Of Curses and Euphemisms

One of this writer’s seminary professors covered euphemisms as part of his lecture on the Third Commandment.1 The commandment states, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”(Ex 20:7, ESV)

The professor argued certain words or phrases were adopted over time as euphemisms for God’s name. He further argued these terms were used as a way to circumvent the commandment.  Therefore, when one uses the word gosh as a cry of surprise, dismay, wonder or whatever, one is taking the Lord’s name in vain.

AnOldSinner does not necessarily disagree with the professor’s argument that some words became euphemisms for the word god over time. There seems to be ample evidence to believe many phrases used to express surprise, shock, revulsion or outrage may at times be used by people as a way to avoid directly referring to the God of Abraham. With that said, the question becomes, is every use of such terms taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Clearly, many phrases or terms have been adopted by those who would like to make a point without using words other people feel are crude at best. The word shoot was a common euphemism when AnOldSinner was younger. One could hear, “Well, shoot,” or “Oh, shoot” in classrooms locker rooms, and just about anywhere else one might be. Today, the use of the word shoot in this way has declined.  In this modern, oh so enlightened age, people simply use the word it once replaced.

That does not mean euphemisms have disappeared. Freaking or frigging are common euphemisms in the modern world for a word the comedian Lenny Bruce shocked audiences with during the 1950s and 60s. Of course, their popularity is waning as what was once called vulgar or obscene language becomes more and more mainstream.

The problem this writer has with the professor’s argument is that it seems a bit legalistic. That is, it seems to have no gray area. For instance, as the professor sees it, the good old southern term, “Oh! My goodness gracious!” is the same as exclaiming “Oh! My God!” As AnOldSinner understood it, the professor considered both as taking the Lord’s name in vain.

To a point, AnOldSinner can agree with the professor. Every source found on the euphemisms commonly used in this manner agrees on their origin.  The terms were coined or coopted so the speaker could express a thought such as this without actually using words such as god, lord, creator, or father. The problem this writer has with the professor’s argument was it seemed very dogmatic.  There was no gray area.

A review of commentaries and other sources on the meaning of this commandment indicates things are not as clear cut as the professor’s argument would make them. Certainly, the commandment is clear. One is not to take the Lord’s name in vain, and if one does, God will punish that person in some manner. Still, it is not clear that all uses of a term, word or name used to refer to God outside of worship, prayer or educational settings are a violation of the commandment.

The sources this writer studied in the past and reviewed for this piece start with the most basic meaning of the concept of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Everyone seems to agree swearing in God’s name untruthfully, cursing someone in God’s name, or other ways of using His name that misrepresent Him or tarnishes His image is a sin. Beyond these concepts, there is a bit of disagreement.

Some theologians do believe the commandment should be considered in broad terms, but one must wonder if someone saying my gosh or my goodness should be lumped together with blasphemers and pagans.   If that is the case, someone crying out “My God, this cannot be happening” might be sinning.  That is certainly the impression one might get from the professor’s lecture.

This writer would think it is totally appropriate to ask God to hear a prayer or plea. If not, David might be committing a sin in Psalm 17:1 which says in part, “Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! …” (ESV) Certainly, this is not exactly the same language as, “My God, this cannot be happening.”  Still, without context, both might be considered a cry to be heard, or a misuse of the Lord’s name.  Luckily, the remainder of the verse clarifies the situation.  The verse ends with the phrase  “…. from lips free of deceit!”

The Psalmist seems to be saying it is okay to cry out to God in this manner under the right circumstances. On the other hand, if one is lying or attempting to deceive this would likely be a problem. Examples of this might be if one is a false prophet, or is crying out in this manner in an attempt to impress others, as in the case of the Pharisees.

To AnOldSinner asking God to damn someone in anger and crying out one of His names in a different moment of emotion are not the same.  The first action, regardless of how one phrases it, seems to be demonstrably wrong for a Christian.  The other action might be more like the cry in Psalm 17:1.

