Negligence Can Lead To Fire

Neal Pollard

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.  As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people.  Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire.  Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization.  I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89).  The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:

The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).

Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion.  A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.).  This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.

Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15).  Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff).  Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18).  All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.

However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff).  Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16).  Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.

A BLIND SPOT TO MY BALD SPOT

Neal Pollard

Positively traumatic.  I don’t know another way to describe it.  Sure, I knew about the gentle receding of hair on my forehead—or “sixhead,” as my good friend Dean Murphy recently called it. However, nothing prepared me for “the picture.”  Sure, I’ve had people, even recently, noting the thinning of my hair on top.  I found the noting of that irritating and even, at times, amusing. But, the stark, unflinching, and brutally honest photo was utterly convicting.  There, in living color, was my immutably glabrous cranium.  OK. My bald spot.  I have no idea how long I’ve walked around sporting this condensed coif, but I can see it now… every time I look at that picture.

That blind spot was more vain than dangerous.  There are situations in life where a blind spot can be more serious.  Driving down the highway, we may miss another vehicle that is in our blind spot—not visible in our rearview mirrors but still most definitely there.  But the far more common blind spots of our lives have to do with what we cannot, do not, or choose not to see.

It is easy for us to see the faults of others, their sins of attitude, speech, and action.  We marvel that they seem oblivious to them.  After all, we see it all so clearly.  Yet, in our own lives, we may not be seeing clearly.  We do not realize how unfriendly we appear to others, how self-promoting, how braggadocios, how sarcastic, how unhelpful, how harsh, or how suggestive our words and deeds appear to others.  Solomon notes that “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight” (Prov. 16:2a). Relying on others to tell us is really not fair to them.  After all, they must navigate around and through their own blind spots on the commutes of their daily lives.

Paul helps us identify these social and spiritual blindspots. He writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).  The best way to actively view our lives is through the mirror of God’s Word (cf. Jas. 1:23).  As we look closely and carefully into it, we see ourselves better.  How vital that we get a better view of how our own lives impact others, for good or ill!  This is about more than vanity.  This has more serious far-reaching implications.  May the Lord give us the courage to see our blind spots and the strength to eliminate them.

There it is on the fella in the sweater in the far left seat of the front row.

THE ULTIMATE “HATE SPEECH”

Neal Pollard

A couple of days ago, many of the major conservative news outlets broke the story of former Navy SEAL and current chaplain Lt. Col. Wes Modder who was removed from duty and threatened with expulsion from the military.  An office assistant, a young lieutenant junior grade officer, showed up last December with two “Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain” (foxnews.com). The officer, who turns out to be homosexual, had constantly drilled Modder with questions about his views on the matter. The ensuing handling of the case appears very unfavorable for a person in a position of spiritual guidance trying to use the Bible as the guide in helping people with right and wrong on such matters as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Time will tell how this plays out, but we are living in different times.  It appears that one of the more unconscionable crimes against society is to promote an objective standard of right and wrong which dares to call specific behaviors and lifestyle choices “sinful.”  Readers of my blog have written me and told me they have seen posts of mine occasionally labeled as “hate speech” (I would invite the reader to peruse my archives in search of inflammatory, derogatory, or unkindly written articles).  I have seen writers who would profess to be Christian and/or religious who are caustic, obnoxious, and unnecessarily offensive in tone and manner.  Such hurt the cause of Christ and do not reflect His spirit.  Hateful speech is, by biblical standards, sinful speech.  Scripture speaks against it (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).  It also exalts godly speech: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21), “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6), “In speech…show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12), and be “sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Ti. 2:8).

But, when we let the world—without knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches—define “hate speech,” we will often get things turned upside down.  We will have evil called good and good called evil (Isa. 5:20).  We need to remain convicted in the belief that nothing could be more hateful toward a person than to have the opportunity to tell them the truth about anything God has revealed in Scripture and speak lies, whether to comfort, avoid offending, or to validate what God will not condone.  We must reach out to anyone who rebels against the will of God in love, but what could be more hateful than encouraging anyone along a path that leads away from Him?  Any word of false comfort and hope is the ultimate hate speech!

