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Day 26: “Would you just shut up!”

September 18, 2018


As soon as I walked in the door of the building, there was a young man – a former student – standing and waiting to talk with me in my classroom before school officially opened.  Alan is in college right now, but his life’s goal is to become a missionary.  He came in, sat down, and shared his heart on the various mission fields he is exploring.  “I am not sure,” Alan said.  “I have been to Honduras and I’ve seen a great work done there, but my heart seems to be turning me toward Russia or China …”

What a great way for a Bible teacher to start the day.

Two other young people piled in as soon as Alan had left.  Mind you, school had not started yet, but they bounded in the room grinning like Cheshire cats.  Kevin and Lori plopped down in nearby desks and gushed out how on Sunday their pastor had been teaching on angels – “The exact same stuff you were teaching in class last week!” exclaimed Kevin.  “The six-winged angels of the book of Isaiah -”

“- and he went a bit into the book of Ezekiel and those angels as well,” interrupted Lori.  “We were right on top of the whole subject.  I mean, we knew the stuff even before he was teaching it!”

Oh, yeah, I was having a great morning start.

Even better – later on, a parent sat in on one of my classes to observe.  She even brought in candy for the kids.

Oh, the days have been filled to the brim, and not just with busy-ness.   We have been in deep discussions about angels, Heaven, God the Father, Jesus’ dominion over demons…

… and debates.

I take on the whole class.

My former students who are reading this blog know that this has happened in my classroom over numerous years, and once again we had the same scenario in more than one class last week.  Each year as I debate my students, I play the part of an atheist, cult member or non-Believer while my students  – the whole collection of pupils in the room – will play the part of the Believer.  They may use their notes, their Bible and access to a computer in order to be knowledgeable in their discourse.

When I announced that we would have a debate later in the class, I had a young man boast to his colleagues.  “I’ve got this.  I know just how to beat him –  he won’t stand up,” he grinned.  I merely finished tapping on the keyboard, entering attendance and listening to his continual bragging. I wondered how he would hold up…

…it didn’t take long in the debate for me to realize that he couldn’t.  His idea was that a multiplicity of words would be good enough for a debate. In other words, if you just kept talking and didn’t breathe, you would win your point.  He soon discovered that a voluminous vocabulary doesn’t replace the value of each word put forth.

Choose your words.  Line up your thoughts.  Measure your communication, especially in such a serious subject as belief in Christ.  Arguing for argument’s sake is fruitless.

On Sunday in our church service, our pastor Bobby McCoy read about the very same problems from the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes:

Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.

I was never very good at math.  Oh, I get by, but you would never consider me an Archimedes or Fibonacci.   I did like multiplication, though; there is something about aligning those numbers in columns and getting a neat, precise answer that I enjoyed.

However, that Bible passage warns me about multiplying my words just to line them up.

I don’t simply want to gush words – I want each phrase and sentence to have deep Jesus-led meaning.

This brings to mind the memory of a parent, not a student, of over twenty years ago.

I was an interim pastor as well as a school chaplain in another school and had the good fortune to enjoy acquaintances with many families.  One particular father,  however, was a challenge at every meeting. And I mean every meeting, whether after school or in a fast food joint.

Simply put, the man did not know how to stop talking.

I am not going to bore you with details, but I will tell you with no fear of contradiction that “Barry” would talk for twenty minutes straight without taking a breath.

Well, he would take a breath but it was actually a phrase:  “But, uh…”

It was torturous in a group, as folks who were caught would quietly sigh and resign themselves to his monologue.  Someone in the group would try to say their good-byes but could not politely interject, because at the end of a sentence Barry would say “But, uh…” and launch quickly into another subject.

People would try to drop hints to him but he was clueless.  “But, uh…”

Families would hide when he would approach after church services:  they wanted to try to make Sunday afternoon restaurants before they closed.

I tried to talk with him about it but he could not see that he was a gush-talker.

He filled up every available second with his voice, and it didn’t take long before I realized that Barry was in a sincere panic that if he paused for even a second, someone else would step in an rip the conversation away, which he felt was his own to have and to hold.  The sad fact was that none of the conversations had any depth.

Even to the day that we moved away from that little town I was in danger of not leaving on time.  Barry had one more monologue to spill.

It has been a deep lesson burned into my memory.  I constantly watch for the danger of multiplying my words into a conversational mush that would be fruitless in the classroom.

In the debates, lectures and discussions, I remind myself of a little poem I heard years back:

fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff,

and nudge me when I’ve said enough.




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