,000 acres, damaging nearly 19,000 structures... of which almost 14,000 were homes... and causing 86 deaths. And much closer to home, a couple of years ago, the 2016 wildfires in Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains destroyed thousands of mountain cabins and communities in its path.
It’s interesting that the Bible uses the same vocabulary to describe the destructive power of our words: “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5)
Of course, with the potential for so much destruction... it’s critically important that you and I be mindful of our words... and that we weigh what we say!
Our world is filled with words of fear, hatred, jealousy, condemnation and anger. And when you and I, as followers of Christ, participate in such speech... we’re reflecting the ways of the world, and not Christ.
Jesus has given us a principle - a truth - that’s undeniable: when he said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Our mouth... our tongue... the words we speak... always give us away! Our words reveal the true “us”! We simply can’t avoid the truth, because our words always expose what’s deep down inside of us... at the core of who we are... our heart.
That’s not intended to be an insult... or judgmental. It’s simply the truth. And the truth fits everyone! By pointing out the truth of God’s Word, you and I are hopefully convicted to make changes... to ourselves... with the help of the Spirit and power of Christ... to better reflect God’s glory, and wisdom, and life and light... when we speak. Because our words matter.
Of course, it all begs the question of “how”? How does following Jesus affect what we say?
Well, having just made our way through the Advent/Christmas Seasons... it should still be fresh on our minds that Jesus is “the Word made flesh” who “made his dwelling among us!” (John 1:14).
The very same God who spoke creation into existence... The very same God who said, “Let there be light” and light appeared... is the God who became Immanuel, God with us... God in the Flesh.
So, by saying that Jesus is the “Word of God” made flesh... I suppose you could say, that Jesus is God’s ultimate “voice” to his creation. Jesus is the final, authoritative WORD of God’s grace and love and forgiveness.
Of course, we’re told in God’s Word (the Bible) that “the Law came through Moses... but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
As Christ lives in us, and through us, you and I should long for and expect (and strive) to be instruments of God’s grace and truth... as we speak with both grace and truth. Jesus’ life was marked not just by loving and gracious words, but by honest words that reflected truth about himself and the world around him.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit came... the Spirit would empower the disciples... giving them what they needed to be witnesses for Christ.
When you know the love of God... when you’ve experienced the grace of Christ... when you’ve become aware of Jesus’ presence and peace and joy... you’ll find that you’ll want to tell others about him. You’ll long to share what Christ means to you and how important he is in your life.
When Clemson won the National Championship last Monday, Head Coach Dabo Swinney couldn’t resist giving glory to God - and proclaiming Christ - on national tv! He’s not perfect. But he has come to rely on the perfect grace of Christ, that’s always sufficient for every need. Swinney is compelled to tell others - he desires to tell others - about how much Christ means to his life.
And if Christ is the most important thing in our lives, we will tell others - in some way, form or fashion - how much Jesus means to us!
That doesn’t mean we’ll be obnoxious or condescending at all. You don’t have to beat someone over the head with your bible to share God’s word.
In fact, just the opposite is true: when we’ve truly experienced the love of Christ, we become more loving. When you and I know God’s grace, we become more gracious. When we experience Jesus’ kindness, we become more compassionate... as we share with others, by our actions AND words, who Jesus is and what a difference he has made in our lives.
A little tool that helps with making sure our words reflect Christ... is to THINK... T. H. I. N. K.
T = is it TRUE? (Not gossip, not rumor... is it True!)
H = is it HELPFUL? (Do you word positively affect the situation?)
I = is it INSPIRING? (Does what you have to say motivate others to be all they can be for Christ?)
N = is it NECESSARY? (Do you need to even speak?)
K = is it KIND?
The things we say... the WAY we speak... tells others who and Whose we are. Words matter!
And the Good News... the really Good News... is... the same tongue... the same mouth... that can cause harm & destruction... also has an even GREATER potential for good... for healing... for joy and encouragement!
Do our words reflect that greater potential? Do our words encourage others - lifting them up “according to their needs - do our words benefit those who listen?” (Ephesians 4:29).
As the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3... “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips...” Because words matter.