When God’s Drawing is Not So Gentle

Years ago a popular song by Christian artist Jeremy Riddle captured how many of us view (and indeed experience) our walk with The Lord. It said of God, “You draw me gently to my knees. And I am lost for words, so lost in love. I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.”

I have had and relished those encounters, and we rightly praise God for His wooing and the gentle drawing of ourselves unto Him. The Bible tells us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

However, there is a danger that we see this as the ONLY way a loving God would interact with His children. While we certainly do at times need our Heavenly Father’s loving embrace, there are other times when our obstinate pride requires chastisement. Just as children need both comfort and discipline from their earthly fathers, we need – and should expect – both from our Heavenly Father.

The same God who offers peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7) and who leads us to green pastures beside still waters (Psalm23) and who is an ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1) is also the God who called Job on the carpet for his complaints (Job 38), who had the disobedient Jonah swallowed by a giant fish (Jonah 1:17), and who refused to remove the “thorn in the flesh” from Paul (2 Corinthians 12).  

Indeed, we are explicitly told in Hebrews 12:5-7 to expect that God not always deal with us so gently.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”

We relish in, seek after and rightly praise the gentle comfort of the Lord, but how often do we praise Him for His chastisement? Both are equally as loving.

In my early 20’s I had what was for me, at the time, a heart wrenching experience. The woman I expected to spend the rest of my life with dumped me. I had the jewelers crafting the perfect ring, and her best friends were conspiring with me to plan the perfect surprise. Then, the unthinkable occurred, and none of us saw it coming. Her closest friends were just as surprised as I was. My world was shattered.

At the time I was on the building staff of a church, and for some reason, after driving around town in the middle of the night trying to wrap my head around what had just happened, I ended up there. Since I had keys, I let myself in where I could be alone and think and found myself in the sanctuary where a stained glass image of the ascended Christ, lit by street lamps and moonlight, looked down at me.

And I snapped.

I was hurt and angry and turned that rage towards God in a profanity laden tirade. All the hurt and anguish I has been stewing over for the last few hours bubbled to the surface, and I gave voice to it all, directing it at that stained glass Messiah staring down at me.

And there, all alone in that dimly lit sanctuary, shaking my fist at my Creator, Lord and Savior, it was not a soft and gentle comforting mercy that drove me to my knees. When the Spirit fell on me, it was not the empowering and encouraging strength and peace I had felt many times before or since.  

In that moment, as the Spirit of the Lord enveloped me, “peace” and “comfort” are not even close to what I felt. My awareness of my own sinfulness came rushing in. It was a soul crushing shame that I would dare approach the holy, sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords in such a way.

I did not hear an audible voice booming from Heaven, but the unmistakable sense that overwhelmed me was along the lines of “Who do you think you are?”

Suddenly the usually comforting awareness that God intimately knows me, was no longer comforting, and I wished I could relate to what some refer to as the “hiddenness of God”. At that moment God was certainly not hidden, even though I wished that I could be.

God is sovereign, and holy, and righteous, … and the way we often describe His glory is to refer to God’s “majesty”. He is awe inspiring to consider.

You know what other things are majestic and awe inspiring?

  • The view of the Grand Canyon from atop the edge looking down.
  • The feeling of soaring through the clouds in an airplane, looking at the beauty of nature sprawling beneath you.
  • The raw beauty and power of a storm front in the distance, dark clouds starkly contrasted by clear sky, with lightning flashes lighting up the sky.

You know what all of those things have in common? Absolute terror when you realize just how small and helpless you are before their power.

  • Step too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and you find your stomach in your throat at the thought of slipping
  • The exhilaration of flight vanishes pretty quick when facing the reality of turbulence and rough weather, knowing you are powerless against the force of gravity if something goes wrong.
  • The beauty of a storm is forgotten when your find yourself at the mercy of the thrashing wind and explosive power of a lightning bolt striking nearby.

And so it is with the majesty of an awe inspiring holy and loving creator God. He indeed beautiful and glorious to behold … be He is also sovereign and just and powerful and worthy of all praise.

And rather than the praise I owe to Him, I gave Him anger and scorn in the form of a 23 year old throwing a temper tantrum blaming his Father for not letting him have his way.

The comfort and peace and joy of my loving Father would come. However, at that moment, in my pain and rage, it was my pride and sense of entitlement that God dealt with. In that moment as I encountered the Spirit of the holy, righteous, and sovereign King of Glory, I become painfully and ashamedly aware of my error, and it crushed me.

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful …”

But as a lay there humbled and weeping, not only for my heartbreak but even more so over my sin and shame, as all my energy was spent and I had no more anger to vent, I felt the loving embrace of my Heavenly Father. I felt the peace that surpasses understanding.

“… nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

A loving father looks to the needs of his children. He cannot always give them what they want or what will make them feel good at the moment. Just as it is the role of our earthly fathers to train us to be adults, our Heavenly Father is training us to walk in holiness.

At the time, my ego and my pride were what stood in the way of my journey in towards holiness and my relationship with God. At that moment, I did not a soft and gentle reassurance. I would not have received it had it been offered. Due to my fallenness and rebellious, sinful pride I had placed myself in opposition to God.

