The Counter Culture of Gentleness in an Angry World


The Bible verse of the day today in the YouVersion app is from Proverbs 15:1:

“A soft [gentle] answer turns away wrath.[1]

I try to read Scripture every day. I have a reading plan (reading through the Bible chronologically this year), and I usually read the Scripture of the day. Every once in a while, the Scripture I am reading for the day comes up that day in another context.

Today is Sunday, and the sermon I listened to today by Jeff Frazier at Chapelstreet Church in Batavia, IL was about the misconception that we should not judge. I would post the message (because it’s a good one), but it isn’t on the Internet yet for viewing. The message was somewhat along the lines of an article I wrote, 8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment.

Keys points are that God didn’t tell us to judge; he told us to judge others with the same measure we judge ourselves; we need to take the logs out of our own eyes before we can take the specks out of our brothers’ eyes; we are not instructed to judge the world (God is their judge), but we are to judge those in the church; we need each other’s righteous judgment and gentle help in dealing with sin (speaking the truth in love to one another).

Jeff said something about removing specks from brothers’ eyes that I hadn’t thought about before. I note that we must be close to our brothers to remove specks from their eyes, and that requires close, intimate relationship. He added that we don’t go about removing objects in our loved ones’ eyes with a screwdriver and a pliers! We do it gently, carefully with a delicate touch.

The real take away for me in his message, and the reason that I write is not about relationships in the body of Christ among the brothers and sisters in the faith, but our relationship to the world with people who do not subscribe to the faith. This is where he used the statement in proverbs – a gentle answer turns away wrath – and it couldn’t be more relevant to the times.

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God and the Impossibility of Goodness

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be good enough for God.

The story of the rich young ruler resonates with me today in the seeming impossibility of living without sin. I suspect that I am not alone in the experience of certain sinful inclinations that I just can’t seem to shake. Try as I might, I fall into the same traps of temptation over and over again. I get angry at myself. I ask for forgiveness. I renew my resolve, but I inevitably trip and fall. And sometimes I despair.

God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Gal. 6:7-8)

I know this, but it doesn’t seem to help. My sinful flesh often overcomes the spirit within me. While the spirit is often willing, the flesh is weak; and sometimes, let’s be honest, my spirit isn’t as willing as it should be.

I think, “If I could just resist more and try harder and find just the right combination of thoughts and habits and resolve, I could lick this thing.” But, days come and go. Things change: busyness, or worry, or distraction, or boredom, or some dryness in my spiritual life, or difficulty, or disappointment or any number of things (or a combination of them) sets in, and when my guard is down, temptation comes and catches me off guard in a moment of weakness.

I truly believe it is possible to overcome the sin within me. Scripture seems to require it of me. What I reap I will sow. Yet I fail. I fully identify with Paul, who said:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15-19)

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God In the Dark

We don’t expect to find God in our darkest places, and yet He is there.


Jess Lester, journalist writing for Christian Premiere Magazine out of the UK, told her story recently on the Unbelievable podcast in an interview with Justin Brierley. She is Jewish by descent and culture, but she attended a Christian school in her youth. Her parents are no-practicing Jews, but her grandparents were observant.

She grew up with exposure to the Judeo-Christian world, but God was more of an intellectual idea to her than a personal reality. As a teenager, however, she consciously turned her back on God when her very good friend suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her unable to speak. Jess spent several days a week in the hospital with her friend trying to help her speak again, only to experience her friend suffer another brain hemorrhage that left her brain dead.

After her friend’s parents took her off life support, Jess was devastated. She poured herself into her friend’s recovery and prayed along with the family for healing, and God didn’t deliver. God took her friend, she thought, and it angered her. Why would He do that to such a good person?! This experience led Jess to reject God openly and consciously. Following her friend’s death, Jess lived in open rebellion and defiance toward God.

Over the next few years, things went from bad to worse for Jess. She drank, did drugs and slept around in open hostility to the God she thought took her friend from her. She also fell into depression to the point where she had suicidal thoughts and even planned her own demise.  She got desperate, admitting to her mother that she needed help, but the turning point came in a very unlikely place.

Jess attended a concert where a favorite band of hers, the 1975s, were performing. They sang a song that that was defiant toward God. She had played it a dozen times a day and knew the lyrics well. It wasn’t a Christian song in any sense of the term, but she found herself crying out in the middle of the concert these lyrics: “Jesus, Jesus show yourself to me!”

While the lyrics are meant more as a taunt than a plea, she made it her plea from her heart. Looking back now, she says this is when God responded. Subtly at first, it became more apparent to her as time went on that God was with her in her dark times, and He was reaching out to her. I won’t recount the details, here, but they are well worth listening to, along with the other guests that were interviewed for the Christmas Special – Dean Mayes, Jess Lester and Rupert Shortt Share Their Stories.

This story reminds me that we do not always find God in the pious, religious places where we might expect Him. God is everywhere, and that means He is with us in our darkest times and in the darkest of places. While the song that prompted Jess Lester to cry out was actually anti-Christian in its intended meaning, God used that song that Jess knew well as the vehicle by which she connected with Him.

