I Swear!

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I’ve never done well at following religious lists of do’s and don’ts. Something in me resists conformity, and the rebel in me likes to push buttons. At home as a child, I was frequently taken to the tool shed. In school, teachers kept their eyes on me with grave concern. In church, well . . . let’s just say my Sunday school teachers reminded me on a regular basis and with a good deal of exasperation that I was the preacher’s son.

Following rules has never been my forte. Sad but true.

About ten years ago, I was at a conference where a nationally known pastor spoke. He was good, passionate, engaging, and he swore. Some in the crowd smiled. Others gasped, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” Yup.

I remember thinking, “Cool. If he can do it, so can I!” Like William Wallace in Braveheart, my soul cried, “FREEDOM!”

About a month later, I dropped a relatively mild word in one of my sermons. It was more like a firecracker than a nuclear bomb (and it certainly wasn’t the F-bomb), but I got mixed reviews. Honestly, though I don’t like being a cookie-cutter preacher, I don’t like getting into trouble either, so I backed off of the public swearing.

Occasionally, however, I would use language in conversations that wasn’t crude or crass, but definitely over the line.

Fast forward to a conversation I had with my wife on a recent road trip. She said, in her gentle way, “Honey, I don’t understand why you like to use those words, and it concerns me.”

Of course, I went into my practiced arguments about being “culturally relevant and real . . . how words are just words and how it’s really not that big of a deal.”

ProfanityShe didn’t push back or push my buttons. She listened (a wise woman) and only said, “Just seems like that was a part of your old life and it bothers me.”

For the next couple of hours on I-90, I did a lot of thinking. I’ve heard and used all the relevancy arguments. I’ve justified my use of some words in certain situations as being non-hypocritical. I’ve always resisted being put on any super-saint religious pedestal, and I saw my language as a means to being a real pastor in a real world.

Then God had the audacity to interrupt my rationalizations as He spoke to my heart, “This is a heart issue.” Not what I expected or wanted to hear.

Immediately, I flashed to these words of Jesus, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” Luke 6:45 NLT.

Hmm . . . what you say flows from what is in your heart. Busted. Again.

There was no denying the fact that the overwhelming majority of the time when I used bad language it was because of something bad in my heart.

Contempt for a person or a thing.




Sure, occasionally, I used a word as a descriptor or to define something in a positive way, like, “That was a heck-of-a-ride!” But generally, my words expressed my scorn or disdain for a person, place, or thing.

Here’s what Paul wrote, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior” Ephesians 4:29, 31 NLT.

It’s hard to really argue with the clarity and power of this admonition to control our tongues. But I know what some of you are thinking . . . I’ve been there. However, I would challenge you on two points:

1) What’s in your heart when you color the air with your words?

2) Is everything you say “good and helpful . . . and an encouragement to those who hear” you?

For the record, here’s where I’ve landed: I can be relevant without being rude. I can be real without being foul. And I can be holy without being hypocritical.

Truth is, I simply want to be more like Jesus, and I find it hard to imagine Him saying anything unwholesome or unholy.

For those of you who figured this out a long time ago, God bless you, but please don’t say, “I told you so.” Even my wife just smiled.


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13 Responses to I Swear!

  1. When I was raising my sons, one of the rules that I tried to remind them of, “If you don’t want anyone to know about it, then don’t do it.”

    I wish I had thought of adding” speak and think as Jesus would have.”

    I try myself to live by these rules, and I can’t say that throughout my life, I have always lived by these rules. Thank you God, for I appear to be a slow learner and appreciate your love and forgiveness and am so thankful for your epic grace!

  2. Pastor Bubna, this is something with which I have recently been struggling! I always try to think of justifying foul language as simply words of our culture, but it is truly a heart issue as you discussed. As Christ followers, everything we say and do reflects God to those around us. This really clears things up for me. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Jon. Sometimes it’s about UNlearning some things we pick up in our culture so that we can learn how to be more like Jesus. Praying for you…

  3. “Cursing is a feeble mind trying to express itself intelligently”. Don’t know where that came from, but I heard it somewhere. My Father was a “boss” of Seattle longshoremen and it was “manly” to use foul language. The air in our house was a permanent shade of blue. For 18 years I grew up in that environment, and then the Military, and then the “job” get together with the guys. So, once in awhile a word or two pops out, but with the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it has been really diminished. The only way we can NOT curse or use foul language is by the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives, learning about what God has to say about it, and then making up our minds to consciously make an effort to curtail such expressions. Lets just pray for each other, and keep a big bag of forgiveness with us at all times!!! Thanks Kurt, you are always an inspiration.

    • I agree…my creative writing teacher once said, “Use of foul and crude language is a sign of ignorance…when there are so many other/better words to use in the English language!”

  4. I appreciate your ability to be “real” in your posts. I think transparency is the best testimony believers can give to those around us we are trying to win or disciple.

  5. Kurt, I understand what you are saying and for those pastors who do cuss, they probably have to address their motives too. I think there are some people who live in the muck of life and they won’t accept a helping hand from some one who comes to them without dirt stuck under their nails. For this reason, some choose to step into the muck themselves. For me, God is always challenging me to get creative with words rather than crass.

    • I agree… I’m just being challenged by Jesus to be “in the muck” (i.e relevant, real, relational) without being yucky. Thank you, Paula.

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