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Archive for June, 2018

In My Father’s Arms

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June 14, 2018

Do Not Judge

 Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Matthew 7:1

When I think of judgment, I remember a scene I witnessed several times growing up. The parents of one of my friends had matching easy chairs in their living room with a small table between them. They would smoke, drink, and comment, usually critically, on whatever they saw on television, in the neighborhood, or standing in front of them. My image was of a self-appointed king and queen meting out judgment on their lowly subjects and rarely granting anything smacking of mercy. As one who was sometimes the subject of their sharp judgment, the memory is not a pleasant one. Even as I write this, fifty years later, I realize I am judging them in return, albeit posthumously. Interestingly, this is exactly what Jesus tells us will happen when we cast judgement on others – that we, too, will be judged.

I believe most Christians are aware of Jesus’ instruction not to judge. What constitutes judgement, however, and whether casting judgement on another out of concern for his or her “salvation” creates a large divide among us. For example, if one truly believes that living outside of the Bible’s behavioral guidelines condemns one to an eternity in hell, would not the loving thing be to tell a friend or family member that they need to repent? Of all the issues that turn people away from the Christian faith, however, the sense that we are overly judgmental is one of the most common. When a person sets foot inside a church and is accosted by language about salvation and other accusations that make them feel less than welcome or worthy of God’s love, it is little wonder so many of our churches are struggling. Personally, I think Jesus tells us to tend to our own house, first.

There is a foundational reason why it is so difficult not to judge: our minds are designed to judge. We constantly categorize what we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste. This is good, that is bad; this is beautiful, that is ugly; this is worthy of my attention, that is not; this is safe, that is dangerous. These judgments are usually made much too quickly to know anything or anyone at more than the shallowest of levels. Yet, this is what our minds do. In that sense, Jesus is asking us to overcome our natural tendency to judge – both for ourselves and for others. More accurately, Jesus asks us to become more discriminating about when to act on our judgments.

One common and frequently overlooked form of judgment is gossip – saying things about a person in his or her absence that we would not say in their presence. Gossip is often malicious, but not always. I sometimes catch myself saying things about someone in a way I would not say to him or her face to face. Usually, I am not trying to hurt them, but rather to be funny. I attempt to be funny, however, at someone else’s expense.

Here is an even more important reason to be careful about casting judgment, however. That which we find most worthy of judgment against another is almost certainly a reflection of a similar trait or tendency within our self. If we are not consciously aware of that particular tendency, we likely have repressed our awareness of it, often out of shame. Bringing those types of issues to light and acknowledging them can be painful. The old saying that when I point a finger at you there are three pointing back at me is often truer than we care to admit.

When it comes to our own shortcomings, we desire mercy for ourselves more readily that we typically grant it to others. When we see something worthy of judgment in another, perhaps our first thoughts should be, “What within me is reacting so negatively to this behavior? Am I guilty of the same thing?” Once we have those answers, we may not be so quick to judge. No one is perfect, but we seldom improve or grow from the harsh judgments of others. Allowing our repressed memories and immature tendencies to rise to conscious awareness helps us to transform those hidden parts of ourselves into something good. Somehow, that transformation also seems magically to transform others, or at least our perception of others. Because the mercy of withholding judgement is something we desire for ourselves, Jesus suggests we grant the same to others.

 This is the 24th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

 Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

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Humble Worship

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. Matthew 6:1

Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you. Matthew 6:2

Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door. Matthew 6:6

Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. Matthew 6:16

The first half of the sixth chapter of Matthew contains some unsettling instructions for worship. Jesus contrasts the ways hypocrites worship with a methodology more consistent with accessing the kingdom of heaven. Spoiler Alert: humility is required! Jesus does not criticize the religious practices of his day – praying, fasting, and giving; but he does give specific direction for the way those practices are carried out. If we are practicing religion in order to look good to others, we are not likely to enter the kingdom of God.

It is easy to get into a comfortable rhythm of worshiping but neglect whom we worship. Certainly, we claim God as the focus for worship, but does God really care about how we are dressed or that we sing our songs of praise loudly, in tune, or even if we sing at all? If we are honest, much of how we approach worship is to either impress, or at least avoid the criticism of our brothers and sisters in the worship space. I wonder about the motivation of folks who post their church attendance to social media – not that that is necessarily bad. If they advertise their church attendance to encourage others to join them, fine. If they do it to show themselves to be holier than their neighbor, shame on them. Jesus says, Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. Why? He continues, For then you have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6:1). Once we are honest about whose response we are most focused on receiving, we know whom we worship.

It is easy to become obsessed with our appearance to others. Ultimately, this is a form of idol worship, seeking our rewards from someone or something other than God. And this is exactly Jesus’ point – that our focus needs to be on God. What is apparently important to God, according to Jesus, is a humble and focused heart. Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6). It is safe to assume that this sort of private worship is not only what connects most effectively with God, but is also the most beneficial form of worship for us. Everything else is window dressing – obstacles and idols we place between God and ourselves that inhibit any sort of a direct connection. Certainly, there is an element of safety in approaching the throne of God with others. And granted, we need to approach God in awe and with reverence, which naturally includes an element of fear. Our fear of coming face-to-face with God and exposing ourselves in our naked imperfection, however, is a fear we must learn to overcome if we wish to experience the all-inclusive love of our creator. We are loved as we are, where we are, completely and unconditionally, but we cannot fully receive that love when our attention is directed elsewhere.

When we give our offerings, we should not announce it to the world in order to be praised by others. Yes, we should be generous according to our ability, but we should give for the furtherance of God’s work on earth, not for our own glorification.  When we fast, we are not to make a production of how intolerably we are sacrificing. Rather, we are to sacrifice with joy, knowing that fasting is a practice that opens our heart to the presence of God. Giving and fasting bring their own rewards.

Focusing on ourselves or how others perceive us makes our God too small. The purpose of worshiping God is not to make ourselves feel insignificant and sinful, but to acknowledge and know that we are intimately connected to something large, loving, and wonderful. Ultimately, our joy resides within the community of believers, members of the body of Christ. And not only is our joy there, but also our security, for abiding in that body is the only truly safe place to reside. To enter that amazing space of worship, however, we must enter with humility.

This is the 23rd in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

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