I do not know if the professor in question is 1oo percent correct in his understanding of euphemisms as they relate to the commandment.  He may well be, and I may be bordering on blasphemy.  If I am, I will be judged accordingly.  Still, I find it hard to believe that the kid I was many decades ago sinned everytime he said, good god, golly gee, gosh almighty, and any number of other words one might feel were attempts to circumvent the commandment. Those were just phrases of puzzlement, amazement, befuddlement, and wonder.

With that said, I try not to use those phrases today. I fully agree with a completely secular reason the professor gave for dropping the terms from one’s vocabulary.  There are words in the English language that will express those emotions, much more succinctly or colorfully if one simply expands his or her vocabulary.


  1.  In some Christian traditions this is the Second Commandment.

© AnOldSinner -2017

 

 

Posted in Faith, Religion, sin, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Question of Courage

One of my favorite non-Christian talk radio hosts is Dennis Prager.  Dennis, for those who are not familiar with him, is what some might call an observant Jew.  That is he keeps Jewish traditions, is a recognized Jewish scholar and is not the least bit worried about what others might think of his faith.  He might classify himself differently, but I hope you get the point.

Today during the Ultimate Issues Hour, Dennis was discussing courage. I did not hear the entire hour, but the part I did hear seemed to focus on people not having the courage of their convictions.  Specifically, he mentioned how people of faith were hesitant to express their faith to others.  Dennis’s point was that people, all of us, tend to let our fear keep us from sharing our hearts, our faith, and beliefs.  His point was that we should not let our fear control us, especially when it comes to spreading God’s word.

This is something near and dear to my heart.  I know many believers who become petrified at the thought of admitting their faith to a non believer or anyone they do not know well. I have written on this in the past, and felt moved to write something new, or resurrect an essay from the past.  Then one of those coincidences that seem to pop up in a believer’s life occurred.

I was recently introduced to the work of  J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist.  One of my professors suggested I check him out, as he too is a retired cop.  For some reason, I checked his blog to see what he’d written recently, and guess what I found! Yep.  He’d written on the very same topic, coming at it from a different perspective.  So, instead of trying to recycle something or not comment until I had time to write a new piece, I thought I’d share his. I hope you find it interesting. Check out his other work as you have time.

The Frustrating Fallacy of Friendship Evangelism

 

© AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Testimony | Tagged , , , , ,

Noticeable Change?

People complain. Some complain a lot, and some complain a little. No matter the frequency, everyone complains. Even those shaking their heads as they read this muttering, “I never complain,” complain at times. It is part of the human condition, complaining. Another aspect of the human condition is that many do nothing about their complaints. They simply complain.

Complaining is not always a problem. It can be a legitimate way of venting a little frustration, ask for a little sympathy, or get someone’s attention. Certainly, someone who complains constantly can be annoying. Yet, it is likely everyone has chronic complainers in their lives, and they don’t do anything about them, except complain.

As much fun as it was to write the preceding paragraphs, this piece is not about complaining in general. It is about one complaint in particular. It is a complaint AnOldSinner hears regularly, and it is a complaint that deserves attention.

Many Christians complain about their inability to share the gospel effectively. One version of the complaint is, “I never know what to say.” Or, “I am afraid I’ll say something wrong.” Another version is, “I told them why I believe, but my testimony did not move them.” There are other variations on this theme, but the bottom line is many Christians know they should share the Good News, but they don’t, can’t, or won’t.

Some of these complaints, or fears, cannot be discussed in a few hundred words. People must grow in their faith, and they must overcome their fears through prayer, planning and persistence. With that said, there is an underlying issue in many of these cases that can be addressed in a few paragraphs. At least, this writer’s hubris seems to feel it can be addressed in that space.

This writer’s experience and training lead to the belief that there are a couple of underlying problems to be addressed. One is beyond the control of this writer or any human. Only God knows when one is truly ready to share his or her testimony and the Gospel with a seeker or unbeliever. Only God can prepare the heart of a person to hear the Gospel and respond to it.

Each believer needs to trust that God will use him or her in His time. However, that truth should not be used as an excuse to avoid an opportunity to share one’s faith with another. Sometimes, He may want one to share and be rebuffed. Sometimes, He may want the seeker to hear from several believers before He opens the seeker’s or unbeliever’s heart. Whatever the reason, not every opportunity to share Christ will be productive and fulfilling. Instead, it may be God’s way of stretching and strengthening one’s faith.

