Justification

I am offended.

The note was polite, but to the point.  The writer needed to express something that had been in her mind for awhile.  To be fair, the words weren’t I am offended, but it seems offensive to me.  There is little difference.

Something I have done—language I have used in my business for years—was offensive.  I selected the language.  I placed it in a prominent place in my advertising.

I offended.

I don’t know the person.  Someone else in the church she attends has made numerous purchases from my company over the last few years.  The writer of the note is not even my customer.

And yet, I read the words on my screen and my spirits sank.  What would I say?  How would I respond?

Do you know how easy it is to believe one has been attacked?

Is it not a simple thing to take offense at the one who has taken offense?

My mind, as it does, piled up the words with which to defend myself.  I know how to use the English language.  I am accomplished in the skill of bickering.

I want the chance to justify myself.

Why is that my first reaction?  Is it true for everyone?  When we sense that we have been admonished, do we all want to deflect the blame?

I wanted to look better than I did in that moment.

I knew I could come out on top.  I knew it.

Sleep hardly came that night.  I would present my argument to the imaginary jury I had collected in my head, letting loose with the big guns and obliterating the enemy.  I win!

But, a quiet voice from deeper inside asked a one-word question.  Just one.

Enemy?

With a mental shrug, I’d decide to think about it tomorrow, only to find myself, moments later, facing the imaginary jury once more.

Time after time I built up my defense against the enemy, only to face that one-word question again.  And, again.

Enemy?

But he, seeking to justify himself, replied, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Neighbor.  That’s the word I wanted.  Not enemy.

Neighbor.

And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)  Jesus said it was the second most important commandment, essentially part of the first.  The lawyer who wanted to justify himself (in Luke’s passage) knew it by heart.

I do, too.  Yet, every time I am confronted with my own shortcomings, my reaction is the lawyer’s.  Every time.

I want to justify myself.  I want to make myself look better.  And, more often than not, that is accomplished by making someone else look smaller.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply.

Seeking to justify ourselves, we reply. Click To Tweet

We use words like snowflake, over-sensitive, entitled, and coddled

Or, we use words like arrogant, insensitive, and bully.  

Either way, the result is the same.  We tear down our neighbors to build up ourselves.

Words were the cause of my offense.  My next words would either increase the offense, possibly making me feel justified, or they would begin the healing process.

What to do?

Over forty years ago, a wise man wrote, in his beautiful script, in the front of a new Bible he and his wife were giving to their youngest son.  He knew his son well, having spent nearly twenty years in close proximity to him. 

The words, still quite legible today, were exactly what the argumentative, impatient youth needed.  I can attest that he was more annoyed than overjoyed to read them the first one hundred times or so he saw them written there.

The Preacher said the words, thousands of years before.  Their truth has not faded one iota.

A gentle answer turns aside wrath, but argumentative words only stir up more anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

I haven’t always lived by the exhortation.  In truth, I haven’t lived by it even a majority of the time.

I’m learning. Finally.

Still—I want to know.

Why do we add offense to offense over and over?

Why is it so difficult for us to bind wounds instead of making them bleed more?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors, instead, identifying them as enemies, almost without fail?

Why is it so hard for us to recognize our neighbors? Click To Tweet

In a world filled with hate and vitriol, we—all who follow Christ—are called to bind up, and carry, and treat, with the same love we have for our God and Savior, all who walk the same ground we do.

It’s not optional. 

It’s not.

I’m justified.  By Him.  I don’t do that myself at all; it’s what He does. (Ephesians 2:8)

How I respond to others is how I show them what’s really in my heart—in my very soul.

Gentle words.

Peace.

 

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.
(from Poor Richard’s Almanac ~ Benjamin Franklin ~ 1706-1790)

 

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
(Philippians 2:14,15 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Say the Words

How was I supposed to know?

Perhaps they could wear signs.  Cautionary words are always helpful.

Warning!  Traumatic life event in progress!

That should do it.  Now, there’ll be no untimely jests—no teasing sales pitches—no words to regret, as my friend walks away minutes from now.  Give me a heads up; I’ll take it from there.

But, life’s not like that, is it?  

No signs.  No colored lights—green, yellow, and red—to keep us out of the danger zone.  We’re on our own.

clasped-hands-541849_640Or, are we?  On our own, I mean.  We’re not really.  Those of us who are students of the Word, followers of Jesus, have already spent a lifetime in training.

