The Middle Finger


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Gestures – Week 3

The Middle Finger

August 26, 2018

Pastor Ed Young

In today’s world, vulgarity is everywhere. The pervasiveness of profanity is profound. But do we consider the choice of our words? Do we realize what we are really saying?

In this message, Ed Young reminds us of the power of our words. He shows us how God’s plan for language and behavior is far from what we see in the media or hear on the street. And we learn what it takes to use our words to build life into others, rather than using them to destroy or demean.


ILLUS: The twins were seven years old, and they were in Lisa’s SUV. She was following a truck, pulling a trailer. The truck slammed on its brakes, Lisa slammed on her brakes and tapped the horn. Landra, one of the twins, said, “Mom, don’t do that, don’t honk the horn, because the guy in the truck might do that finger thing!” That’s about all she knew, regarding the middle finger.

In anatomy, it’s called digitus medius. Some call it the finger in isolation. Others say you’re flipping the bird, or my friends from Australia say you’re flicking someone off.

The middle finger. The ubiquitous middle finger. It’s a cultural icon, is it not? I think if the truth were known, we probably flip people off millions of times a day.

How do you feel when someone flips you off? I feel violated, I feel vile. I feel vulgar, I feel anger. I want to chase the person down, and give him or her a piece of my mind.

It’s so interesting that this profane and obscene gesture is so hip, it’s so cool; yet our culture, we are pretty much into profanity. Profanity, though, has become so commonplace, it’s lost its profaneness, you know what I’m saying? It’s like man, that’s just the way people talk. That’s just the gestures we make.

The middle finger. If you think about the middle finger, in essence, there’s almost a spiritual artery that runs from the middle finger all the way down to the middle of our lives, to the middle of our heart and our soul. This gesture, again, shows the depravity of man, almost more than any other gesture I can think about. Profanity.

I’ve been in a series on gestures. You might be saying “Well, man, this is my first time to attend Fellowship Church and you’re talking about the middle finger?” Yeah, sort of, I am, but I’m talking about something much deeper than just the middle finger. I’m talking about what the middle finger represents in our land. What is it about? What does it mean? What is the essence of the middle finger? The definition is “intercourse yourself”. That’s the definition of it.

The word profanity is a word that means irreverent, or irreligious. It’s emptying something, it’s decaffeinating something, it’s being vile, vulgar. I guess we can be profane in, obviously gestures, and with what we say. We can be profane in how we dress, and we can be profane in the places we go. But today I want to limit my comments basically to language, just to gestures. I’ve been talking about gestures and I’ve been saying around here that 93% of communication is non-verbal, so gestures mean a lot. Our words mean a lot, too.

T.S. I’m always hesitant to place people in categories, but today I thought I would start this talk off asking you to place yourself in a category of profanity. A category of your coarseness, or being vulgar. Now I’m not, hear me, mister pastor speaking down to people. We’re all fellow strugglers in this. We all have a propensity toward profanity. Yet, God has a lot to say about it. But I thought before we got into the depth of the middle finger, we would just sort of categorize ourself.

Now, when I mention these categories, don’t raise your hand. “Oh, that’s me!” No, I don’t think you’ll want to raise your hand. Or don’t elbow your husband, ladies. Or don’t look at someone who you know, who might be in this category. But I do think it’s interesting, because I have been around a lot of profane people in my life, if you think about it, as a pastor. Profanity is my business. Sin is my business. Okay. Well, let’s talk about some categories. Are you ready?

The first category is the person who is self-unaware. Just clueless. And if I’m talking to you, you’re like, “Man, I’m not self-unaware.” Well, you’re self-unaware, because you’re unaware that you’re self-unaware. So if you’re like “Oh, he must be talking about someone else,” no, I’m talking to you, because you’re self-unaware.

The clueless swearer, you know? Because a lot of us are on a perpetual swear-a-thon. The clueless swearer is someone who just says all these words, all of these profane things, all of this coarse gesturing, without even understanding or realizing what they’re saying.

