Gentleness: The Christlikeness God is trying to produce in us

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Would the gentleman from North Carolina please yield the floor?”

“The gentle lady from California makes a good point.”

The U.S. Senate may be the last place in this country where people are recognized as being gentle. It’s a nice trait. “Gentle” means you are not bombastic, not mean-spirited, not rude or unkind or harsh.

My goal is to become more gentle in this life.

Various translations make this “kindness” and “goodness.” Same difference, I suppose, although there is something about “gentleness” that weighs heavily on my mind.

Did you hear about the preacher who was protesting a “gay and lesbian pride” march winding its way through the French Quarter? According to the reports, the minister was preaching to the participants in harsh and condemning tones. At one point, a woman decided that this angry man of God (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) needed a hug. So, she stepped out of the crowd, walked over to him, and kissed him.

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What to do after your moronic two minutes

Pastor, have you ever had a meltdown in the pulpit?

A few years back, two Atlanta radio jocks were fired for their on-air mocking of a New Orleans icon, former Saints football player Steve Gleason who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), lives in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer.

They made fun of him, parodied his situation, and someone role-played Steve speaking of his coming death and such.

It was the ultimate in offensive.

Later, one of the terminated idiots (I’m so objective in this story, as you can see) said, ‘What were we thinking?” The jocks apologized, and in a subsequent story, Gleason said he accepted their apology.

One of the men called it “a moronic two minutes.”

No argument.

I can sympathize.

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What lazy preachers and other Bible students do

“Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1749. Yet because of opposition from local clergymen–man should not dare ‘avert the stroke of heaven’–the lighthouse did not receive protection from God’s thunderbolts for more than two decades.” –The New York Review, May 26, 2016

Imagine the thinking of some people: We shouldn’t protect ourselves from lightning, lest we interfere with God’s judgment.

Abandoning their responsibility, criticizing those trying to help, and blaming their warped thinking on God.

“This is how God set things up.”

Interesting theology, I think we can say.

If we carried that reasoning to its natural lengths, no one should wear seat belts or repair the brakes on cars just in case the Father in Heaven had planned to kill us that morning.

God should always be given a free hand in these things.

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Rescuing ourselves from bondage to our emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions. –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

The church lady said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”

She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

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Biblical ignorance and spiritual immaturity: How to tell

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the sayings of God.  You have come to need milk and not solid food.  (Hebrews 5:12)

By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one–baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! (paraphrased from The Message)

What I’m about to do here is no fun.

I’m about to accuse some Christian friends of spiritual ignorance.

Earlier today I was looking over my wife’s textbook on effective writing for college classes.  Bertha has been teaching English (literature, composition, etc) all her adult life, either in high school or on the college level.  And I was struck by something…

The authors of the textbook, both college professors, gave examples of essays written by students and then subjected to intense editing and improvement by teachers.  They showed the first draft, how a professor critiqued it, the second article, and so forth.  The final results were excellent examples of effective communication.  The point being…

Editing and rewriting is painful. But editing and rewriting are necessary. (Case in point: This little article of mine.  I’ve worked on it several days–deleting, adding, changing, pasting.)

Editing and grading are hard work for the teacher and sometimes offensive to the student.  Those who “know” point out the errors in those who are learning and suggest ways to improve.  This is basic education. We do it from kindergarten and up.

Why then do we shy away from that in church?  When is the last time you heard a veteran teacher or preacher pointing out the errors in a young Sunday School teacher’s presentations, a young believer’s prayers, a young warrior’s witnessing?  I know the answer:  You’ve never seen it.

It does not happen.

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On the King’s Highway, going “first class”

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

As a college student in Birmingham, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains.  It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.

I found it out the summer I worked in the ticket office for Seaboard RR taking phone reservations.

First, to qualify for the privilege of reserving space in the Pullman car, the passenger’s standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class.  Which means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car.  Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.

I wondered if the riders did not know the company was sticking it to them.

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Some believe we can lose our salvation. Here’s what they are missing.

In an article on this website, I shared a couple of the strongest affirmations of Scripture which declare that our salvation, once given by the Lord Jesus Christ, is forever secure.

Our salvation in Christ is safe, solid, secure.  This is called the doctrine of the security of the believer.  We are saved forever.  It’s basic scripture.

Or so I thought.

Some readers objected and even protested.

I should not have been surprised. After all, I was raised in a denomination of the Arminian persuasion which teaches the possibility of losing one’s salvation and then regaining it.  Now, I never heard our home church pastor say anything like that.  But it seems to have been part of that church’s doctrine.

I recall hearing a family member speaking disparagingly of Southern Baptists.  “They believe you can get saved today, go out tonight and get drunk, and still be saved tomorrow.”

Which is true, of course.

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The power of humility is amazing. Or so I hear.

