Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Glurge or Not, Who You Are Does Indeed Make a Difference

At our recent annual staff planning retreat, I was asked to lead the group devotion. Here's what I came up with. I thought it blog-worthy. As you read the part after the story, keep in mind that I wrote the devotion in March of 2009. That's important. Here's the devotion as I read to my fellow church staff members in March:

This story falls in the category known as “glurge.” Glurge is a recently coined word from the internet era … specifically from snopes.com, the clearinghouse site for myths and urban legends on the internet. A frequent contributor to snopes.com coined the word to describe the hypersentimentalized stories that we’re all way too familiar with (because we get those forwards and chain e-mails, too). I’m happy to say that many people are checking most of the questionable stuff out with snopes before forwarding nowadays … but the phenomenon persists. It existed even before Al Gore invented the internet and e-mail, but the internet allows it to spread much more rapidly than before. Oddly enough, other than the internet, one is most likely to encounter glurge is sermons (not our pastor’s, thankfully). Glurge is not just made-up stories. There are true stories that fall into that category as well. (examples: Extreme Makeover – Home Edition; American Idol – the guy whose wife died 6 months before he auditioned). Almost any good story can be glurgified, and we’re all suckers for a good story ... or at least I am. According to snopes.com, this story is unverified … could be true … no way really to tell. You've probably seen it on the internet yourself, but here it is … and even though it is glurge, it makes an important point.

A teacher in New York decided to honor her seniors in high school by telling them the difference each of them had made. She called each one of them to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told them how they had made a difference to her and to the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters which read, “Who I am makes a difference.”

Afterwards, she decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community. She gave each student three more blue ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgement ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom, and report back to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon
and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him the two extra ribbons and said, “We’re doing a class project on recognition, and we’d like you to go out, find someone to honor, and give them a blue ribbon.”

Later that day, the junior executive went to his boss, who had a reputation for being kind of a grouchy fellow. He told him that he deeply admired him for being a
creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon, and give him permission to put it on him. His boss said, “Well sure.” The junior executive took one of his blue ribbons and placed in right on his boss’s jacket above his heart. Then he asked, offering him the last ribbon, “Would you take this ribbon and pass it on by honoring someone else? The teenager who gave me this ribbon is doing a school project, and we want to keep this ribbon ceremony going and see how it affects people.”

That night the boss came home and sat down with his 14-year-old son. He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of my employees came in and told me he admired me, and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine! He thinks I’m a creative genius! Then he put a blue ribbon on me that says, ‘Who I am makes a difference.’ “He gave me an extra ribbon and told me to find someone else to honor. As I was driving home tonight I started thinking about who I would honor with this ribbon. I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are hectic and when I come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. I yell at you for not getting good enough grades and for your messy bedroom. Somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and tell you, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most
important person in my life. You’re a great kid and I love you.”

The startled boy began to sob and sob … he couldn’t stop crying. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “Dad, earlier tonight I sat up in my room and wrote you a letter explaining why I had taken my life and I asked you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn’t think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don’t think I need it after all.” His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain.

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch, but made sure to let all of his employees know that they made a difference. The junior
executive helped many other young people with career planning, one being the boss’s son, and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his life. In addition, the young man and his classmates learned a valuable lesson: Who you are does make a difference.

I have a voice-mail on my phone at work that was left at 9:49am on Monday, December 10, 2007. It’s old and out of date, but I don’t want to delete it. Right now there are only 2 messages in my voice-mail inbox. I’ve deleted all of the out-of-date ones, but I have a tough time even thinking about deleting that one. It’s from Steve Lamb following the Christmas music on the previous Sunday evening. I had seen him in the balcony when I went to touch base with the sound guy and make sure he didn’t have any questions he needed to ask me. I paused briefly and chatted for a few seconds with Steve and with Buddy Oakley. Before leaving to go back downstairs, I asked them to let me know what they thought. Steve’s words in the voice mail were: “Okay, you asked for it, I’ll give it. This is Steve Lamb. I rate it A+. It was as good as I’ve ever gone to in my life, anywhere, any time. And furthermore as far as First Baptist goes, I know it was an all-time greatest. And it’s just heartwarming to see the talent we have and the direction it has, and most importantly it enriched the spirit. Again, I’m glad I came, and I’ll see you soon. Bye.”

I cannot bring myself to delete that message from my phone. I don’t go back and listen to it at all, but when I’m going through and deleting old messages from the inbox, I hear the first couple of words, then hit skip … not delete … skip. But every time I hear those first few words and I remember who the voice-mail was from, my spirits are lifted again … and again … and again.
How long did it take Steve to send that message? Maybe a couple of minutes. How long have I benefited from that encouragement? I can’t answer that because I’m not done with it yet.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (NIV). The Message puts it this way: “Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit—you choose.”

I’m not talking about flattery. Flattery is insincere and dishonest.

Proverbs 26:28 – A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Proverbs 28:23 - He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

I’m talking about taking the time to say things that are true to people who need to hear them. The old playground adage about sticks and stones is a little off-base. Words can hurt, and they can hurt more deeply and longer than sticks and stones. A bruise on my arm hurts for a few days. A bruise on my spirit can hurt for decades. But words can heal also.

Proverbs 12:18 - Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:4 - The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

So what do we do with this? How do we respond?


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