May 24, 2017

I was once asked to give the opening presentation at a weekend for parents who were looking for some help or direction with raising children. I began with something like this:

“There are at least three groups of people who know more about raising your kids than you do.

  1. People who have never had children.
  2. People who had children 40 years ago.
  3. People whose children are the most misbehaved brats on the planet.

There may be others but few will be more outspoken then the three above.”

This same principle of naiveté also applies to those who want to tell me about what it means to be a Christian. I’m talking of course about those who have no clue about the Faith, but of course, they think they do.  You know… those who quit coming to church years ago because “Church goers are just a bunch of hypocrites”; or those who quit coming because they didn’t like the pastor.  Meanwhile, that pastor left 10 years ago.  Or those who have had a few too many and want to spout off about their thoughts on God.

Maybe what I have heard most over the years is something this, “You can’t judge other people!” And then in a sarcastic, smarmy, self righteous voice, “And you call yourself a Christian!”  And if they are really smart they might reference Matthew 7.  Or at the least they will reference verse 1.

1Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

It only takes a cursory look at these verses to realize they are about hypocrisy, not judgment, i.e., don’t be a hypocrite! If you have sin in your life, don’t judge others for the same thing.  Get your life together before casting aspersions on others.  These verses are not proof texts regarding judging!

Let me ask maybe a different question. Do you believe that forgiveness is a practice commanded in the Bible?  For sure it is!  Matthew 6:15  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  And numerous other verses I might add.

Here’s the question. How do you forgive or what do you forgive, if there is not a judgment made about the other person’s behavior?  What do you forgive if you have not made a “judgment” that the other has “sinned against you?” With no judgment there is no need for or grounds for forgiveness. Imagine in a courtroom the judge saying, “Your penalty is life imprisonment.”  Someone then questions why there is a penalty at all.  What does the judge say if there has been no judgment of guilt made?  He can’t say anything.  That’s why courts have to make a judgment.  There is no court if there is no sense of judgment.  There is no declaration of guilt or innocence if there is no judgment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that your judgment or mine is infallible.  After all, just like secular courts, we can make mistakes.  But we cannot live life without making judgments… constantly… regularly…. repeatedly….  I would also say that for Christians our judgments need to come from loving and kind hearts.  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  Get it?  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  If you don’t hear anything else today hear this:  We are not called to judge as the World judges.  We are called to judge as God judges… from a position of love.

How are you doing with that?



December 8, 2015

I have a pastor friend who is of the opinion that ministers should never show or talk about weakness and sin in their own lives. I think his basic idea is that we ought to be models of how to deal with all things “Christian.” There is a part of me that would like to be that person. I would like to be a “super-Christian;” always knowing what to say and what to do; never allowing sin to get the best of me; not allowing my brokenness to be visible; always maturing in the faith and moving toward Jesus. Yep, I would like to be that person… sometimes… and then there are most days. There are the days when I know myself all too well; the days when I wonder if Jesus really had me and others like me in mind when he died for sin. Or was He really thinking about so many others whom I admire and try to emulate?

Occasionally I have those moments when past events come into my memory that cause bile to rise up in my throat. Severe injustices that were done to me or to my children come to mind. Often by people (too often adults) who really should have known better; people who had their own selfish agenda in mind and didn’t care if they were placing lifelong PAINFUL memories into the minds of children or young adults. I don’t know if you know what I mean… do you?

Usually these thoughts come to me at a time of weakness… particularly spiritual weakness. It doesn’t often take much to get me there… getting blindsided by criticism does it. Watching people I love get hurt over and over again does it. Being tired and emotionally worn out does it. Again, do you know what I mean? Sometimes when these old circumstances (or new ones) fire up the memory banks, I can get downright ANGRY! I know that anger is not a sin (necessarily). And I am reminded that Jesus himself got really ANGRY on occasion; angry because of injustice and angry because the religious leaders of the day were misleading or taking advantage of “the people.” The very people they should have been guiding and caring for, they were leading down paths of destruction! (One of the big fears of my life, I should add.)
It’s interesting to note that the following story is one of only a few that is mentioned in all four gospels.

Matthew 21:
12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

I have had many people yell at me over the years but what must it be like to have Jesus screaming in your face as in Matthew 23?

Matthew 23:13f:

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] 

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! Etc…

All of this and yet I am stuck with this dilemma: It’s okay on occasion to get angry particularly about wickedness and sin, but what do we/I do with that anger? I mean, if it’s 40 years later and I’m still struggling, is that sinful? I suspect it has something to do with forgiveness, don’t you?

I find that forgiveness is one of the GREAT dilemmas in the Christian faith. Most of us say or think we have some sense of how it works or what it is but I suspect we do not… not for a minute… or a second. And I also think that many of us might say that we “forgive” people readily or regularly. Really?!?! I imagine we might be deluding ourselves when we say that.

Here is my reality. (Does this sound familiar to you?) I had no models in my life growing up of “forgiving” people. Do you know what I mean? I have no memory of ANYONE about whom I could say, “They were people who were known for their ability to forgive others.” Don’t get me wrong; there may have been people I knew who forgave others, but no one who was “noted” for it. The opposite quality however, was in abundance. I could make lists of names of folks who harbored anger, bitterness, and loathing in their hearts and minds toward others… for decades and for many until their last breath! It negatively affected their lives, their children’s lives, and the lives of others they claimed to love. Maybe this was just my experience and you have no idea what I’m talking about. If so you are blessed!

If leading people astray is one of my great “fears” then the following passage “HAUNTS” me.

Matthew 6:15: But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I believe fully in God’s grace. That it is not “earned” but it is “bestowed” out of God’s abundance of love. That being said, we do have a responsibility to live lives pleasing to God and within the confines of His desires for us. Do you know this passage from Philippians?

Philippians 2:12: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

I’m working on this forgiveness and anger thing… It’s pretty scary… and I’m trembling.

Yours in Christ,

Bill L.