In New Orleans, a local preacher of unknown (to me) background made a name for himself for his public protests against the gay-and-lesbian community. He would use a bullhorn–yep, you read that right–and blare out his preachings and condemnations upon the paraders and onlookers.

Not a very effective witness for the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ, if you ask me.

Then one day,  that preacher was arrested in a park where children go to play, and charged with a public act of indecency.

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God wants you holy. Here’s some of what that means.

If there is a command in Scripture guaranteed to offend the modern mind  and set off a stubborn inner resistance that is dead-set on holding its ground and giving up nothing, it’s this: Be holy.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do. For it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ (I Peter 1:14-16)

The Apostle Peter is clearly quoting Scripture. Somewhere in the Old Testament, God tells us to be holy .

He does, in many places, actually. For instance….

I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44)

I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore, be holy for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45)

The context makes it clear that the Lord has in mind His people shall be “a cut above” the surrounding population. They are to be “otherwise,” “the great exception,” what the KJV calls “a peculiar people.” Different from the rest. Standing out from the clutter.

 

Verses that surround Leviticus 11:44-45 make this clear. The Lord’s people were not to eat certain animals. “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of them or be made unclean by them.” (11:43)

We are to be clean.

I walked into the ICU at Tulane Medical Center to see a friend who had had a stroke. I expected to see him sedated and with tubes everywhere. Instead, he was sitting up in the bed and on the phone. He greeted me heartily and said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “That’s my line. You’re clearly not sick.” He said, “The only thing wrong with me right now is I need a bath.” He had been 4 days without one.

The small blood clot that had attacked his brain, shutting down the use of the left side of his body, had dissolved, he said. The medical staff planned to release him later in the day.

He wanted a bath.

Not everyone misses cleanliness. By ignoring their unwashed state, they reveal a great deal about themselves.

Here’s a paragraph from John Steinbeck’s “Once There Was a War,” a collection of war correspondent dispatches. He was somewhere in North Africa; the date was September 28, 1943…

No love is lost for the Arabs. They are the dirtiest people in the world and among the smelliest. The whole countryside smells of urine, four thousand years of urine. That is the characteristic smell of North Africa.

So much for romantic Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman notwithstanding!

Why would an American soldier be offended by something the locals do not notice? Clearly Steinbeck was accustomed to bathing on a more or less regular schedule.

Only the clean are offended by the unclean.

Only after our public buildings and restaurants were purged of cigarette smoke did all us non-smokers begin to be repulsed by the smell of burning tobacco. Until then, we never noticed it. (I would almost bet the farm that a half-century ago, some visitor to America wrote home, “The characteristic smell of North America is cigarette smoke.”)

We’re not doing everything right these days, but ridding our homes and hospitals of cigarette smoke is a step in the right direction.

God wants His people holy. Clean.

“Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (I Peter 1:14). The root of their problem was ignorance; the fruit of such ignorance was wrong-headed wanting.

We recall something close to this from Paul:  “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

It starts inside your mind. No wonder Peter ends his second epistle with, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (II Peter 3:18)

The Apostle Peter gives two reasons why God’s children are to be holy: they have been redeemed from all that is unholy, and children should look like their father.

First: We have been redeemed; we are not the same people as when we did those bad things.

The word “redeemed” in I Peter 1:18 literally means to release upon receipt of a ransom. The Greek word is a verb form of the noun lutron, a ransom.

(Another Greek word is often used in the New Testament and translated “redeemed” is exagora, from the word for marketplace, agora. Literally, that means “to buy out of the marketplace.” It’s a great concept. Christians are no longer for sale but are “off the shelf,” “off the market.” We have been bought with a price.)

We have been ransomed. Ask passengers on ships in Middle Eastern waterways that have been taken over by pirates and held for ransom what it means to be redeemed.

–we are ransomed (redeemed) from the futile way of life inherited from our fathers. (I Peter 1:18)

–we are ransomed (redeemed) from destruction (“the pit”–KJV), according to Psalm 103:4.

–we are ransomed (redeemed) from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). What was that curse? “The soul that sins it shall die.” If that law were still in effect, no one would be spared since all sin and fall short. See Romans 8:1-2 for the great news of the gospel regarding the law of sin and death.

–we are ransomed (redeemed) from iniquity or lawlessness (Titus 2:4). Romans 8:1-2 also points out that a higher law has redeemed us from the lesser law. We must never think that as Christians, we are lawless. Ours are higher and better laws.

Whatever else it means to be bought out of those conditions, it surely means we are not to return. No one sprung from a Ravensbruck or Auschwitz concentration camp would willingly go back into those sink-holes of death and hell-holes of despair.

We are to have nothing further to do with our old “futile” (“empty” NIV) lifestyle.

We are to have no further dealings with the pit of destruction, the curse of the law, or the iniquity of lawlessness.

We are holy.

Whereas I like to drop in the occasional paraphrase from Eugene Peterson’s The Message to give us another perspective, here he stays with the traditional translation. “God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.’”