The lesson I needed was how to be humble in times of heartache. And so God humbled me. And while His chastisement was not pleasant at the time, afterward it yielded the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

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Blog: “Judgment or Advice?”

 

I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, on many things I am very slow on the uptake. Just ask my wife. Subtle hints are completely lost on me. I try to tell it plain, tend to hear it plain, and sometimes forget that not everyone is like that.

From time to time I have been horribly misunderstood and sat in the wake of someone blowing up at me, calling me “hateful,” “judgmental,” or worse, and I was left wondering, “What just happened?”

I once had a conversation took a turn towards more of the “Who are you to judge others and say they’re wrong?” side of things. OK, so it has happened more than once, but I was taken aback a bit in this particular instance because my language and demeanor was one of explanation and not declaration. At least that’s what I was trying to get across. Unfortunately, what I was saying and what they were hearing were miles apart.

Once I had a couple of members of the youth group who stopped coming to Sunday service for a while because of something the pastor said. Something that they completely misheard and misunderstood.

When we hear/read something, we filter it through our own understandings and ideas. It helps when communicating to be aware of the other person’s filters and point of view. When taking in what someone is saying, it helps to be aware of their filters and ideas … and our own as well.

One filter that many people have now days is that to disagree or voice disagreement in any way is a form of being judgmental or intolerant, or many people also have the filter that Christians just simply ARE judgmental, and so any time a Christian voices disagreement they are automatically seen as being hateful or judgmental.

Here’s the deal. Many times whenever I, or others I have witnessed, expressed some form of “You shouldn’t _____,” it gets heard as “If you _____, you are a despicable, sinful piece of trash!” At least that’s what is implied by the tone and fervor of the response I sometimes get.

But now who’s being judgmental?

If I say, “You shouldn’t drink alcohol,” how do you know my meaning and motive? What variety of meanings could that statement have? Here are just a few off the top of my head.

  1. Is the person being addressed a minor for whom it would be illegal to drink alcohol?
  2. Are you a friend who I know to be prone to addictive behaviors?
  3. Do you have a track record of bad results when you drink and I’m just concerned for you?
  4. Maybe I understand that there’s nothing inherently evil about alcohol, but I have a general experience of nothing worth-while coming from the consumption of alcohol and think it unwise.
  5. Or maybe I think drinking is of the Devil and if you partake of his vile drink you are courting darkness and demonstrating that you possess a wicked and corrupt soul. SINNER!!

Oddly enough, if I say, “You shouldn’t drink alcohol,” because I am a Christian, many people assume number 5. However, generally, unless I am quoting a direct “Thou shall not…” from the Bible, when I say, “You shouldn’t ____,” I’m giving an advisement of what I believe to be wise behavior, not a judgment about a person’s moral character.

  •  Don’t listen to this song.
  • Don’t watch that movie.
  • Don’t go to that place.
  • Don’t hang out with those people.
  • Don’t read those magazines.
  • Don’t share those things on social media.
  • Don’t do that thing.
  • Don’t make that choice.
  • Don’t ______.

When I make those sorts of comments, I know that I am no authoritative voice or judge in your life. I do hope to be an influential one, but that is about it. You’re not answerable to me. I have no position, authority or grounds to pass judgment, and my comments, even if I were passing judgment, have no power or control over you. The sentiment is not, “If you do X, then you are a bad person.” The statement is, “If you do X, then it will turn out bad for you. I care about you, so please don’t do X.”

Most of the time that I see, read, or hear about Christians being labelled as judgmental, intolerant, hateful, etc. what is really taking place is that they are expressing a compassionate concern and advising the person as to what should or should not be done, with that person’s well being or benefit in mind. Different people communicate this with varying degrees of success, but seldom do I actually witness the judgmental, “You’re a dirty, rotten sinner!” attitude so often accused.

Here’s a breakdown of how this may work on a couple of different hot-button issues:

“Abortion is murder.”

  • What they hear: “Evil baby killer!!”
  • What was meant: “That is a human life who didn’t ask to be in this situation. It’s not the baby’s fault. You’re not a murderer. Please don’t end an innocent life.”

“Homosexuality is a sin.”

  • What they hear: “God hates fags!!”
  • What was meant: “God has a design for human sexuality, and we should use and enjoy sex within the limits of His design. Like fire, when it’s in the fireplace, it lights and warms the house, but get it out of the fireplace and it can burn the house down.”

For various reasons, some deserved and some not, there is a large segment of society that filters all Christian statements through a filter of hate or judgmentalism.

Are there hateful and judgmental people who proclaim to be Christians? Of course. Does Christ or the doctrines of Christianity teach hate and judgmentalism? No. Christ teaches love and compassion that is able to stand in the face of what God calls sin, admit that it is sin, but still have a heart of compassion for the individual. In John 8 Jesus treats the woman caught in adultery with compassion, turns away her assailants who seek to kill her, and even says that He doesn’t condemn her. But in no instance does He say what she had done was ok, and He even ends the exchange by imploring her to stop sinning. Compassion and admission of sin at work side by side.

