When I was growing up, it amazed me. Bruce Wayne had to have millions to be Batman. Clark Kent had to come from another planet. Even Peter Parker had to get bitten by a radioactive spider. But not Billy Batson, this guy said one word, Shazam, and he turned into Captain Marvel, totally awesome superhero. Most folks don’t remember Captain Marvel or they might know him by Shazam (what they call him today). But that superhero gave me a sense of possibility. I thought. If I could find my magic word, then superhero life here I come. Captain Kennedy or maybe the Big K. But go figure, I’m still looking for my magic word.
But behind that comic book hero, you find a powerful truth. One word may not make you into a superhero. But, words, they carry power. You don’t have to go to a comic book to see that.
You can look at your own life. Have you ever had someone, it could be even a complete stranger, say something mean to you and it throw off your whole day? Or maybe it’s the other way, you’ve said words to someone, and it wrecked things in ways you could not have imagined. It can happen. On the other hand, someone can say something really nice to you, and it can be so powerful, you never forget it.
Almost twenty years ago, I was checking out of a hostel in Boston. And the woman behind the counter recognized me as someone she had traveled with years before. It was nice to be recognized. But what I remember most were what she said. She said I was one of the coolest people she had ever met. I needed those words. I was recovering from a failed relationship that had broken my heart and my confidence. Her words meant so much, I’ll never forget them.
But some words do more than give you a fond memory, some words change things forever, and that is no more so, when God moves through those words. When that happens, the power those words have has no limit. How can those words become part of your life? In this story, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
Today, people have grown cynical about words, but cynicism doesn’t change the truth. Words not only still change the world, they are changing the world right now, sometimes for good, and sometimes sadly for bad. And you can be one of those whose words changes the world for good forever. How does that happen? Here God shows you the way. Life changing words happen when you realize what they are, an imperfect person saying imperfect words to imperfect people about a perfect God.
Now, it’s funny. Today most folks don’t have a problem with that first word, imperfect. After all, everybody is imperfect right? But that word perfect can sound a little uptight. But in the Bible that word simply means; complete, a fullness that needs nothing else. It’s what you feel when you talk about a perfect night or a perfect moment. You know that sort of night that feels like it has everything it needs, or that moment just feels totally right in ways you can’t even explain. Have you ever felt that? It’s awesome. And who doesn’t want more of that?
Your words can bring that sort of completeness into the world, and you can do that, even though you are far from complete. Look at Jonah. Jonah messes up big-time. Does God send him home? No, God says, get back out there, and do what I called you to do. And do you realize what God enables Jonah to do? God enables Jonah to capture a city that no army on earth could overcome. No city in human history up to that point could compare to Nineveh. Think about how long it took him to get across it, three days. A city that big, no army could ever capture. It wouldn’t have enough troops. Yet, God uses one person to bring that city literally to its knees. And God does it, as you’ll see next week, with a still radically imperfect guy. That’s how God works.
A few weeks ago, around the holiday, I was talking to my son about Dr. King. I pulled up the video of King’s I Have a Dream speech. Every time I hear it, it still gives me chills. But I had a little crisis about Dr. King about 20 or so years ago. It came out that Dr. King had cheated on his wife a lot, and well, that bothered me a lot. But then, I realized, King didn’t need to be perfect for God to powerfully use him. In fact, God only uses imperfect people, because well, that’s all God’s got.
Have no doubt, God doesn’t just use you in spite of your imperfections. God will use you even through your imperfections. I love the way, the writer, Vance Havner puts it.
God uses broken things. Broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.
If you are going through life, and think your brokenness disqualifies you from God using you for great things, then you have got it so wrong. Heck, it’s usually when you realize how broken you are that God uses you the most. As someone once put it. If you think you’re a saint, that’s a guarantee you aren’t one.
Still, Martin Luther King could deliver pretty powerful words. But you don’t need that either. Look at what Jonah delivers to the folks in Nineveh. “40 days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” It gets to the point, but who would have thought repeating that for three days straight would overwhelm the greatest city in the known world? But it did.
And when you allow God to do it, God can use your words in more powerful ways than you could ever imagine. I can’t tell you the number of times, someone has come up to me, and said your words really hit me powerfully today. And just as I start feeling good, they tell me the words that hit them so powerfully. I think. I never said that. Now, I don’t tell them that. I just nod and smile. But if God can use words I did not even say to change a life, who knows how God will use the words you do say?
And finally, do you see how the people in Nineveh react to Jonah’s words? His words make them feel bad. And that’s important to notice. God’s words usually lead you to feel bad before you can feel good. Why is that? That’s because before you can experience the change God has for you, you need to realize just how badly you need that change. And that usually means feeling bad.
That’s how the church I serve began its work in Haiti, the work that has been getting so much news coverage lately. It began when someone, a pretty imperfect someone by his own admission, led some leaders here to feel bad. The rock star, Bono, got interviewed at a leadership conference. And he raked Christian leaders over the coals. He asked. Millions of people, men, women and children are dying of AIDS around the world, and the American church was nowhere to be found. What was up with that?
So, we came back determined to do something. Now originally, we thought we were going to Africa. But God had different plans. We discovered that when one of our members, Alicia was talking to her Jewish neighbor, Mike, across the fence. He and his colleague, Tim, at the Sun Sentinel had just finished a series on AIDS orphans in the Caribbean. He mentioned how these kids’ plight had moved him. So, Alicia called me, and I called my friend, Rabbi Tuffs, and we talked. Then two other members, Leslie Young and Patricia Neunie told me about Aaron Jackson. And Aaron became the key connection that led us a partnership that with John Dieubon that created an HIV house orphanage in Haiti. Now 11 years later, that work, Hollywood CARES, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the needs of Haiti. And it has changed the world forever, especially for 30 or so children in that nation. Because of it, not only are they alive, but their lives have become a little more complete than before. And for those of us who have gone, our lives have become more complete too.
And do you know how it all began? It began with words. This perfect, complete God used all sorts of imperfect people delivering imperfect words to other imperfect people to change the world. It may not be Shazam, but it works for me.
Don’t ever think God cannot use your words in ways you could never imagine. But for God to use your words, you’ve got to speak them. What if Alicia had not made that call or Leslie not mentioned Aaron Jackson, Hollywood CARES may never have happened. Your words don’t have to be perfect nor does their response. What’s important is that you speak them. You never know how God will use those words. You’ll never know unless you speak them. So speak them, and see what God will do. What words is God calling you to speak?