When I was in junior high, a lady offered me some tropical fish. When I told my mother of the offer, she was willing. But we needed an aquarium.

It was actually my mother's idea to be creative at that point. She recalled an old-fashioned gas pump that was rusting in an open field. Most of you aren't old enough to remember, but gasoline pumps used to have big glass containers at the top. A manual lever pumped gas from the underground tank into a glass cylinder. Then you put the hose into your car's gas tank, and gravity did the rest.

Sure enough, the glass in the abandoned gas pump was unbroken. We asked for and received permission to retrieve it. And the two of us set about to create the perfect environment for our soon-to-arrive tropical fish.

Only when we got it home did we realize how nasty the tank was. But we scrubbed and cleaned. Then we put in colored gravel, some plants, and an aerator. I claimed the fish and put them in their new environment. A nasty glass tank had become the ideal new home for seven beautiful and delicate creatures.

The next morning, two were belly-up. By the end of the day, two or three more had died. And by the following morning, not one was still alive. We knew we had done something wrong but had no idea what. So I went back to the lady who had given them to us and told her with embarrassment what had happened.

As I was explaining all our fuss and bother with creating just the right aquarium environment, she interrupted and said she knew what the trouble was. We had washed the tank with detergent, and that is an absolute no-no when dealing with such delicate creatures. Our uninformed efforts at trying to create something beautiful had killed what we were trying to receive and showcase.

Sometimes we do a very similar thing in families, work environments, or churches. In our zeal to clean up our lives or those of others, we use caustic cleansers — harsh criticism, nagging, condemnation, outbursts of temper. We think we are doing right and defending decency. But our harsh treatment of an immature child of God or fragile personality is more than some souls can bear.

They don't want to subject themselves to the same caustic process!
Churches are notorious for being so caustic with a neophyte's problem with drugs or a family's breakup that the tender and still-in-formation people involved die to faith from the treatment they receive. Then people on the outside that see all the dead bodies floating to the surface (reasonably!) decide they want nothing to do with church. They don't want to subject themselves to the same caustic process they have seen kill others.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (Colossians 4:5-6 NRS).