When I began Beliefs of the Heart, a friend suggested I adopt a Comment Policy. His site already had one, and I copied his almost word for word. The short version is: Keep comments short and sweet.

In the last seven years, about five thousand comments have been posted. Out of those five thousand comments, I have only deleted five, from four different people.

  • I deleted one comment because it was an advertisement for Ray Ban Sunglasses that had somehow eluded my spam filter.
  • I deleted two comments that were both twice as long as the article itself. In both situations, I sent the readers a copy of their remarks with suggestions for making their comments punchier. Both readers edited and reposted excellent comments.
  • I also deleted two different comments from one reader because they were nasty. She called one reader a “moron with an elbow for a brain,” and she bullied another commenter, saying, “Why don’t you include your full name, you coward, so I can post it on Facebook and show the world what a fool you are.”

When I contacted her to explain my reasons for deleting her comments, she replied, “Are your readers so thin-skinned that they cannot handle a little honest criticism?”

She Couldn’t Admit Her Fault

When this woman posted her comments, she included her blog address, and I checked it out. A month earlier she had written an article on the “toxicity of the internet.”

Her article said that people behave badly in many places: “Humans act with hostility everywhere, in bars and churches and airports and their own kitchens.” But she added, “The anonymity of the internet seems to draw out our worst possible denigrations. We mingle constructive criticism with bullying, oppression, mud-slinging, and verbal-violence.”

She ended her article with this hope: “Let’s create safe environments for meaningful dialogue between people who disagree.”

I emailed her again, complimenting her on the toxicity article. I also asked (I hope graciously) how she reconciled her article with publicly berating one reader as a “moron” and taunting another reader with threats of public exposure.

She responded with one sentence: “How dare you question my heart, integrity, or intentions!”

It’s So Obvious

I deleted those comments five years ago, and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since. But something about the interchange nagged at me. I wondered, How could someone be so oblivious to their own hypocrisy? A few weeks ago, a friend posted this quote on Facebook:

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a greater evil to be full of them and unwilling to recognize them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. (Blaise Pascal)

I immediately knew what haunted me about my interchange with the nasty comment writer: she was a mirror of myself. It is so easy to find faults in others while ignoring my own, to spot the specs in their eyes while bumbling around with a log in my own, to preach without practice.

So many faults seem so obvious. I can find myself almost gloating with glee as I catalogue them. But what about my faults, my harshness, my criticism? Am I willing to be as honest with myself?

Only God has full knowledge of the hearts and stories of others, and only God has the wisdom to judge wisely. When I read Pascal’s quote, I felt God graciously but firmly speak to me.

He said, “Sam, Get off my throne.”


P. S. God made us to hear his voice, and even when he speaks a conviction, it brings great joy. Thomas à Kempis once wrote:

When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He speaks only a word, it brings great consolation. (Imitation of Christ)

To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in ConversationAfter all, it is not that God is silent; we just haven’t learned to recognize his voice.

Growing up, I had two close friends: one came from a devout, Christian family, and the other came from a devout, atheist family. One family went to church Sunday mornings and prayer meetings Wednesday night. The other played golf on Sundays and watched TV on Wednesdays.

Apart from Sundays and Wednesdays (and perhaps personal prayer times), the lives of my friends’ parents looked identical. Both taught fidelity in marriage, neither would have cheated on their income taxes, both valued self-effacement over self-importance, and when neighbors were sick, both brought over casseroles and mowed their lawns.

Despite huge theological differences, both sets of parents taught similar approaches to humility, kindness, hard work, and civil service. Both sets of parents looked identical.

Most people today—parents and kids—also look the same. Most sleep together before marriage, chase self-esteem over self-giving, and most desperately seek to build a legacy by making a name for themselves in career or family. Whether Christian, agnostic, or atheist.

Temptations in sexuality, self-naming, and greed were just as compelling fifty years ago as they are today. And people gave in before just like today. Why, however, are they considered acceptable today when they were considered temptations a generation ago?

Intellectual History

My university degree was in Intellectual History. It studies not what happened in the past as much as why it happened. That is, Intellectual History is the study of the hidden (usually unconscious) beliefs of a culture; for it is those buried beliefs that that determine our behavior.

