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Do verbal stumbles define us?

Do verbal stumbles define us?

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Some political pundits were quick to criticize a newly-elected U.S. senator who said in an interview the three branches of government are the “House, the Senate and the executive.” OK, so his words weren’t precise. Does this define the man? I hope not since all of us make verbal gaffes from time-to-time.

I just finished a new biography of President Jimmy Carter. Author Jonathan Alter reminded readers of Carter’s intended tribute to the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey in the president’s renomination convention in 1980. By mistake, Carter called him the fictional “Hubert Horatio Hornblower.” Carter said later the negative reporting he received might as well have labeled him the Disney character “Goofy.” Carter is a great man and shouldn’t be defined by a single gaffe.

A person’s life isn’t measured by occasional tongue flubs. I want to believe this since I’ve made my share. One issue with speaking in churches and classrooms as many of us do is there’s no “cutting room floor” where edits can  be made. Though many of our churches have been broadcasting during COVID, most of us are not ready for prime-time TV! If we were, we could edit out the verbal gaffes, sneezes and jokes that didn’t work.

Consider the disciple whom many call their favorite, Simon Peter. Do you remember the time he stood in the courtyard, warming by the fire and denied he even knew the now-arrested Jesus of Nazareth? Preachers a generation ago used to talk about Peter “warming by the devil’s fire.” And he was. When his denials fell flat, he cursed like the sailor he was to definitively demonstrate that he didn’t follow Jesus.

But fortunately, Peter repented. And he found forgiveness. On the Day of Pentecost he took renewed strength and served Christ faithfully until the day Nero gave the order of execution.

To Peter, Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom.” The keeper of the kingdom was there at momentous times. He was there when the Holy Spirit was given to the church, when the Holy Spirit was given to Samaritans and when the Holy Spirit was given to gentiles. He was there when the church finally “got it” and welcomed all nations to Christ.

Tradition says Peter became the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and was given opportunity to recant his faith under threat of death. He refused to deny Jesus again, and was sentenced to crucifixion. Tradition further records he felt unworthy to die as Jesus did, and requested he be crucified head down.

Christian history would be vastly different if we judged Peter the rest of his life by words spoken in haste. He found grace and another opportunity to serve.

So can we all.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.

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