TIPPING IT IN FOR THE OTHER TEAM

Neal Pollard

This morning, Jacob Kurtz is getting a lot of press for the wrong reason.  He’s a basketball player for the University of Florida, and he inadvertently won the game for his team’s counterpart, hated rival Florida State. Kurtz is not a prolific scorer, averaging a little over four points per game, but this mental lapse or accidental tip will live in infamy.

That young man’s gaffe was almost certainly unintentional, but it still was damaging to his team.  What a graphic illustration of how costly it is to assist “the other side.”  It might be a careless or unguarded word that hurts the influence of Christ with a lost soul.  It could be a rash or foolish decision made under the duress of fatigue, emotional strain, or the like that dishonors God.  A momentary flutter of pride may cause someone to speak evil against a brother who just happens to overhear it and become discouraged.  The possibilities are endless and ever-present, but each such infraction is nonetheless damaging.

Whether it’s a mistake of the head (without evil motives) or a mistake of the heart (the fruit of secret sin within), “bonehead” moves on the spiritual battlefield can send the cause of Christ into a state of suffering. What can we do to prevent such losses?

  • Control your tongue (Jas. 3:2-12).
  • Constantly practice thoughtfulness (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • Curb your susceptibility to flattery, pride, and preeminence (cf. Prov. 6:17; 29:5).
  • Consider others better than yourself (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 5:21).
  • Clear your motives and ambitions of what is sinfully self-serving (cf. Phil. 1:17; Jas. 3:14-16).

Certainly there are other things we can do to prevent helping the other team. Paul says, generally, to exercise self-control in all things (1 Cor. 9:24-27) and compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).  It begins with being aware of the power of our words and conduct, using them to contribute to spiritual victory for the Lord’s side.

Bad Breath Babbling

Neal Pollard

You want to do some appetizing research?  Go to the Mayo Clinic website and read about what causes bad breath. The harbingers of halitosis include food that gets stuck in your teeth, tobacco, poor dental hygiene, dry mouth (this occurs most frequently when sleeping at night, thus “morning breath”), oral infections, and many similar pleasant precipitators (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bad-breath/basics/causes/CON-20014939).  Now isn’t that a joyful matter to ponder!

Well, have you considered the very graphic imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4:29 to describe improper speech?  He says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…”  That word “unwholesome” is an interesting word (ESV—”corrupting”).  It is from a Greek word meaning “to cause to decay” (TDNT).  The footnote of my Bible says “literally, rotten.”  The Greeks used the word to describe what offends the sense of sight and smell, but it came to describe even offensive sounds as an ancient fragment from Theopompus Comicus used the word to describe the “unpleasant sounds of flutes” (CAF, I, 746). They used the word to describe bad vegetables and rotting fish (WSNTDICT).

Notice what the Holy Spirit through Paul does with the word.  In guiding the Ephesians in how not to walk, Paul gets graphic by warning against “smelly speech.”  Get the picture by considering the descriptive word.  When you talk, does what you say have the figurative effect of compost, fish carcasses, and the like?  Or, let us come at it by way of contrast, as Paul does.  Instead of uttering waste dump words, use “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Throw away trashy speech through uplifting, timely, graceful talk!  Is what you say helpful to others? Does it build them up? Does it bring them closer to Christ? Is it just the right word at the right time?  If so, it’s like moral mouthwash!

If not, then let God’s diagnosis hit home!  Clean up your conversations.  Make sure what you say to others is to them a breath of fresh air!

Is It Clever Or Just Coarse?