So I thought I would break down some popular cuss words. What are people really saying? You’re driving, someone cuts you off. “God, damn that person to an eternal punishment and separation from you.”

I’ve got a test tomorrow. “That’s oral sex.”

“What in the intercourse are you thinking, man?”

“That’ll intercourse you up!” Isn’t that funny?

“I’m just urinated off.”

Hey, hopefully we’ve clued some people in who are clueless. What are you saying? What are you doing? What kind of gestures are we making?

The Bible says in Ephesians 5:4, “Let there be no filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor, this is convicting, crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

Are you clueless? It’s my prayer that those of us who are clueless, we’re all clueless in a certain way. We need to be clued in.

Let’s talk about another fun category, the wheels-off category. That’s the person who pretty much has the wheels on. You’re cruising through life and everything is fine. But something will happen, an altercation at work, a situation at school, your kid does this or that, and all of a sudden “beep, beep, beep!” The wheels are off. You just cuss a blue streak. You’re just in that swear-a-thon mentality, and you’re like, “Where did that come from? Why did I say that? I mean, how could I even think those things, or call that person those things? I said that to my spouse? My best friend? My father? What’s wrong with me?”

Profanity. It hurts the heart of God. Profanity, when I’m profane, in essence, I’m flipping God off. I’m saying “God, I’m going to say, I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to make the gestures that I want to make, and I don’t give a flying flip about what you say. I don’t really think that, they just come out. I mean, it just happens.”

That’s our sin nature. And it’s something that anthropologists and biologists and the behavioral sciences can’t explain. Our moral conscience. Study any culture, anywhere, and there’s always a list of these profanities. Maybe that’s your life.

ILLUS: My son, E.J., is in love with a beautiful girl, and her family’s Filipino. They’ve been involved in our church for a long time, incredible people, and this girl’s an amazing young lady. Well, E.J., this is kind of funny to me. Well it’s not funny, it’s good. Because of his love for Jessica, has been trying to learn Tagalog, which is speaking Filipino. So he’s learned some words and phrases, some sentences in Tagalog. And we’re like “Wow, E.J., that’s impressive.”

And I thought, “Why in the world would E.J. want to do that? Love!” That’s what love will cause you to do.

So those of us who say “Okay, Jesus is my savior, the Lord of my life;” those of us who are in that camp, we should be like “Lord, I want to learn your language, because of our love!” We don’t want to trash the name of Jesus. We don’t want to empty the name of God.

Yet what do people say? “God damn.” God doesn’t damn anyone. Where in the Bible does God damn someone? He doesn’t. We damn ourselves. If you go to hell, you will make that choice. It’s God’s will for everyone to go to heaven.

Or we say “Damn.” Now, when you say “damn,” you’re making light of eternal punishment. You’re taking the place of God saying, “I’m going to damn that damner. I’m going to damn that person. I’m going to damn that object to hell.”

One of the 10 Commandments says, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” It means to strip it, to use it and flip it for humorous or blaming manner. What do we say? “Oh, my God.” Really? “Jesus Christ.” What? What?

I told you a couple of weeks ago the story about saving that drowning victim. This guy was drowning in the Atlantic Ocean, to give you the CliffNotes. We saw him and he was drowning right by a Marina, going underwater for the last time. He was a massive guy, and my friend and I drug him into our 16-foot boat, saved his life. He was drowning. I doubt that person would take my name in vain. I doubt that person would trash me. I doubt that person would go online and make up stuff. (see I almost said crap, to make up stuff, you can laugh with me, about me. Isn’t that interesting?) And yet, what do we do? What do we do? We trash the name of God.

A devout Jew back in the Old Testament wouldn’t even pronounce the name of God, that’s how holy the name of God was. One guy who pronounced the name of God, one day out of the year, the holiest day out of the year, in the holiest place. That was it, back in the Old Testament. And now what do we do? God this, God that. So maybe you’re a wheels off person.