That does not mean one can sit on his or her hands waiting for the call. It may be that one has work to do to prepare for the day God asks a believer to witness to someone. Preparation can take several forms. One is to write out and practice one’s testimony. This does not mean one should memorize one’s testimony and reel it off like lines in a movie. It simply means a believer should be comfortable with what he or she is going to share.

Knowing and being comfortable with one’s testimony is important. However, that testimony must be believable. By that, this writer is not saying it must be provable or not contain elements that an unbeliever might see as mystical. The very idea of believing in something one cannot see, touch, taste or hear is something many find troubling. Still, if one’s testimony involves a vision, a dream, or what some call a God tap the mystical or supernatural element is part of the testimony.

The believability must come from the person giving the testimony. What the believer is saying must match what the unbeliever or seeker sees in the one testifying. For example, in a piece entitled “Seeking … an Excuse” this writer spoke to the issue of actions not matching rhetoric, and how that sort of hypocrisy can be used by those wishing to avoid a relationship with Christ.

One’s Christianity should be apparent to others. One way it can be apparent is through changes in the way one behaves. Change is a big part of one’s salvation or rebirth into Christianity. Change is a constant message from the Bible and the pulpit. The New Testament makes this clear.

If you consider yourself a Christian, have you changed since being saved? Could someone tell you might be a Christian by the way you live and act? When you look in the mirror or think back over your life, can you see any differences between the old you and the Christian you? If your answer to this question is, I go to church, I read the Bible, I pray regularly, or a combination of these you may need to rethink your answer.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Testimony | Tagged , , , , , ,

Faith in People

A friend posted this recently on FB. By friend, I mean someone I actually know and see in person at times. We’ve even done some ministry work together, and I have a great deal of respect for him. Still, as much as I respect him and understand why he would share this thought, I take exception to the meme.

The person who crafted it is likely proud of what he or she created. It certainly created a bit of interest. By the time AnOldSinner saw it, almost 3,000 people “liked” it, and more than 1,500 shared it. That level of interest may not be “viral,” but it certainly beats the handful of people who comment on the average post. Additionally, there were many comments, replies and replies to replies. Some of the comments were thoughtful, and some were not, as one might expect.

AnOldSinner understands the sentiment expressed in the meme. My problem with God, His church and those who claimed to follow Him certainly came about because I did not understand the difference between believing in God and believing in the people I felt led me to Christ. I thought my father and our pastor were “men of God,” and as such they represented Him on earth. When they failed me and each other, I blamed God.

One could argue I was a foolish child at the time I started to grow angry with God. After all, I was only eleven. Everything I knew about God, faith and religion came from The Bible Story collection, and the men who led me to be baptized. As I wrote in “Flawed Messengers” several years ago, when the pastors and others who claim to be God’s representatives on earth have feet of clay, a seeker or new believer will have trouble trusting God.

That is the issue with these pithy memes and posters designed to make a point. Their point may be valid, but they can send a skewed message. They also tend to place the blame on the person who has been hurt. Comments such as this, whether online or in person, can sound sanctimonious and condescending. They are also reminiscent of the story of Job. Job was a faithful servant of God and did nothing wrong.   Yet he suffered greatly, and those around him thought he brought the suffering on himself.

Someone reading or hearing this message may feel it is saying, “You should have known better! You can’t put faith in people!” My response to those comments would be, “How could I have known better?” Whether one is eleven, sixteen or sixty, if one is seeking God, where does he or she turn? How is one supposed to know? Is general revelation enough? Does one need to experience special revelation or a visitation? Is the fact one can read the Word of God in the Bible enough?

The truth is most people depend on others to lead them to God. Yes, there are some who claim a vision came to them, and others who claim they found God simply be reading the Bible or another book. Still, in almost every case people are involved in the process in some way, and unless AnOldSinner is completely misunderstanding the teachings of Jesus, and His disciples, that is the way Jesus thought this process should work.