Second: Another reason for holiness in the believer’s life is that God’s children should “resemble” Him.

Anyone can live and act like the world. Jesus taught His disciples that the people of the world love those who love them (Luke 6:32), do good to those who return the favor (6:33), and give to those who plan to pay them back (6:34).

Jesus told his disciples, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they will invite you back and you will be repaid. But…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Don’t act like other people.  Act like your Father.

God loves those who hate him, does good to his enemies, and gives to the ungrateful.

Jesus went out of his way to touch the leper, welcome the children, rebuke the fat cats, and honor society’s fallen.

He said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” (Luke 6:35)

When you do that, the Lord said, “You will be sons of the Most High.”  Say what?

We must remember the Hebrew way of forming descriptive adjectives about people was to make them “sons of this-or-that.”

James and John had explosive, fiery tempers; they were “sons of thunder.”(Mark 3:17)

Joseph was nicknamed Bar-Nabas, “son of comfort,” because he was such an encourager. (Acts 4:36)

Those who love the unlovely, bless the hateful, and give to the undeserving are behaving precisely like the Heavenly Father. “Because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Jesus added, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This reminds us of the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) People will see such behavior as God-like.

“Why, would you look at that! That’s just like the Lord Himself.”

The problem of lists

One of the worst slanders upon holiness is the way some have reduced the concept to a list of don’ts. Depending on who is reciting it, the list varies, but has traditionally included smoking, drinking, cursing, and movies (certain kinds or all kinds).  Some of us can recall when the no-no list also included  dancing of any kind, card-playing, and baseball or fishing on Sunday.

The problem with such lists is that they keep getting longer and longer and they have a way of granting exceptions. Movies at the theater were forbidden to some, however they would watch the same shows on television. Working on Sunday was a no-no, yet they themselves would eat out at restaurants or run by the store for a few items on the Lord’s Day.

It’s so easy to become Pharisees.

Mostly, the holiness-exceptions involved things the bearer of the list was already doing. Legalism is like that. I see your behavior as more sinful than my own.

“Your pastor is going to hell,” a visitor told one of my deacons.

The deacon, never one to over-react, said calmly, “And why is that?”

“His hair is too long,” the critic announced. (I have no memory of it being very long at any time. Probably I was just overdue for a haircut.)

Our deacon said, “How long should it be?”

“About like mine,” the visitor said, thus furnishing me with my favorite illustration of legalism.  Legalism forever sets itself up as the standard for measuring everyone else.

Lord deliver us!

To be holy is to be different from the world, but that alone is insufficient. A green three-headed alien from another planet would be different but not holy.

To be holy is also to be like our Heavenly Father.

That is a process, not a state to be achieved once in this life and thereafter maintained. It’s a daily grind, of subduing the stubborn will, humbling the wayward heart, calling the will back into submission, and seeking God’s will in every aspect of our lives.

A fellow I know likes to say, “God can do more with one person who is 100 percent surrendered than with a thousand who are 99 percent surrendered.”

That’s a great quote. But I find two major flaws in it.

First, it implies God only uses the perfectly submitted. A check of the Old and New Testaments dispels that in a heartbeat. Practically every instrument of the Lord was flawed, from rebellious Jonah (whose bad attitude was present throughout his Nineveh preaching) to hypocritical Peter (whom Paul called to task for being one thing among the Jews and another with Gentiles) to David himself, whose flaws were scandalous.

And secondly, it leaves the impression that there is a level we may achieve where we are now completely surrendered, even to the last decimal point.

If there is such a level, my strong conviction is that those who arrive there keep slipping off. Holiness seems more of a continuing process of staying close to the Lord and obedient to His will.

The last thing we want to do is obsess over the final percentage point of our commitment. “Oh, I wonder if I have submitted this chocolate chip cookie to His Lordship.” “Have I prayed about which news program to watch?”

That’s not holiness; it’s bondage. A tyranny of bad mental health, if you ask me.

Such an obsession is just one more embodiment of legalism, dressed up to look like spirituality.

Don’t be taken in by crude imitations of the real thing.

Let’s stay in the Word, look for ways to serve the Lord, continually pray the favorite prayer of Scripture (“Lord, what will you have me to do?”), and go do it.

But, whatever else we do, let’s not obsess over holiness. It’s just being like Jesus, and everything about that is precious.

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The implications, once we learn how God works

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So, what have I learned about how God works over nearly six decades of ministry?

In two sentences, it’s this:

When God gets ready to do something great and lasting, He loves to a) start small, b) with ordinary people, c) using any methods He pleases, and d) taking HIs own good time about it.

Only people of faith will work with Him on this and still be there at the end to see what God has done and to behold His glory.

Two sentences that encompass a thousand things God has done and is doing.

It’s important to note that these principles are illustrated all through scripture.

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