ILLUS: Oh yeah, I did play basketball at Florida State University. I always say that, because I don’t know, I say it because God did a lot of things in my life when I was playing basketball at Florida State. I spent the majority of my career riding the bench. My lifetime average is 0.6 points per game. I did start a couple of games, and I’m an FSU Letterman. That’s cool, I have a jacket and all that. I’m part of the Letterman’s Club, but it’s about my career. I just wasn’t good enough. These guys were too good.

I did sign, though, three autographs in my career. Three. And I felt so good after signing an autograph. Walked out of the dressing room, and I would wet my hair in the sink. I didn’t need to take a shower, but it looked like sweat and stuff. And this never happened in Tallahassee, where Florida State is. It happened when we were playing the University of Louisville, or Minnesota, or Marquette. And I walked outside of the dressing, little kids are around, and three times I signed my autograph. I think these kids mistook me for another player, because I looked like one of the star players, and they didn’t know, they were just kids. But I did sign the autograph, but that’s three more than you’ve signed. I would sign “Ed Young,” then put my number, number 12. I used to say Lisa, “Number 12 in your program, number one in your heart.” And I’d write this verse, a Bible verse, by my autograph, three times I did it. Romans 12:1-2.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world. Literally “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Don’t let the world squeeze you into profanity, into a swear-a-thon, into coarse talk, or nastiness, or vileness. Don’t let that happen, even though it’s in the lyrics in those songs, even though it’s pretty much in every movie, even though it’s a language we hear in school, even though we’re just bombarded by profanity, don’t let that happen.  Parents, set the standard, set the course, set the goal. Don’t just say, “Hey, don’t say the S word. Hey, don’t say the F word.” Explain why, the why.

We’re made for something better. We’re made for something bigger. God wants our words to set the course of our lives. And so often, our coarse gesturing and coarse talking leads us down a bad course. When we curse, literally, we’re bringing a curse on our lives. I don’t want my life to be cursed.

“Curse, what do you mean curse?”

Well, you know, the Bible says, and I’m not talking about finances right now, but the Bible says in the book of Malachi, if we don’t bring the tithe to the church, then our entire financial portfolio is under a curse. Now, don’t get mad at me. That’s what God said. So if you’re big enough and bad enough and cool enough and smart enough to roll the dice, and handle your money, your way, without bringing a tithe, and you’ll choose cursing over blessing, go for it. But for me and my house, we’re going to choose blessing.

And speaking of that, a lot of you are flipping God off every time the offering plate’s passed. A lot of you are flipping God off because you’re not inviting someone going to hell to church. So don’t sit there and say, “I’m not in that category. I’m not in this category. I’m not wheels off, I’m not clueless.”

Wait, wait, wait, we all struggle with profanity. We all struggle with taking God’s name in vain. We all say, myself included, “Oh, I’m going to do this.” But you do the opposite. I’ve taken God’s name in vain. That’s profane, that’s profanity. So it’s not just the words, it’s not just you flip somebody off. No, no, no it’s much bigger, much broader, much more far-reaching than that.

Are you clueless? I don’t know. Get clued in. Are you wheels off? Put the wheels back on. Have that love language. How ’bout the arrogant person? Some people are arrogant swearers. You know people like that? They just rip it, man. They’re just boom, dropping those F-bombs.

ILLUS: Let me tell you what I did recently. And I’m even shy to tell you this story, but I’m going to tell it. I will. I was with a friend of mine. Got to be careful how I say this. Every time I say something, people think, “Are you talking about me?” That’s how narcissistic we all are. No, I’m not talking about you, because this person I’m talking about doesn’t live close to where our campuses are.

Anyway, I was with a guy, and this guy drops a lot of F-bombs. I can tell though, when he’s around me, he edits his language. And we’d gone to a party the night before, and it was almost a record F-bomb fest. It’s just like, every other word. I’m talking about amazing. It was used in every part of speech, just the F-bomb.

So I thought, you know what? I’m going to do something to my friend to show him how bad his language is. I just started F-bombing him right back. I was throwing the F word around. He turned pale. He had never heard you use profanity in my life. He said, “Man, we’ve been friends for these years. It doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t sound right.”

