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Were it not for a slip of the tongue, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be trailing Kurt Busch by only four points in the Nextel Cup standings, the coveted prize in the sport of stock car racing.

Two weeks ago Earnhardt was given a $10,000 fine for a four-letter word he let fly in an on-the-air interview after winning a race at the Talladega Superspeedway. That of course is like fining the average worker 50 cents for being late for work. What got Earnhardt’s attention was the 25 points taken away from the total he’s accumulated in the Nextel Cup standings. It’s possible that a four-letter word could cost him the championship. I wonder what he’d say then.

In a later interview Jr. tried to explain his way out of any repercussions from his mistake in judgment. He was quoted as saying: “I hope they understand that it was in jubilation, and I know me and those other guys that got fined let it slip, but it’s two different circumstances. I think that when you’re happy and joyous about something and it happens, I think it’s different than being angry and cursing in anger.”

Good try, Junior, but NASCAR didn’t see it that way–and neither did my older son. He doesn’t keep up with stock car racing, but he knows a slip of the tongue when he hears one, especially if it comes from his father.

Several years ago, I was helping my son John build a derby car from a block of wood for the Royal Ambassador derby race at our church. I wasn’t too excited about the task since I (I mean we) usually produced a losing car. The cars other kids brought to this competition compared to ours were like comparing Porsches to Volkswagens.

We were putting the final touches on the car by bringing it up to its eight-ounce maximum weight. I had a great idea of how to accomplish this task. I put some heavy fishing lead inside a light socket receptacle which I held with some vice-grips. I melted the lead with a blow torch, and then poured the lead into the cavity we created on the underside of the car.

Halfway through the process, an air bubble developed in the lead and it popped, sending some of the hot lead out onto my arm. This opened a compartment in my brain that stores words for just those kinds of occasions. I said %$#$% faster than I can blink an eye.

I was embarrassed. Here we were doing a church-related activity. We were supposed to be bonding. These were moments my son is supposed to look back on and think about his great dad who took time out to help him build a great derby car. Instead, he hears his father swear.

I didn’t know what to say. “Maybe he didn’t hear me,” I thought. I didn’t look up. I just kept my head down and went about my job until my son broke the silence and gave me a blessing. “It’s O.K., Dad,” he said, “even preachers make mistakes sometimes.”

Did I ever need that! “Thank you, son. We sure do!” That opened up the door for some conversation about swearing. It’s not the last mistake like that I’ve made but I know those words ought to stay buried in the brain and not be given permission to dance on the tongue.

The Bible says that “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” Paul wrote to the Colossians that they should rid filthy language from their lips. The Bible seems clear on this issue.

From box cars to stock cars, a curse word is a curse word. As far as NASCAR is concerned, Jr. will get the message that whether he is happy and joyous or boiling-red angry, a curse word is a curse word.

Perhaps Junior and I both would benefit from knowing what Jesus said when he was overcome with joy and what he said when he hit his thumb with a hammer as while working in the carpenter shop. Those words might find a welcomed spot somewhere in our brains to be called up for duty at a moment’s notice.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. This column appeared in The Moultrie Observer.

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