Summary: We can use our tongues to do evil, discourage, discredit or we can use our tongues to do good, encourage, uplift, love!

A Heart Condition

Gossiper or Encourager?

Do you remember an Olympic skier by the name of Picabo Street. Picabo [pronounced “peek-a-boo”] She is, or was the well-known Olympic gold medalist in the Super G a few years ago. But, she is more than a famous skier. In fact, between training on the slopes and traveling around the world to compete, she managed to get an education and earn a degree in nursing. Early in her nursing career, she worked briefly as an ICU nurse in a large metropolitan hospital.

She did outstanding work. But there was a problem. The head of nursing had to tell her not to answer the phone in ICU because of the confusion it caused callers. Callers would be connected to ICU and hear Picabo say in her best professional voice: “Picabo, ICU.”

True story? No way.

Picabo is not now a nurse, has never been a nurse, and as far as I know, doesn’t particularly want to be a nurse.

But she gets the joke. Since she was a child, she’s been teased about her name. Her parents got it from an Idaho town that takes its name from a Native American word meaning “shining waters.”

Picabo, ICU. It’s was just rumor.

Another describes a horrible accident involving the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. How many of you have heard of him? We even sing about him at the Bums games sometimes.

Well, did you know about the child on a cruise ship with his parents? He finished breakfast and announced he was going to see SpongeBob. His parents, thinking that he was going to the cabin to watch TV, had no problem with this. But in his attempt to visit SpongeBob, who “lives in a pineapple under the sea,” the child jumped over the rail and drowned.

A terrible tragedy — if it had actually happened. But this SpongeBob story is completely false. Such stories “reflect standard parental fears, that TV will have a bad effect on kids,” says Barbara Mikkelson, an expert in contemporary legends. Similar rumors popped up about earlier pop culture characters — kids were said to be jumping off roofs while trying to be like Mary Poppins or Superman.

Picabo has a problem, and so do we: We cannot resist the temptation to spread a good story, whether it is true or not. (Do you know when it all began? Do these words sound familiar “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The Bible tells us”

“the tongue is a fire,”

• it can set an entire forest ablaze (3:5-6),

• it’s dangerous and destructive,

• its power is far greater than its size,

• it’s like a tiny rudder that can guide a huge ship,

• it’s like a small bridle that controls the movement of a large horse (vv. 3-4).

Never underestimate the power of this particular body part.

Of course, we know this. We’ve seen what happens to the standing of an elementary school boy when he is labeled a thief. Or to the reputation of a middle school girl when she is said to be sexually active. Or to the college prospects of a high schooler when he is rumored to be a cheater. Or to the promotion chances of a worker when she is said to be lazy or stupid.

It hardly matters whether these charges are true or not. If they are disseminated, they do damage. There was a rumor going around recently about a popular hip-hop artist. The story was that she would rather suffer the death of her firstborn child than have a white person buy one of her albums.

It’s not true. And yet, the story spreads the stain of racism.

“No one can tame the tongue,” says James, it is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8). Did you hear about the kid who ate six bags of Pop Rocks at a party? His name was John Gilchrist, the actor who played “Little Mikey” in television commercials for Life cereal. He ate six bags of Pop Rocks, drank a six-pack of Pepsi, and the two substances combined in his stomach and exploded, killing him horribly. That’s why Pop Rocks were taken off the market in the early 1980s.

The truth is that John Gilchrist never exploded. Pop Rocks plus soda produces only a burp. But the makers of Pop Rocks had to work hard to squelch the rumor, even writing to school principals. The same sort of corporate action had to be taken by the company Procter & Gamble, when it was accused of having links to Satanism.

There is truth to the saying “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” Perhaps we, as Christians, should take that saying one-step further… “If we can’t say anything good, something that reflects a Christ-like attitude and reflects the love of Christ through us, than we shouldn’t say anything at all.

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