Everything—every single thing—we have learned of following Him, has been to prepare us for the relational interactions we will have on every day of the time we have on this earth.

Love God.  Love people.

Doing the first teaches us to do the second.  More than that, choosing to fulfill the former gives us no option but to fulfill the latter.

Loving God gives us no option but to love people. All people. Click To Tweet

Love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Always.

Always—Love is kind.

The young man came in a few days ago, with his sweet wife and well-mannered children.  I have known him for many years now, a relationship developed through his pursuit of becoming a musician.  He was a boy when first I sold him a guitar.

That was several instruments and many additional accessories ago.  On this day, I would break the news that our business relationship of many years is about to end.  I didn’t like doing it, but I owed it to him.

As others have done, he reacted strongly, but perhaps, a bit more emotionally than I expected.  The face that turned to me suddenly was covered with sadness, his eyes almost grief-stricken.

Almost without thinking, I reminded him that, as with all of my life, I trusted a God who had proven Himself trustworthy.  For some reason, it seemed important to me to reiterate this truth I am convinced of.

“God didn’t bring us here just to walk away from us.  He’s still got good things ahead.  Good things.”

A short time later, as he and his family walked out the door, he stuck out his big, strong hand and held my slender one in that familiar strong, almost painful, grip.  It’s happened many times before. Then, smiling at me, he walked out with his family, not saying another word.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was afraid to say anything else because he didn’t want tears to come.  No.  That couldn’t have been it.

I was busy with another customer when he came back the next day.  Maybe, it was a good thing.  He asked the Lovely Lady to give me a message.

It seems he had received news on the previous day, right before I had seen him, that a young friend had died a horrible death.  He was overwhelmed.

He told the Lovely Lady to relay to me the message that the words I had said on that afternoon had been exactly what he and his wife needed.  Exactly the message that would give comfort and hope, not regarding my temporary inconvenience, but for the very real pain they were already experiencing.  They had left my store that day with renewed hope—renewed courage.

Even since that day, the number of folks who have shared their pain at losing loved ones has multiplied.  A lady whose father died and left her with no opportunity to attain closure of a tragic situation.  A man who doesn’t know how to comfort his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, less than a month ago.  The father whose son died suddenly.  The grandfather who will never go horseback riding with his grandson again.

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

And suddenly it occurs to me—we don’t need the warning signs I wished for.  No words of explanation are ever necessary for us to know who needs help.

We are all members of a fallen race.  Every one of us carries our pain around inside.  No one escapes the pain.  It is our birthright.

We all need help.  And, kind words.

And yet, we who carry this pain and horror inside have been called to be ministers of healing and ministers of grace.  It is who we must be.

We, who carry this pain, are called to be ministers of healing to others who carry pain. It is who we must be. Click To Tweet

Comfort ye.  Comfort ye my people.  (Isaiah 40:1) God said the words to Isaiah centuries before our Savior came.  The message he carried was of comfort and hope.

And, what a hope!

At the end of your waiting on God, you will regain your strength and your resolve.  You who are now weary and defeated will rise up on wings of eagles.  (Isaiah 40:30,31)

We who follow Jesus carry the same message.

Perhaps, it’s time for us to deliver it.

We already know who the message is for.

Say the words.

 

 

 

 

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:4 ~ NLT)

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
(Francis of Assisi ~ Catholic Friar ~ 1181-1226)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

I Like Mike

The big man looked uncomfortable, waiting there on the sidewalk for me.  I don’t suppose he could have been waiting too long.  

was mowing my lawn, focusing on keeping the lines straight, but I could hardly have missed him for even one pass of the lawn.  

He waved a big, ham-sized hand at me when he knew I had seen him—a clear message he wanted me to stop and talk with him.  

Never one to miss an opportunity to shirk my lawn tending labors, I complied.

“Do you have a power screwdriver I could borrow?”  

The question seemed a little odd.  

I looked around, but saw no car or, for that matter, any other indication of which direction the unfamiliar man had come from.  I don’t normally loan tools to strangers walking down the street, so I looked back at him and wondered aloud what he needed the tool for.  

He waved that same large hand over his shoulder and explained sheepishly:

“I’m visiting my mother-in-law up there, and was backing out of her driveway, but I hit the mailbox across the street.”

Glancing up the direction he indicated, I saw the mailbox lying on the grass and nodded.  