Neal Pollard

What do a fantasy football service and a seafood restaurant have in common?  Maybe the advertisement firms they both hired and they felt proud of their play on words that made the commercial viewers hear one word but think of another, extremely vulgar and profane word.  Is this perhaps part of a linguistic trend in our current culture that seems to love to give a good shock to anyone who might still have sensitivity toward foul language?  Hopefully it isn’t, but it seems like a trend to twist speech in the apparent interest of the salty and salacious. Is it imaginative or just plain impure?

You hear it with these pun-like, substitute words that are like euphemisms only more edgy.  You hear it in drug references, referring to behavior, good or bad, as likened to one smoking, inhaling, or intravenously taking something illegal (or in the case of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, now legal). You hear it in crass references to body parts. You hear it in sexually suggestive and charged words, anywhere from “hot” and “sexy” to the more vulgar in an attempt to describe a project, product, or person.  How many of these cross the line of being sinful is difficult to assess, but so many of them flirt with crossing into inappropriate territory.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is in the middle of telling Christians how to “walk.”  Apparently, the walk includes the “talk.”  The chapter begins with his commanding us to imitate God and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Then, Paul deals negatively by saying how we should not walk. He begins with actions of the mind and the body, then in verse four says, “…Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” To put an exclamation point on the discussion, he says that those practicing such things have no inheritance in the kingdom.  That’s pretty serious!  Bratcher and Nida sees all three nouns as referring to indecent, inappropriate speech, from sexually suggestive words to “shameful, shameless talk of every kind” (A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, np). At least the second two, “foolish talking” and “coarse jesting,” should cause us to give closer examination both to what we say and how we say it.

Our speech is powerful.  One wise word may result in a soul’s salvation.  As death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21), let’s heed the advice of the children’s song—”Be careful little mouths what you say!”

HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE

Neal Pollard

Several have made the observation that hurt people are inclined to hurt people.  I have been told that by others to explain mean, hurtful, rude, and inappropriate remarks.  Yet, since everyone experiences significant hurt (so the Holy Spirit said through Job in Job 14:1), why doesn’t everyone lash out and wound others as they suffer from their own and various “injuries”?  Why do others, including those claiming to be Christians, seem inclined to injure others with especially their speech? It is good to get some perspective and not take personally the times someone cuts and slashes us or we witness a hurt person hurting someone else.  While it never excuses bad behavior, it does help to understand it better.  However, what can we say to the hurtful hurt person?

  • Take your hurts to God’s throne.  He is perfect and perfectly impartial (Acts 10:34-35).  He also has all the facts and all the answers.  He can help our life’s situations better than anyone else.  Let Him help you bear the load.
  • Don’t allow your pain to injure your influence or your spirituality.  It is possible for us to earn a reputation as sarcastic, biting, mean-spirited, passive-aggressive, critical, etc.  Yet, we never want to do anything that threatens to douse our Christian lights.
  • Find healthy ways to work through the hurt.  Prayer has already been mentioned.  Loving, spiritual confrontation is another (cf. Gal. 6:1; Mat. 18:15ff). Part of healthy coping is avoiding the unhealthy.
  • Focus intently on the spirit of the “Golden Rule.”  Be sure that you would want said to you what you are tempted to say or if you’d want it said in the way you’re going to say it before you let it fly.  It requires tremendous self-awareness and self-examination to successfully do this, but it can make all the difference.
  • Try to move from hypersensitivity to genuine concern for others.  We cannot keep our feelings on our sleeves and keep a record of wrongs done to us. It’s not loving (1 Co. 13:5).  What is loving is to work to look out for the interest of others (Phi. 2:4).
  • Measure the impact of your words before you say them.  You cannot unsay things, so think it through first!  The late Marshal Keeble once said, “Before we speak, we must chew our words and taste them and see if they are pleasant words.”  If not, swallow them!

Since “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18:21), we must make the choice to say words that heal rather than kill, that restore and do not demolish.  We should never wish to contribute to another’s struggle to walk in the light or get to heaven, and we must consider how our words either encourage or discourage.  If hurt people hurt people, what do saved people do?