I said “Hey, what do you think it sounds like to me? But forget me. What do you think it sounds like to God?” I don’t know if it’s right to do that. I’ve never told that story. I can’t believe I said that. But in the moment, it was so, I don’t know.

Anyway. The F word means simply, intercourse. Yeah, man, isn’t it funny? We say intercourse all the time. Intercourse, intercourse, intercourse, intercourse. Fornication, fornication, adultery, adultery. I’m urinated off. You’re full of excrement. Someone makes a bad call in a football game, “ow manure, cow manure, cow manure.” It’s pretty funny, isn’t it? It is funny, this is a funny message. So some people here, they shake, again gesture, their puny little face in the face of God.

Then there’s another one, I just mentioned this, another category, the editor. So we got four categories working, the clueless, the wheels off, the arrogant, and the editor. The editor is someone who edits their language.

Because I’m a pastor, I’ve seen so many people try to edit their language. Some people don’t edit their language. I mean, I’ve heard this numerous times. I’ll go out into a lobby between services. “Hey, I want to tell you something man, that was a hell of a service.”

I go, “Hey man, I appreciate that, but we’re trying to keep people like you out of hell.”

I’ve heard that many times. And I’m happy people like that are coming to the church, and they feel free to say that. I mean, I don’t like them using that, but they said that. But people edit themselves.

Just like, “Ed, what in the… what are you doing? That was a…” You kind of hesitate, like that right there. I just laugh.

Or I’ll meet someone, like I did yesterday, I was running around our neighborhood. Met this couple, and they started talking. This guy was dropping this, dropping that, and then, “By the way, tell me what you do for a living.” Oh, I love this part. I took my sunglasses off. “I’m a pastor.” You could see the rewind. “Oh, I didn’t mean that. Let me apologize, excuse my French. I just said stuff, and I can’t…”

Hey. This is what I tell people. Don’t apologize to me, apologize to thee. Don’t apologize to me. I’ve heard it all. Sin is my business. Profanity is what we do around here.

ILLUS: First time I ever saw someone try to edit a cussing fit was my dentist. I was in the fifth grade. This guy’s name was Dr. Rupert Kooney. He was a weird little guy. He loved the outdoors, but he had a voice like this, and when he would talk to you, he was working on your teeth. And he would say, “Well, your right… cuspid needs some work. It is about time to… rinse your mouth out?”

Like that, it’s almost like he would pause, and you’re like, “Did he hear what I’m saying?”

He had all these trophies just littered in his office, beautiful trophies of these deer heads, fish and everything. I always enjoyed asking questions and I said, “Dr. Kooney, all your travels around the world, have you ever been hooked before? Have you ever had a fishing hook buried in your skin?”

“I’m glad you asked me. I was fishing with a friend of mine, Dr. Alfred… Tinko, and he had a big old treble hook with an earthworm on it, and he ran back… and that damn, dang, dang, dang, D-A-N-G, dang, dang hook caught me behind the dang ear.”

He turned as red as a beet. I felt so sorry for him. Around the pastor’s kid, he’s trying to be all holy and righteous, and he’s just like boom. That’s funny.

Maybe you’re the editor, maybe you’re like the chameleon. Maybe with one group, you talk this way, with another group, you’re talking another way. “Oh excuse me, do you speak swearese? So do I. Yeah, it just comes out. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

But that same person, when he’s around, she’s around another group, won’t say that. See, it’s difficult.

But again, this message is not just a message about don’t cuss, watch your tongue, let’s start a swearing club, a jar, and when you curse, you drop a quarter in the jar. No, it’s more than that. It’s a heart issue. Did you hear what I said earlier? It’s from the heart. The heart is the seat of ourself. It’s where our emotions and intellect, it’s where everything falls. It’s the foundation of who we are. So this is a heart issue.

Matthew 15:18, Jesus said, but the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.