“No one is home and I want to fix it, but I don’t have any tools at the house at all.”  He thought for a minute as if to be sure he wanted to say the next words.  

“I’ll pay you.”

I brushed aside his offer and told him I wouldn’t take money for helping neighbors.  Leaving the mower where it sat, I went inside and grabbed my handy-dandy battery-powered screwdriver, with attachments.  

damagedmailboxHeading across the street to where he was standing by then, I spent the next half hour reconstructing the mailbox with him.  We talked as we labored, making the short job go by even more quickly.  

Mike is a rough-cut retired trucker, who understands that neighbors are high up on the scale of significant people, even when he is not in his own neighborhood.  

I liked him.  

We laughed as we worked and sweated in the hot sun, enjoying the camaraderie which comes from accomplishing a worthwhile task together.

I bent down to put away my tools and as I stood again, he stuck out that big hand to shake mine, which was completely engulfed in his grip.  As I took my hand away and looked down at it, I saw he had left a ten dollar bill in my palm.

“No.  I’m just helping a neighbor, too,”  I protested.

He wasn’t listening.  “You didn’t have to help me, but you did.  Thanks.”  

I shoved the bill in my pocket, telling him as I did that I would pass it on to someone else who needed it worse than I.  He nodded, smiling, and waved, a huge gesture in the air above his head, as he walked toward his mother-in-law’s front door.  

I headed back across the street to start my mower again, still grinning to myself.  But, somehow, there was the shadow of a negative thought gnawing at the back of my brain.

I saw another mailbox in my head, years ago–now where did that come from?

Oh, yes.  Thirty -five years ago, it was.

“He just knocked it over!  Never told anyone–just drove away.”  

The irate voice on the telephone belonged to a lady I knew only slightly.  She had attended our church off and on—more off than on at the time.  

I asked for more information to fill in the gaps and fill them in, she did.  

“That preacher came and got the church bus last night.  It’s parked right next door, you know.  Well, when he backed out, he hit the mailbox across the street.  He knew he did it too, because he got out and looked at the back of the bus.  Then he glanced around to make sure no one saw him, got back in, and drove away.”  

Obviously, she was angry–with good reason.  I didn’t know what to tell her.

Thirty-five years later, I still don’t.  

And, that’s the reason for my pesky negative thoughts, as I consider my new friend Mike and his actions that hot summer day.  

You see, Mike isn’t an intellectual man, hasn’t spent a lifetime studying the scriptures, but he understands that neighbors are important people.  

No one saw him back into the mailbox.  He won’t be back to visit for months, yet he wouldn’t think about driving away without making amends for his accident.

The preacher, on the other hand, had all the knowledge necessary to understand, without any ambiguity, what was required of him.  

What made him drive away instead?  Was it arrogance?  Fear?  Impatience?  Did he just have more important things to do?  

I can’t answer the questions.  

And, maybe that’s a good thing, since it keeps me from pointing my finger too squarely at him.

I do know more is required of me.  I know more is required of each of us.

I wonder if I need to clarify that we are no longer talking about mailboxes and next-door neighbors.  That is a tiny part of it, but there is a much bigger picture.  

The cautionary tale of the old truck driver and the preacher should serve to knock apart any preconceived notions we may have about who really understands right and wrong.

If God’s love hasn’t reached into the depths of our hearts, what comes to the surface, embodied in our actions, will be ungodly, regardless of our claims of a personal relationship with Him.  (Luke 16:10-15)

A degree in theology scribbled behind our name doesn’t void this; a lifetime spent in church won’t alter it.

Only a clear sense of our own debt to love can lead to the realization that we must–absolutely must–extend that same love to our neighbor.  

I’m pretty sure that if they breathe the same air I breathe, they are my neighbors.  

There is no human being to whom I do not owe the great debt of love.  Not one.

I’ve backed over some mailboxes myself.  

Okay, not actually mailboxes.  But still, I’ve done a good deal of damage in my lifetime.  I’ve driven away time and again without a backward look.

No more.

I want to be like Mike.

How about it?  I wonder if someone out there has a tool or two that I could borrow.  

Maybe, if I ask a friend,  I could even get a helping hand.

I’m asking.

 



But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

(Luke 10:29~NIV)



Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

(from The Weight of Glory ~ C.S. Lewis~English educator/author~1898-1963)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.