Do Christians do this well? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are Christians in the world.

If there is one thing I could hope my friends from “the other side” get from this is that when you hear/read a Christian say, “X is a sin,” or “You shouldn’t do Y,” please do not let your knee-jerk reaction be an assumption of hate and judgmentalism. Chances are, if they didn’t care about the person (community/state/nation) in question they wouldn’t be saying anything at all.

Most Christian activism is not based on bigotry, hate, or just wanting to force our views on everyone else. (Yes, there are some people who are simply jerks, but it can be argued they’re not actually “followers of Christ”… different issue.) We actually do love and care about people and believe God’s Word presents Truth. And we do not want our nation, our communities, or the individuals around us to suffer the harm done when we venture outside of the way God designed things to work. That’s not a stance of hate. That is a stance of love.

We are not judging “those people,” we are seeking to love our neighbors by arguing for our position, trying to persuade people to see a different point of view, and advising those around us of a wiser and better way.

You may not think it is a wiser or better way, but that is a whole other issue. We certainly should have that conversation, but that conversation cannot take place as long as one side has an erroneous understanding of the position of the other.

You don’t cast us all as hateful, judgmental bigots trying to set up a theocracy, and we won’t assume you’re all a bunch of godless, anti-American communists, conspiring to tear down the foundations of society.

Deal?

Blog: “Hypocrisy, Immorality, and the Line at the Grocery Store”

Once upon a time, I was at the grocery store. No really I was. I got here quite often. I’m a Baptist. We like to eat.  On this particular occasion, it was years ago when my oldest daughter was still in diapers. There I was, standing in line, with what seemed like a very nice pair of ladies in Christian T-shirts from a local church which I happen to know is pretty conservative (that will make sense in a minute). They were friendly and flirted with my 6 month old little girl, and everything was great. As the line moved forward, their conversation turned to the same-sex marriage issue (which at the time was all anyone seemed to be talking about).

OK, I admit it. I was eavesdropping. However, their conversation gave me something to reflect on. Here is what one lady was saying, and the other was whole-heartedly agreeing.

Her brother had made comments in support of natural marriage, stating that homosexuality was a sin and that marriage was between a man and a woman. The point she was making to her friend was that her brother was being a hypocrite and should not be judging other people’s relationships when he is in the middle of divorce #2 and already shacking up with the woman who she believes will likely be divorce #3 in the future.

OK, now that I’ve probably gotten your blood pressure up expecting an article on sexual morality and marriage, can we completely disregard the homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues? I know that’s hard since it is such a contentious and divisive issue, but please just set that aside for now.

There are 2 VERY important points I want to make, because I encounter these errors A LOT, especially working with teens. Sadly, despite being just flat wrong, they are also emotionally and rhetorically powerful. This leads many people to find them convincing.

(1) A hypocrite is a very specific thing, and we throw that word around way too much, and (2) just because a person who says, “X is wrong” is also personally engaged in other wrong behavior, that has absolutely zero effect on whether or not X really is wrong.

Now, according to Miriam-Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.” Saying one thing but doing another. Granted, I have no idea what this brother believes about marriage and divorce. I do know one thing he believes: marriage is between a man and a woman. And as best I can tell, he’s not breaking that rule. He’s not saying “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and then running off to marry another guy. He is making a statement about one type of misbehavior while engaging in another completely different type of misbehavior. Maybe he believes that divorce is perfectly legit for the reasons he is doing it. I honestly don’t know. However, far too often we drop the word “hypocrite” when in reality, the person is not being hypocritical at all.

Even if this brother in this example IS being hypocritical, that is no basis for saying he has no place to state something is wrong. He could be right!

If an alcoholic tells you that drinking too much can ruin your life, is he wrong? If I am living paycheck to paycheck, in debt up to my eyeballs and one lay-off away from my kids not being able to eat, and I say to you, “Everyone should do a budget and manage their finances,” I may be a hypocrite, but am I wrong?

Sometimes it is the person in the midst of the misbehavior who may have a profound statement to say that should ring all the more true to us exactly because they are in the middle of it.. And sometimes, if even by sheer dumb luck, even fools can stumbles upon a true claim … well, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

The point is that each claim should be judged based on it’s own merits, and even someone in the midst of misbehavior can make a true claim about another type of misbehavior. In fact, if we had to be perfect in order to make any claims about the morality of an issue, none of us could ever have any grounds for ever making a moral claim, but we know that’s not true.

“How dare you judge that murderer, you hypocrite! You gossip and call in sick when you’re not really sick.” No. That would be ridiculous to say. The gossip and deception doesn’t take away the ability to point at murder and say, “That’s not right.” Logically, however, that’s the exact same thing we do when we accuse others of being hypocritical or judgmental for making a moral statement when they themselves have moral misbehavior in their own life.

Somewhere, somehow, we let way too much emotion slip into our conversation on far too many issues. I think it would do us all well to learn the art of taking a step back and thinking about the situation before we render judgment.

(which by the way, did you notice that making a reasoned judgment is not automatically the same thing “being judgmental?” But that’s a topic for a different blog.)