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7 words of climate change


When our daughter Elizabeth was in kindergarten a few years ago she drew a poster about the seven most powerful words in the English language. She wrote those seven words in a four-year old hand and decorated the borders with flowers and curlicues. The words were bold, large letters, centered on the page.

You know them. I LOVE YOU. THANK YOU. FORGIVE ME.

In thirty-five years of pastoral leadership they were the seven words of climate change. When things got a little hot, they would usually lower the temperature. When crisis brought an arctic blast into the room, these seven words would raise the thermostat setting a few degrees. You see, mission happens when the atmosphere is just right. And, those seven words can alter the barometric pressure in a group of people faster than a cold or heat wave.

During my time with the South Carolina Baptist Convention there were many occasions of presiding over church meetings, just about every venue you can imagine. There were a few contentious business meetings, elders sessions, gatherings of the deacon body, moderating various groups in the church, referee for irritated staff members, and once as law enforcement in a neighborhood melee. There were also the usual misunderstandings in the four churches I pastored. More than once I conducted exit interviews for church members who were leaving our church for another. They all had the potential of disrupting the fellowship or causing injury to someone in the church. Every single one was an opportunity for prayer, a devotional from the Word of God, and for a temperature change. Somewhere back there Elizabeth's seven words came to mind. I would challenge the church leadership with them. You wouldn't believe how many times those seven words cleared the skies or eased the winds or calmed the seas. Seven little words that a kindergarten class presented to their parents.

It's not child's play, you know. In our quest for spiritual depth we are prone to overlook that which is most obvious. But, the seven words Elizabeth presented to Harriet and me that evening are grounded in Scripture and formulate a strong biblical triad for the kind of environment where genuine fellowship, worship, leadership, discipleship, stewardship, and evangelism can occur. There's plenty of biblical groundwork for this kind of simple organizational savvy---

Love one another...John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8

Give thanks for one another...Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16

Forgive one another...Ephesians 3:32; Colossians 3:13

Most of us wouldn't argue with the Scriptural case for any of these seven words. They are understood as standards for relational health. But, there's a catch. In fact, several of them---

1. They aren't verbalized strategically and often.

2. They are trivialized by verbalizing them in a matter of fact manner.

3. They are used to side-step genuine accountability.

4. They are spoken to avoid the consequences of actions.

5. They are verbalized with another end in mind.

As a result, even these seven power words drawn on a chart by children must be understood in a more mature way when genuine relational crises exist.

A few years ago I was assisting a church dealing with factions. After several months they contracted with a nationally certified conflict resolution organization to help them sort through all the human mess that makes such collisions possible. They held prayer meetings, met in clusters, sat for several Sundays in solemn assembly, went through all the normal motions of dealing with their differences. One Sunday evening one of the men stood in front of the church, confessed spreading rumors, instigating gossip, attacking others, and using foul language with a couple of the other members. In tears he asked them for forgiveness. It was a turning point for the church and all the people who had been embroiled in the controversy. FORGIVE ME changed the temperature.

Elizabeth's poster is stored among our treasures. I want to dig it out, frame it, and hang it in my office to remind me of seven simple words that can bring real climate change to our emotionally super-charged world. Well, not so much to remind others of their short-comings, but to remind prideful me of mine.


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