Words Really Do Matter

Since childhood I have observed that folks who attend church regularly tend to use a “normal” vocabulary throughout the week, but when we step foot on our church campus or attend a church function, we often resort to a specialized repertoire of words that are not easily understood by those outside the community of faith.  Because it seems abnormal to me for a person to utilize one vocabulary at work and leisure, and revert to another when in the presence of your church friends or minister, I have quietly loathed all varieties of hyper-spiritual dialects.  Across time I confess that I have cynically identified and labeled a few of those more frequently heard church dialects as “King James jargon,” “lingo of Zion,” “ecclesial English,” and “pious pontification.” 

Recently I came across an old clipping that identifies one of these more frequently employed dialects as Christianese:

Christianese is a language used in the Christian subculture and understood easily only by other practicing Christians. As Christian communicators it’s important to avoid words in our writing that could be misunderstood or fail to communicate — terms that have meaning only in the Christian subculture.

As a public service, here are some common phrases used in the church, along with their English-language equivalents:

Christianese: “If it be God’s will.”
Translation: “I really don’t think God is going to answer this one.

Christianese: “Let’s have a word of prayer.”
Translation: “I am going to pray for a long, long, long time.”

Christianese: “That’s not my spiritual gift.”
Translation: “Find someone else.”

Christianese: “Fellowship”
Translation: “Organized gluttony.”

Christianese: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Translation: “I’m totally clueless.”

Christianese: “Lord willing . . .”
Translation: “You may think I’ll be there, but I won’t.”

Christianese: “I don’t feel led.”
Translation: “Can’t make me.”

Christianese: “God led me to do something else.”
Translation: I slept in instead of going to church.

Christianese: “God really helped me with this test.”
Translation: “I didn’t study but I guessed good, so I’m giving God credit in the hope that He helps me again.”

Christianese: “She has such a sweet spirit!”
Translation: “What an airhead!”

Christianese: “I have a ‘check’ in my spirit about him.”
Translation: “I can’t stand that jerk!”

Christianese: “I’ll be praying for you.”
Translation: “There’s an outside chance I’ll remember this conversation later today.”

Christianese: “Prayer concerns”
Translation: “Gossip”

Christianese: “In conclusion . . . “
Translation: “I’ll be done in another hour or so.”

Christianese: “Let us pray”
Translation: “I’m going to pretend to talk to God now, but I’m really preaching at you.”

Christianese: “You just have to put it in God’s hands.”
Translation: “Don’t expect me to help you.”

Christianese: “God wants to prosper you!”
Translation: “Give me all your money.” (Author Unknown)

My point is that words really do matter.  The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, the everyday language of ordinary people, which says to me that the greatest news in the world can be communicated without a specialized religious vocabulary.

The wisdom writer reminds us that, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23 NIV). This year, a part of my quest to be a better Christian and a more effective pastor, is to learn to be a better steward of my words and to be authentic in conversation.  And, of course, to avoid reverting to Christianese. “Carest thou to joineth me?”


Where Dr. King Stood

by Barry Howard

I grew up in Alabama in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. I was familiar with the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but only as a name in a news headline or a textbook. I knew little about the man himself. That is, until 1982.

During my senior year at Jacksonville State University, I participated in a field trip to Atlanta with the Sociology Club. We visited several sites of social and cultural significance including the Atlanta Federal Corrections Facility, the Grady Hospital, the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Center.

While touring the sanctuary of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, another student and I ventured into the pulpit and stood briefly where Dr. King had stood to preach. The hostess immediately reprimanded us, informing us that in their church tradition, only ministers of the gospel were allowed to “stand behind the sacred desk.”

I relieved her sense of alarm by informing her that I was a “licensed” Baptist minister and that my friend was preparing to be an Episcopal priest, a claim which our faculty sponsor confirmed for the hostess.

Upon learning of our ministerial affiliation, the hostess asked the two of us a few specific questions about our knowledge of Dr. King and then invited us to follow her to the King Center adjacent to the historic church. She led us through the Archives Area, and then through a door that was labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”

Once inside, we discovered we were in an expansive storage facility with row after row of shelves containing hundreds of boxes. She took a couple of boxes from the shelves, opened them, and allowed us to view the contents. We quickly realized that the hostess was giving us the privilege of examining some of Dr. King’s personal sermon notes, speeches, and correspondence. This information was being stored in the warehouse prior to being processed for the archives.

We observed notes that were mostly handwritten on hotel stationary, restaurant napkins, used mailing envelopes, and on the backside of “incoming” personal letters. While many respected orators labor intensively over manuscripts, revising multiple drafts in order to arrive at just the right script, it was obvious that Dr. King had a rhetorical gift for rendering a speech extemporaneously from a few scribbled thoughts.

After a half an hour or so, our time was up and we rejoined the others in our group. Only years later have I come to realize the distinct privilege given to me that day in Atlanta. Since that time, I have read most of Dr. King’s published writings as well as many commentaries and editorials about Dr. King’s life.

Dr. King should be remembered as a passionate Baptist minister. Following seminary, he served as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Later, he succeeded his father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Dr. King should be remembered as an accomplished scholar. After graduating from Morehouse College in 1948, he went on to study theology at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He completed a doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University in 1955.

Dr. King should be remembered as a courageous civil rights advocate. His dream was equality for all people and he employed and encouraged non-violent protests to dramatically make his point.

In March of 1964, Dr. King was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year.” In December of 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. The voice and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped shape a movement that is still transforming our nation.

