MOUNT VERNON — To Ashland Mayor Matt Miller, words matter. They can be significant or insignificant, build up or destroy.
Speaking at the Mount Vernon Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Miller said, “Whenever you open up your mouth to speak, make sure you say something that matters.”
GALLERY: Mayor's Prayer Breakfast 2021
More than 100 people attended the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast held Sept. 23, 2021, in Ariel Arena on the campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Ashland Mayor Matt Miller was the keynote speaker. Once an annual event, the prayer breakfast returned this year after an absence of several years.
“The Bible says God spoke the world into existence,” he told the more than 100 people gathered in Ariel Arena on the campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. “We're created in God's image. So if we're created in God's image, that means our words, too, have power.
“If you want to know what Mount Vernon will be like in five to 10 years, start paying attention to what you say about the city.”
Miller said that when he first became Ashland's mayor, there was a lot of talk about “remember when” and speaking of the past.
“Visit Ashland today, and it's a totally different story. Everyone's excited about the future and what's happening,” he said. “Words matter.”
Words stem from the heart.
Referencing author Alexis de Tocqueville's search to discover what made America successful so quickly, Miller cited de Tocqueville's comment that it wasn't until he went into the heartland and discovered the “pulpits aflame with righteousness” that he discovered the secret of America's success.
“America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” de Tocqueville wrote in “Democracy in America.”
Noting that de Tocqueville observed that Americans balanced liberty and obligation and solved problems without government involvement, Miller said America needs to return to that philosophy.
“We need to protect our freedom, solve problems on our own, and make sure we are making all decisions in a righteous manner in accordance with guidance from above,” he said.
According to Miller, there are 1.35 million laws on the books nationally to enforce the Ten Commandments.
“If we all just followed the Golden Rule, there wouldn't be a need for the Ten Commandments or the 1.35 million laws,” he said.
He added that the heart of the problem is that the human heart is rebellious by nature, which creates pain, hardship, and frustration. So there's a race to make a law.
Miller related the story of Capt. Charles Plumb, a jet fighter pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War. Ejecting via parachute, he landed safely but was captured by the North Vietnamese and spent six years as a prisoner of war. Years later, while at a restaurant, a man kept studying Plumb.
The man finally made his way to Plumb's table and asked if he was Charlie Plumb. He told Plumb that he was the man who packed his parachute that day. Plumb responded, “Well, it worked.”
Later, Plumb tried to recall the man and pictured him below deck, packing everyone's parachutes, working obscure and unknown to make others a success.
“Who's packing your chute?” Miller asked. “Them doing what they do enables you to enjoy what you are doing.
“If you want to have influence in leading America, you need a heart of humility,” he said, adding that the first thing to do every morning is say thank you. “If you have an attitude of gratitude, you can't help but have humility in your heart.”
Miller's final thought focused on making the most of the time you have. He cited an editorial that pointed out that no one knows when they've reached midpoint in their life, typically the time when they can enjoy their success, because no one knows how much time they have.
“Skip the part about fame and fortune, and go straight to significance,” he said. “We need to focus on issues that are going to make a difference in our community and our lives. Lasting significance is how to achieve lasting happiness.”
Focusing on things that matter — relationship building with family and friends and those around us — leads to lasting significance and a heart of humility. The goal, Miller said, is to pursue a heart of thankfulness.
“That not only betters our community, but also ourselves,” he said. “And at the heart of it, that was the purpose and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we need a reminder, we have been called to be salt and light. The culture has been flavoring us rather than us flavoring the culture.”
Miller told the group to “start praying for the community and stand up for things you know are right.” While you might often think you are alone, Miller said that is a mirage.
“Ashland is being successful because so many men and women pray on a daily basis,” he said. “God has always honored that, and he will honor it today as well.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Matt Starr is aware of prayers put forth by the community.
“A lot of people pray for me and other elected officials,” he said. “I feel those prayers … We don't take it lightly.”
Quoting Luke 12:48 (from whom much is given, much is demanded and asked) Starr said elected officials are asked for leadership, to solve problems, to help fix things.
“We couldn't do this without leaning into God,” he said.
Starr said that being mayor has deepened his faith. He meets every Monday morning for prayer with two members of the Mount Vernon Association of Police Chaplains. During the breakfast, Common Pleas Judge Richard Wetzel commissioned the chaplains.
Starr said he is proud to see the corps commissioned and proud of the work the chaplains do serving police officers and other first responders.
Quoting I Corinthians 10:24 (No one should seek their own good but the good of others), Starr said, “That's pretty cool to be able to do that good. If we all celebrated our neighbors' victories, think what kind of community we would be.”