For example: Why did you get angry at your wife today when she asked you to take out the trash? You didn’t blow up a month ago. Maybe you were tired, but last month you were exhausted and kept silent. This time, however, you pitied yourself. Your mind obsessed with, “Why does ‘this’ always happen to me? Why doesn’t anyone have my back?” And you blew up.

The what in your life was weariness and an untimely chore, but the why of your behavior was the unconscious belief that you must protect yourself for no one else will.

Every society has the same what’s of just and unjust systems, longing for significance, commitments of love, and temptations to greed, sex and power. So, why do we accept sexual “freedom,” exploding executive pay, and a self-glorifying need to build legacies?

What’s, Why’s, and Therefore’s

God’s people play a spiritual version of the daisy game: “He loves me, he loves me not.” We re-experience the up and down cycle of trust in God followed by a deep reluctance to wait on him.

When God seems distant, or his answers take too long, we opt for the world’s instant solutions. Like a worm on a hook, the prospect of an immediate meal undermines our spiritual wisdom:

  • When Moses tarried on the mountain, Israel insisted on a god they could see.
  • When Israel tired of divinely selected judges, they demanded, “Appoint for us a king … like all the nations.”
  • When the troubles in this life overwhelm us, we grasp for self-love, self-esteem, self-naming, and the prosperity gospel.

After Babylon sacked Jerusalem, a psalmist lamented, “O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.”

Only it is us—you and me—who opened the door and welcomed in the invaders. We open the door whenever we look for quick answers, shortcuts to long journeys, and immediate gratification. God simply asks us to wait on him and his timing. He waits on us to wait for him.

The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and he exalts himself to show mercy to you … blessed are all those who wait for him.  And though the Lord gave you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will hide himself no more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Is. 30:18 and 20)

We look for quickie remedies to adverse troubles, while God says all we need is him.


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How to Use Your Natural Gifts for God

I attended the University of Michigan in the 1970’s (like, before indoor plumbing). I joined a campus ministry that emphasized community, worship, and outreach.

It was a great group. About one hundred and fifty of us sacrificed to live in the dorms all four years for the sake of outreach—and believe me, living in those dorms was a sacrifice. We roomed with, did laundry with, and shared meals alongside nonbelievers.

Our outreach efforts focused on evangelizing leaders in our dormitory halls. We thought that if these naturally-born leaders accepted the gospel, they would invite friends and become leaders in our ministry.

So we purposely befriended honors students, sports team’s leaders, those in pre-med and pre-law, or any natural influencers we met in classes and the cafeteria.

I’m ashamed to admit, we called our strategy, Selective Evangelism.*

What was the result?

Let’s put aside the obvious Biblical flaws with our strategy (man looks on the outside while God looks on the inside). What culture did Selective Evangelism create?

The leaders we cultivated were innately disciplined: it takes self-will to excel at academics and sports. When these leaders joined us, they brought their native self-control to Christianity, and they created a culture of discipline.

This discipline helped thousands of students over the years. They ordered their lives with better study habits, regular prayer times, and personal integrity. Prayer, grades, and morality improved across the board. Who could argue with that?

But it also created a culture of compliance, a peer pressure of willpower. Little by little, tips and techniques for personal discipline became rules and regulations for conduct.

And the culture of compliance birthed a society of secrecy. Our leaders were so good in their personal order that it was a little embarrassing for us to admit neglecting—for the eleventh time this month—to take a prayer time.

Letting God Be the Sun

In our spiritually immature, surface-level insight, we wouldn’t have selected runt-of-the litter David to befriend, we would have chosen his strapping brothers; we wouldn’t have chosen cowardly Gideon, or beauty-queen Esther, or tax-collector Matthew.

Perhaps we would have chosen Paul (if we had the guts to face imprisonment and stoning). But Paul himself criticizes his incredible self-discipline and morality. He says, “Whatever gain I had, I count as a disadvantage.

Paul is saying, “I used to be hyper-orderly and manically-moral; and now I think all that natural aptitude worked against me. It’s just dung.” What brought Paul to his disregard for natural gifting? It’s called supernatural, spiritual conversion.