(Dr. Barry Howard serves as senior minister of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)


A Life-Changing Resolution: Read the Bible Daily in 2011

Often I am asked, “What can I do to grow as a Christian?” There are several things that may help you grow in your faith but one of the most important things is to read the Bible everyday.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But developing a daily discipline of reading the Bible can be challenging because it requires changing our daily habits. However, you are never too young or too old to start.

In the New Year’s season when folks traditionally make resolutions and establish goals for the coming year, why not resolve to read the Bible everyday? Consider some of the advantages of reading the Bible daily. Daily Bible reading increases our knowledge of God’s word. It gives us a more intimate and personal acquaintance with the biblical text. It helps us to discern God’s plan for us. It encourages us to integrate the teachings of the Bible into our daily lifestyle. It confronts our personal sin and affirms God’s forgiveness. It inspires us toward faithfulness and consistency in all of our tasks. Reading the Bible daily helps us to understand the contextual meaning of passages whereas those who read the Bible only occasionally or who read only a selected verse or two are more likely to superimpose their own presuppositions to the text. And finally, daily Bible reading helps keep your life and faith in focus.

Years ago, Lord Tennyson wrote, “Bible reading is an education in itself.” Here are some helpful strategies to develop a daily Bible reading plan:
• Begin by using a companion devotional guide. Our Daily Bread, Open Windows, and the Upper Room are just a few examples of devotional booklets that include both a daily Bible reading selection and a few inspirational comments and stories. There are also a growing number of online devotional sites, such as, that provide relevant daily devotionals, and other sites that you can subscribe to that will send daily devotional readings directly to your inbox.
• Try reading the Bible book by book. Some suggest alternating your reading between New Testament and Old Testament books.
• Read a chapter a day from the New Testament and the Old Testament plus a Psalm and one chapter of Proverbs. This approach provides a balanced diet of biblical perspectives. And because Proverbs is divided into thirty-one chapters, it makes for good systematic reading because of its compatibility with our monthly calendar.
• Read the Bible in one year. Many Christian publishing companies offer printed schedules for reading the Bible through in one year. The assignments for daily reading may prove challenging to slower readers but the rewards of knowledge and inspiration are definitely worth the challenge.

If you want to grow in your faith there are many practices that will enhance your spiritual maturity: daily prayer, regular worship participation, ethical decision-making, and ministry involvement. But one of the best places to begin your journey of spiritual growth if you are a new Christian, or to deepen your faith if you are a maturing Christian, is to develop the discipline of reading the Bible daily. If you really want to live by the book, resolve to spend quality time reading the book daily in 2011.

(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of First Baptist Church of Pensacola.)


Getting Relief from Depression

There are many reasons why winter is often considered an emotional downer. Some counselors attribute this wintry melancholy to post-holiday stress, while others believe it has more to do with isolation caused by blustery weather.

Some studies associate seasonal depression with less sunlight and more darkness. Other factors contributing to depression include lack of exercise, changes in diet, prolonged grief (especially during the holidays) and straying from spiritual values.

One noted psychologist and popular clinician offers these suggestions for overcoming depression:

1. Visit your physician. Depression might be a symptom of a physical problem such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia or endocrine imbalance.

2. Eat healthy. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid caffeine, sugar, junk food and especially alcohol.

3. Get enough sleep. Exhaustion adds to depression. Sleep refreshes the body and uplifts the spirit.

4. Be active. Physical activity can lift you out of depression. Avoid too much television and too many passive activities.

5. Be social. Surrounding yourself with people, especially positive people, can keep your mind off your problems and distract you from feeling sorry for yourself. Social interactions help pull you from your depression.

6. Do fun activities. When you are depressed, nothing sounds enjoyable. But getting out and doing what you used to enjoy will improve your attitude and after a while you will have fun.

7. Write out your feelings. Emotions trapped inside you increase depression. Getting them on paper can release the internal pressure. Write about your anger, grief, confusion or anything else that is bothering you.

8. Surround yourself with positives. Fill your life with positive people, positive music, positive books and positive situations. Stay away from the negatives.

9. Check out your negative self-talk. Listen to what you are saying to yourself. If you are saying negative things to yourself, it will make you feel worse. Put a positive spin on your life.

10. Make plans and dreams for the future. Make a list of all the things you wish to do in the future and then plan how to make them a reality.

11. Develop your faith. Faith in God provides hope. It lifts a person above the frustrations of life. Faith pulls a person above depression and provides perspective to difficulties.

12. Get help if the depression persists. Meet with a pastor if there are spiritual issues, a counselor if there are emotional problems or your physician for appropriate medication. It is a sign of wisdom and courage to seek help if needed.

If you sense that depressing thoughts or feelings are dominating your life, be proactive and take appropriate steps to help overcome your depression.


Simeon Says….

A few days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the temple, as was the custom, to have him consecrated to the Lord. After offering their sacrifice, they encountered Simeon, a man who was “righteous and devout” and who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

As Simeon was moved by the Spirit, he took the child in his arms and praised God, saying: “ For your eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

After the blessing, Joseph and Mary marveled. But Simeon continued, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword that will pierce your own soul too.”

Although the birth of Jesus is celebrated with peace, joy, hope, and love, this matter of following Jesus is risky business. It requires loyal commitment, frequent forgiveness, and stubborn faithfulness.

You have followed the star of Christmas to find Jesus in the manger. Now that a New Year has begun, will you follow him further?

(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of First Baptist Church of Pensacola.)