Another problem with this image is the inference that Psalm 118:8 supports the comment. That verse does state: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” (ESV) Taken out of context, one can claim it supports the statement in the image, but not one of the numerous commentaries reviewed for this piece translated it in that manner. In fact, those that dealt with it at all did so in terms of conflict, possibly even warfare.1

The bottom line is this. Sayings are just that, sayings. They are not Scripture. They are probably not revelations or anymore inspired than this piece. One would hope they are meant to help others, but the reality is they likely make someone who is already suffering feel worse.


  1. For the record, there are versions of this image without the citation to Psalms.  Either way, the admonition should be used carefully, if at all.

    © AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in Faith, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Spontaneous Testimony

Every Christian has a testimony. Unfortunately, as AnOldSinner has written in the past, some people never think about their testimony, and others really do not have a clue what the word means in the Christian sense. That does not mean a person does not have a testimony, and that does not mean he or she cannot share it. In fact, the lives of some people are their testimony. In other cases, people share their walk verbally without thinking of it as testimony.

This point was driven home the other night while spending time with some fellow believers. We were discussing the previous week’s sermon at our church, and answering questions that were part of a suggested study plan. Our church prides itself on being Monday morning relevant and encouraging growth. Every sermon has study notes that help one focus on the message, and how it can be used to further one’s walk.

On this evening one discussion question triggered an unexpected response from me. I have shared my personal testimony many times over the years, in small groups, in large groups, on mission trips and in writing. Normally, I am a little long winded, and was heavily challenged before my first mission trip.

We were asked to simplify our testimony to the point it could be given in just a couple of minutes. It took a lot of work, but I managed it. I am certain our young interpreter appreciated the brevity. On this evening, something triggered me to give a bullet point testimony that was not what anyone expected, including me. In fact, even though most were aware of my testimony, it was clear some were taken aback by the intensity, brevity and pointed fashion in which it was shared.

The reaction of those listening to me was enlightening. When one gives his or her testimony, the hope is people will not nod off in the middle of it or squirm in their seats. Additionally, one does not want people to pull back as they might from a pariah. Normally, one can expect smiling nods of agreement, and possibly a grimace of understanding over some difficult part of one’s story.

In this case, two people sat up a bit straighter and their eyes opened a bit wider. At one point, one member of the group did give a start because my testimony included the effect of my law enforcement career on my faith. Someone close to her has just started his law enforcement career, and she is concerned about what he might experience. The rest of the group, reacted in ways that fall in between these extremes. At least, that’s what I think happened. I’ll know for certain in a couple of weeks. We’re supposed to get together again. If everyone shows, I’ll know it did not go too far.

The truly amazing part of this incident was I compressed forty plus years of my life into about a minute. My regular interpreter in Brazil would have marveled at the brevity. He might not have been as happy with the fact it was rapid fire and I did not pause for breath in sixty plus seconds.

My point is that one never knows when he or she will be moved to share their testimony. Also, one never knows how one will be moved to share it. Mine was triggered by a relatively benign question about how the world challenges your faith. My prepared answer was short and to the point, but when I opened my mouth, my complete story spilled out, admittedly sans many specific details. Still, the intensity and passion with which I remember speaking made the point clear. I let the world harden my heart and push me into the darkness. God allowed me to struggle there for years before He softened my heart, and called me back to the light.

I suppose my point here, in addition to sharing this experience, is threefold. First, once we know we have a testimony we are not certain what to do with it. Second, once we know what we should do with it, we are often uncertain when and how to share it. Third, as this situation made it clear to me, sometimes the best and most impassioned telling of one’s story is when one is spontaneously moved to do so.

It seems that last point is key. Experience tells me many faithful Christians miss opportunities to tell their story to someone who might need to hear it out of fear. It may be fear of being judged, fear of offending someone, or fear of having to live up to the story one tells. Whatever the fear, it tends to paralyze us, but if we go with the inspiration of the moment and speak from the heart, someone will hear it.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

 

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Watching You

No one can truly know another’s heart. We try, but as humans we simply do not have that ability. For that reason, we are often confused or disappointed by family and friends. This can be especially true of children.