In Luke 6:45, a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his what? Heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

ILLUS: 20 months ago, I had open heart surgery. I’ll even show you my scar. I have no secrets. That was major surgery. Dr. Gerald Lawrie, one of the best valve surgeons in the world, repaired my valve.

You see, I was born with a mitral valve prolapse. A lot of people have mitral valve prolapses. It’s common, and most of them don’t have to have surgery, but I did. I’d run marathons, played college basketball, an incredible career, All-American. Did all that stuff, I felt great, but my voice was a little bit hoarse. I was like “Lisa, man, my voice is scratchy. It doesn’t feel right.”

I was just a little bit, when I would run, a little bit out of breath, but man, it was a hundred degrees. And I’m like, that’s just part of it. So I go to the doctor, “oh you might have a little bit of adult asthma, a little bit.”

Got that checked out, they weren’t really sure. But I was like, “man.” So I regularly go to the cardiologist, because I have mitral valve prolapse, and my cardiologist has always told me, “We’ll just check it out every other year to make sure everything’s okay. I mean, you’re going to be fine, because you’re in great shape, healthy as a horse, but we need to check it.”

They did this test on me, and I had a weird feeling about that test. Even though I felt great. Got the phone call three days later, I’m like “uh-oh.”

“Uh, Ed, your heart is not doing well. I mean, your valve is failing. You have a backwash of blood.”

[There is a video playing of Ed’s heart scan] See the red? That’s me, that’s my heart. My heart was filling up with blood, it was enlarged. My lungs were filling up with blood. I was dying. I had seven months left.

And to get really technical, the mitral valve is kind of like a parachute. It has these cords in the heart, and one of the cords just popped. Don’t know why, just popped. So, because of the blood, I had cardiac asthma. That’s why my voice was hoarse. Go back and look at the tapes. 20 months ago, yeah, you’ll see. It’s like “man, Ed, your voice.”

So Dr. Lawrie, and he specializes in mitral valves, done thousands of them, he split me from stem to stern, sawed open the chest, stopped my heart, and performed the surgery, he repaired it. A little valve.

Then he told me he tested it before they closed me up to restart my heart, then he said this. This really messed me up. He said, “Before we start the heart, we have to touch the heart, I do,” he said. “And I massage the heart to get the air out, because if I don’t get the air out, you’ll stroke out.”

So he touched, this incredible surgeon, my heart. Then they sewed me up. He has this guy with him named Boris. Boris is like a ridiculous seamstress, that’s why my scar looks so good. I mean, it looks pretty good, doesn’t it? He told me, he said, “Ed, your chest is so muscular, we had a hard time penetrating the muscle.” He said, “But once we finally got in there, we were able to do the surgery.”

So anyway, he sewed me up, and Dr. Lawrie said, when my chest was open, he saw, once he fixed it, my heart begin to shrink back to its normal size. Is that sick? It’s unbelievable. And he saw changes in it already.

So I went to the cardiologist a couple days ago for a checkup. He’s like, “man, Ed, you’re doing great. I mean, you’ve got energy, no symptoms. Man, your surgeon’s a rock star. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

And I do, I feel better now than I did prior to surgery. And check out my voice. I mean, the people that run the sound here tonight, they’re like “Ed, your voice has gotten stronger. It’s got more power in it.”

I described to you symptoms of a heart condition. What I’m talking about, profanity is a symptom of a heart condition. What I’m talking about, by the words, by the gestures, by the attitudes, by the lifestyle. I’m talking about symptoms of a deeper issue. Jesus is the great physician. He wants to operate. The scripture is the sacred scalpel. The scripture can slice and cut to the core. Life is so short. We have an opportunity to leverage our words, our attitudes, our actions, even our gestures, to show the love of God.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart.” What if we could do a spiritual sonogram on everyone right now? “Test me, Lord, test me, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there any offensive way in me, and lead me to the way everlasting.”

I pray that we make the decision today to speak, to gesture, to live the way our great God wants us to. The great physician wants to touch your heart, and he will if you’ll let him.


[Ed leads in closing prayer.]