Friday, November 19, 2010

I've Gotta Big Mouth

Several years ago, I found myself in a circle of guys at a social gathering. The jokes were flying and laughs were rolling as we bantered with each other. Then, someone asked, “So, what were you like in high school?” That seemed like a fun question to surface some interesting stories. When it was my turn, I talked about the sports I played, my cool car and the pranks my friends and I would pull. My goal in high school was to have fun and to get as many laughs as possible. My short description seemed to get respectful smiles from the guys.

However, there was one guy in the group that didn’t seem to like the question. He was noticeably uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation and he worked hard to avoid answering the question. But finally, he slyly chimed in, “You know, I was kind of a geek. I was small for my age and I didn’t like sports. So I just focused on my school work.” I could tell the he really didn’t like talking about his high school days but something in me didn’t want to let him off the hook. Any ounce of sensitivity or compassion eluded me at that moment. This was prime for a one-line remark that would be remembered throughout the annals of guy banter for all-time. So I said with a gentle laugh in my voice and an evil gleam in my eye, “Dude, guys like me used to stuff guys like you into lockers.” Now, I never did that to anyone in high school as I was a prankster not a bully. But, the one-liner worked. I got some laughs and even a high-five. Even the guy I picked on seemed to enjoy my brilliance in guy humor.

Our huddle got interrupted and we all dispersed into the greater group of people in the room. But that conversation wasn’t over. During a quiet moment, that particular guy pulled me aside and very respectfully, but with strength and boldness said this to me, “Phil, remember what you said about guys like you stuffing guys like me into lockers? Well, that actually happened to me in high school. Stuff like that happened to me a lot. You know, it wasn’t funny then and it’s not funny now.” You know the feeling you get when you cause traffic accident? That’s what I felt at that moment. I had caused a relational accident but didn’t know if it was a fender bender or if the Jaws of Life would be needed to save our friendship. My friend was very gracious with me as I extended a sincere apology.

I wish that were the only story I could tell about how my friendly banter and teasing got out of hand and caused damaged. It seems this is an ugly pattern in my life that I need to continue to monitor daily in my life. So, when I read the verses like this, I hear a reminder from God that I need to clean this ugliness out of my speech.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4.29

Think about these definitions of unwholesome; rotten, putrid, worn out, poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless. Paul says to strip these off like a smelly shirt. He says to delete all forms of useless, vial, and harmful speech patterns. But what I love so much about Paul is that he gives us a positive replacement. He gives us a positive standard to measure our words against. The only words that should pass through our lips should be those that help, build up and encourage someone else.

What if we were to get in the habit of asking ourselves one of these simple questions before we speak? Will my words give to that person or take from that person? Will what I’m about to say be helpful to those who hear? If you can’t answer yes, then perhaps silence is your best choice.

This week's author- Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor

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