Paul knew that star athletes are often the worst coaches. God chooses people his divine glory can shine through, unobstructed by their flesh.

Let’s all become super-natural leaders

It is fine—good even—to bless others with our innate gifts. If you were born with perfect pitch, make beautiful music, but let’s not force others to write a symphony. Though perhaps we can help them harmonize.

Their best harmonies, though, will come when God exhibits himself in their lives, and his life brings life to others, including to us.

If we are born smart, people will want our brains in their lives. If we are born timid, and God gives us supernatural courage, people will want more of God.

Let’s choose a life God shines through, not one that glorifies our natural selves.


* But God was at work in this ministry. Selective Evangelism was discontinued, and the organization publicly repented. That humility takes super-natural heart change.

Ask God for His Help

My parents moved from Detroit to Philadelphia in September 1975. I started university the same month, and I paid my tuition, room, and board by continuing my high school janitor job in Detroit, about a half-hour drive from Ann Arbor.

That October—forty-two years ago this month—I drove my white, 1967 VW Beetle to visit my parents in their new house for the weekend. It was a six-hundred-mile drive. Three short miles from home, my poor old Beetle’s transmission shifted its last gear, grinding itself to death.

My parents picked me up, we had a great weekend, and I hitchhiked back to Ann Arbor after hearing my dad preach in his new church.

My dad was a pastor of a small church, and my parents lived paycheck to paycheck. They couldn’t afford to help with tuition (which is why I drove to Detroit on weekends), and they certainly couldn’t help with my car repair.

I was in a bind. I needed my car so I could drive to work, so I could pay tuition, but I only had $350 in the bank for repairs.

Mom Did What She Could

My mom couldn’t help me with money, but she offered to find a local repair shop. She sat by her phone all day Monday calling shops. She made over fifty calls, but the best price she could find was $1,000 for a rebuilt transmission (with a two-year warranty) or $700 for a used transmission (with a one-month warranty). Both prices were beyond my budget of $350.

She went to bed that evening feeling sad for her son (thanks mom!) and frustrated with repair costs. The next morning, she realized she had tried hard to help me, but she had forgotten to pray. She shifted into reverse, and dashed off a prayer for help.

Immediately (three seconds after her “amen”) the phone rang. The caller asked for, “Costa’s.” She said, “Sorry, wrong number.” Thirty minutes later someone else asked for Costa’s. The phone continued to ring, and by noon she had received a dozen calls for the same company.

Mom reported the problem to the telephone company. They said they had published the wrong phone number in a new directory, giving out my parent’s phone number instead.

The operator gave my mom Costa’s correct number in case anyone else called.

The Coincidence

Out of curiosity, my mom called the number. It belonged to a repair shop that specialized in “foreign” cars. It was located mere blocks from my parents’ home.

Mom asked if they could repair a VW Beetle transmission. Costa’s said that they had a rebuilt 1967 VW transmission in stock, one that someone had reneged on. They could install it for $325. Mom said my car was three miles away. They said they could tow it for $25.

The next weekend I hitchhiked back to Philadelphia, wrote a check to Costa’s for exactly $350, and drove my Beetle back to Ann Arbor with a rebuilt, two-year warrantied transmission.

Lessons learned

Last Friday, my mom reminded me of that wrong-number car repair from forty-two years ago. I immediately recognized three important lessons.

First, before moving forward, God often asks me to shift into reverse—that is, repent! —and just ask God for his help. He loves it when I acknowledge my total neediness.

Second, the most common commandment that I break is God’s commandment to “Remember!” I’m beginning to make a list of big and small answers to prayer since my youth. Just shifting into a little remembrance has renewed hope for my current drive. Why do I continually forget to remember?

Third, I have to ask myself, “Was that wrong number just a coincidence?” If so, maybe I need to down-shift from praying for more miracles and into asking God for more coincidences.


P. S. Prayer is more than one-way communication with God, us shouting our needs God. Prayer is two-way communication, talking with our Father and God speaking back. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

After all, what did God save us for? To know him personally.