Children come into this world as clean slates. The Holy Spirit may have written the knowledge of God into their hearts, but their minds are blank pages upon which the world writes a story that becomes their life. The first people to write on those pages are the parents, or in today’s world, the parental figure or figures. It is from these sources that children learn about good, evil, trust and betrayal. It is from these sources children learn about love, hate and indifference.

Certainly, children learn from other sources. Modern society is information rich, and it bombards them from all sides. Children learn from friends, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, Sunday School teachers, and their smart phones. Still, what they learn from mom and dad is often the most meaningful and permanent. A humorous tale told in a country-western song by Rodney Atkins makes this point clearly.

The song, “Watching You,” is the story of a father who makes an important discovery about the way his son is learning. Unfortunately, he first realizes there might be a problem when his son uses an expletive most people would be horrified to hear coming from the mouth of their four-year-old. In this case the horror is compounded by the fact the little boy tells his dad he learned the word from him, and how he wants to grow up just like dad.

Many parents have likely experienced something similar while raising their children. It is also likely, the parent involved reacted in a manner similar to the father in the song, “Where did you learn a word like that?” Of course, if other parents heard the child’s utterance, the comment may have been something akin to, “I can’t imagine where he (or she) learned that.”

A child’s eyes, and its ears, are important learning tools. It is through their eyes children see if words match deeds. It is through their eyes children observe body language and facial expressions accompanying the words used. It is through their eyes they see how one person treats another. It is through their eyes they have the opportunity to see the world God created. Parents can easily forget what this means.

Children, no matter how much one loves them, become a part of one’s environment. Once they are old enough to entertain themselves for significant periods of time, other priorities can make a parent forget a child is watching.

A child may be playing quietly in one room while parents are busy with their day in another. The fact the child is playing does not mean it is not watching. Even if a child is focused on the newest toy the child’s mind can be a sponge, unconsciously soaking up words, actions and behavior. That is the lesson of “Watching You.”1

One would hope most fathers, certainly fathers who profess to be Christian, would avoid intentionally using foul language in front of their children. The unfortunate reality is if one uses inappropriate language at all, it will slip out at times. If it slips out in front of one’s child, all the apologizing, rationalizing and excuses in the world will not make a child forget it. If this is true, the question is how does one avoid winding up in this position.

The song offers hope to the errant dad it depicts. Later that day, the father gets down on his knees and prays for wisdom and help in raising his son. That night his prayer is rewarded by seeing his son praying just as fervently to God. When asked, his son says he learned to pray from watching him. The father is likely relieved and comforted from the news. If only it were that simple.

The story in the song is cute and touching. The little boy is watching his dad and learning what it means to be a man. A man who makes mistakes, but knows the Lord. A man wanting the best for his child. That is likely the intent of the song, but the reality might be different.

The father in the song could feel he is off the hook. Sure, his son learned a bad word from him, and he might learn a few more. Yet, he learned to pray as well, and seems to understand God is important. After all, the father is no saint, and Jesus died for his sins. God’s grace can handle this little problem.

One can argue that cussing does not make one a sinner. Perhaps, someone who uses expletives regularly is a bit uncouth, but does that make him, or her, a sinner? That is something others can argue at another time. It seems the father in this song clearly felt he was leading his son astray, and he wanted to change. He asked God to help him be a good example. That should be the prayer of any Christian parent without regard for the severity of the transgression.

Children learn bad habits from their parents. They might learn to cuss, they might learn to lie, they might learn to judge others, they might learn to covet, and the beat goes on according to Sonny and Cher in the 1960s. Of course, they will learn bad habits from other sources, but the ones they learn from parents will be the hardest to overcome.

We are all sinners. Still, as Paul clearly states in Romans 6, one cannot continue to sin, expecting grace to bail one out. Accepting Jesus the Christ as our savior did not turn us into saints, and we must work on growing closer to Christ. One proof of our maturity and growing closer to Christ is change that others can see in us. This is especially true when it comes to parents.