Jess makes the point in telling her story that things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good. That idea of God using bad things for good purposes comes from the Old Testament story of Joseph, who was left for dead in the bottom of a well by his own brothers and taken off into slavery.

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God’s Work Within Us

CS Lewis wrote the following bit in a letter written approximately one year before the end of his life:

“The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you [may] have realised. But you [may be]  expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
“Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
“As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’”[1]

I cite CS Lewis often in what I write. He seems to capture so much of what it means to be human in God’s world, illuminating God’s grace in us and in the world as God works out our salvation, the author and perfecter of our faith.

These words Lewis wrote are so much more poignant that they were written toward the end of his life. Gone is the impetuous, tottering confidence of youth in working salvation out, replaced by the steady, trusting confidence of old age that God is working within.

As I survey a thousand times I have failed God in working out my salvation, I find solace in the hope and faith that God is working within me. I don’t always see it. Sometimes my sin overshadows any light I see in me, but God’s gentle light always shines through that darkness… when I turn to Him.

Often my inclination is to turn away. I fear His wrath. I am disappointed in myself. I think I should be better than that. I don’t want to bow at His feet. Yet again. How many times? How many times!

And I recall that nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. We stand, sit, lie, walk at all times under the gaze of an infinite God. Nowhere I can go, even into the deep recesses of my own heart, away from God. Even if I block myself from the inner chambers of my own heart, yet God is there.

God, save me from myself! I can only hope and trust that You will, as You have said, because I am utterly unable.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] CS Lewis in a letter to Keith Manship from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III (September 13, 1962)

The Antidote to Human Pride

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.


I didn’t grow up in the Protestant tradition. I wouldn’t say that I had a high view of God. It was more like a distant view, and His grace was a foreign concept.

I experienced a leap in understanding of God’s grace way back when I became a believer, about 40 years ago. That leap was like going from zero mph to 60 mph in a matter of seconds.

I was selling books door-to-door over the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college for the Southwestern Book Company. After giving my spiel to an insurance salesman one day, he asked me if he could ask me a question. Not knowing what he was about to ask, or that it would change my life forever, but being curious, I said, Ok.”

So, he asked, “When you die, will you go to heaven?”

I had never thought about it before, but I lived with the guilt of all my failings, guilt mixed with a good measure of prideful disappointment in myself. I was raised Catholic, you see. Catholicism is good for keeping our failings front and center in our minds. Not only that, but knowing all the things I “needed” to do to make them right, and not doing them, only added to the load!

Not going to church anymore, not being appropriately devout, not saying all the “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” and all the things I didn’t pay particular attention to, or remember much about, while being told of their imminent importance, compounded the weight of the knowledge that my life wasn’t right.

But, I wouldn’t have associated what was “wrong” with me as anything having to do with God – if He really existed. I never really thought about whether God existed. I think I just accepted that He did, but I wasn’t much interested in Him at that point. The fact of my disinterest didn’t lighten my load in the moment when that pivotal question was proposed to me on that day in the insurance salesman’s home.

The question was followed by a brief, but uncomfortable moment of silence. I was taken aback. I wasn’t ready for that kind of a question. It summoned up the deepest angst that lurked in my being, and I didn’t know just how to respond, for surely there was a “right” response.

My friendly interrogator rephrased the question a moment later: “If you were standing before Jesus right now, what would you say to Him? Why should He let you in to His heaven?”

Of course, it is God’s heaven, isn’t it? The weight of the realization that heaven was God’s domain, and I was an outsider rested with full force upon me in the next moment. How would I convince Him to let me in? How could I convince Him?

Naturally, I let loose all the things I could think of that might matter to God. I recently begun a journey. I had been through years of reckless, angry and self-destructive living, hard drinking, indulgent drug taking, and I was angry at the world (for no good reason I can now admit) … I was going nowhere fast just a short while ago, but I had changed.

The truth is that I woke up, after a series of mishaps, to the fact that my life was likely to be very short if I didn’t change course.  I totaled two cars and had some other close calls. I was run over by a car in which I had been a passenger driven by a “friend” who wasn’t even old enough to drive, and we were doing something stupid and illegal. Something about all of this and having to attend school in a wheelchair gave me pause about where I was heading.

So, I changed. I made a conscious decision to go the other way. I realized at the same time that I was desperately empty inside, out of touch with real meaning in my life and determined to find it. I became a good student in my last year in high school and became a truth seeker. Genuinely.

I rapidly recalled these things to the quietly earnest man in front of me. He let me go on for a while, before he gently stepped in with the next question, the question that changed my life. He asked: “What would you say if heaven was a free gift, and you couldn’t earn it?”

…. That question lit up my mind and heart and shocked me into paradigm shifting silence.

I was speechless. I had no retort. I was stunned.

He continued, unhindered by me as I stood like a prisoner blinded by the sunlight pouring in from a door suddenly opened to the outside world. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I knew in that instant this was the antidote to all that was wrong with me.

Continue reading “The Antidote to Human Pride”