Children naturally put their parents right up there next to God. A loving, faithful and worshipful father makes it much easier for a child to believe in and see a loving, faithful and worship worthy Father. A parent who relies on God’s grace instead of working hard on himself, risks leading children astray, and makes the child more vulnerable to the temptations of this world.

Every parent should ask, what do my children see while watching me? Do they see someone working to become closer to God, and being a light in the world? Or, do they see someone who lives one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week?

Have you asked that question lately, of yourself?


  1. Lyrics only
Posted in Faith, family, parenting, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Still Blessed

Almost three years ago AnOldSinner wrote a piece entitled “Blessed?” It was in response to an essay published by another Christian writer concerning the use of the term blessed. The writer in question (let’s call him Jerry)1 opined that American Christians used the word blessed too often and improperly. He went so far in his piece as to say American Christians appeared arrogant in their use of the word, and were likely misusing it. A few months later, this writer traveled to South America on a mission trip. That trip inspired “Truly Blessed” which expanded on Blessed.

So, one might ask what prompted Still Blessed? A marvelous and infuriating aspect of social media is that one’s work can resurface at any time. That happened in this case. Someone republished Jerry’s essay taking Christians to task for claiming they were blessed, and it popped up in AnOldSinner’s Facebook timeline. After reading it again, it seemed appropriate to expand on the earlier pieces.

To be honest, it is strange for this writer to be defending the use of the term blessed. AnOldSinner’s alter writing ego, OneOldCop, bristles regularly when people get carried away in their response to general or natural revelation. God is everywhere, and can be seen in everything, if one is looking. However, the idea that God is personally scripting a gorgeous sunset one is watching while relaxing on a beach often strikes this writer in a manner similar to the way Jerry feels about using the word blessed.

God created the conditions that allow one to witness a gorgeous sunset, fantastic sunrise, or beautiful snowfall in the mountains. He also created the circumstances that lead to gloomy days when one cannot see the sun rise or set, and He created the circumstances leading to the Red Tide algae bloom which invades the gulf coast of Florida annually. Red Tide is considered many things, but gorgeous is not one of them. Yet, God made it possible, and in its own way, it is as magnificent as the sunset one would photograph and mount on one’s wall. The same can be said for the idea of blessings.

Part of the reason Jerry railed against people claiming to be blessed was his experience in a Central American country where a variation of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel was used, in his opinion, to make people feel they lacked faith. He believes people were being told they would be blessed with better living conditions and less oppression if only they had more faith.

If his perceptions are true, the situation is horrible. Still, as this writer noted in Truly Blessed it is possible to feel blessed in very difficult situations. It is also possible, as with the analogy of the Red Tide, American Christians simply fail to recognize that God blesses people in different ways.

One story that comes to mind is the story told by one of this writer’s mentors. After spending time doing mission work in Brazil, this American pastor noticed the village in which the mission work was based had an economic problem. Much of the villages local economy was based on fishing. This created a problem in his mind because of the primitive nature of the fishing business. He thought there must be some way to make life easier for the men who made their living by fishing, and after much thought, he had an epiphany.

One problem for the fishermen was that there was no way to store the fish. If they caught more than they could eat or sell in the village it had to be thrown away. He decided they needed a commercial freezer. Then they could freeze the excess fish and sell it later for a profit. He also believed this would give them more time to spend with their families and supporting the local church. When he shared his grand plan with them, they had one question. Who would buy the fish? The reality was there was no advantage to catching more fish than they could use in a day.

Jerry saw oppressed people, and thought they were being misled about the role of faith in their lives.  The young minister saw the fishermen breaking their backs and not having what they needed because they did not have a way to store and market fish. From his experience Jerry has learned to feel guilty about his life. From the young minister’s experience he learned that not everyone needs a marketing plan to feel successful.

By American standards both the fishing village and the area in which Jerry served are poverty stricken and oppressed. That does not mean the people there do not feel they are blessed in some ways, and it does not mean they look at Americans as arrogant fools for feeling blessed. It may mean they are able to see God in the sunset and the Red Tide.


1.It is not this writer’s goal to start an online debate with another writer, so using a pseudonym instead of identifying the other writer is standard practice.

© S. E. Jackson – 2017

Posted in Faith