Archives for posts with tag: mercy

One of the worst things you can be in America 2015 is someone who judges the actions or decisions or lifestyles of your fellow man. I am a person with conservative beliefs. But I go online and read some articles or blogs, what have you, and second guess myself because our culture hates intolerance more than murder or adultery. In our New Age era where we’re supposed to follow our hearts and accept everything, I am afraid to even own up to my dissenting opinions. And yet, I have this thing inside of me that pushes back and I realize: I have been grossly neglecting and underutilizing my most powerful spiritual weapon: the Holy Spirit living in me. I read comments by LOTR actor John Rhys-Davies yesterday about how we’ve lost our moral compass and what it means for Christianity. I had the bulk of this blog post sitting in my drafts folder, but that interview inspired me to finish collecting my thoughts on the necessity of judging.

In reality, not only do I pass a steady stream of judgments throughout my day, good judgment is essential to my health and safety. I stop at red lights. I look before crossing the street. I don’t eat roadkill squirrels in the gutter. I decide to wear clothes. And beyond myself, I actively instruct our children to make all these same judgments. To consciously weigh the benefits and consequences of the actions, thoughts, and words that fill their days. Of course, whether or not I walk into oncoming traffic is a matter of life and death – not a moral judgment. But if I saw a person walk into oncoming traffic, I would surely say that he is either blind, mentally ill, confused, or suicidal. Can’t the same logic translate over to our spiritual lives? I think it can and should. All around me, people are walking into oncoming traffic in their moral and spiritual lives, not believing – some not knowing – that they have put themselves at serious risk. They may be blind, sick, confused or depraved, but they’re there. In the middle of the road. Consequences manifest themselves physically and emotionally, of course, but the spiritual self is the part of the person most at risk…especially when those who DO know better are not warning about the oncoming traffic.  I get it, though. It’s hard to speak out when you know that your words could cost you. It can cost real money. See: the privately owned businesses who were court ordered to fork over thousands and thousands of dollars after refusing business to gay couples. It can cost real relationships. It can cost real comfort. From Jesus: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15.18. Sometimes when the world hates you, you’re on to something.

There’s a big flipside, though. Scripture is also clear about the dangers of judging each other. Matthew 7: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 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?’ “…and Luke 6: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Then there’s this really interesting little verse in John 7 (v24): “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”  I really like the NLT version: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” So, apparently there is a right way to judge, but also a wrong way. Instead of rejecting the popular notion that judging is wrong altogether, maybe we need to simply examine the way we use judgment. Are we doing it the correct way or the way that gets us into spiritual trouble?

The difference reminds me of a concept I learned while taking a parenting class called “Growing Kids God’s Way”. The lesson was about kids tattling/telling on each other. Bottom line: where is the heart of the tattler? Is he tattling on his sister because he wants to see her get into trouble? Because he wants to elevate himself as the better child? Because he thinks tattling will earn him some sort of reward? Because he wants her to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons and our kids get punished for tattling. The class taught that the only good reason a child would “tell” to his parents was because he feared for the health and safety of his sibling. Example: he saw his sister about to walk into oncoming traffic and ran to his father for help. That’s the good kind of “telling” and comes from a heart of love and genuine concern.

Adult application. Bottom line: where is your heart when you judge? Do you judge someone because you’d like to see them “get what they deserve”? Because you feel better about yourself when you can look down on someone else? Because you think judging will earn you some sort of reward or points? Or maybe because you want someone else to feel guilty and ashamed? All of those are, of course, wrong reasons. Is gossip involved? Is slander involved? If so, wrong kind of judging. Is prayer involved? Is getting to know someone intimately (“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly”) part of it? Do you feel compassion for your brother or sister? Then proceed with caution.

God gave me the Holy Spirit, who is my judgment-helper, to get me through life. All facets of life. Good judgment stops me from licking doorknobs. Good judgment keeps me from over-investing in relationships that drain me. Good judgment grounds me from throwing the towel in on parenting in the middle of super hard days. And if you’re someone who knows the truth and hears the Spirit prodding you, you need to speak up in private, heartfelt conversations with the people who you have love and concern for – the ones who are standing in the middle of the road, somehow thinking it’s safe there.

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We all have something, right? A fatal flaw that we can’t seem to shake? I’m telling you mine.

We’ll just rip it off like a bandaid and expose this thing for what it is: my ongoing sin of pride. Pride is so hard to overcome; in fact, it will likely be the battle I fight my whole life rather than something I can rid myself of once and for all. I understand how dangerous and filthy pride is, and I fight it in me. For anyone who passes pride off as “not that bad” a sin, read this short excerpt and, when you have some time, go ahead and read this whole blog by Fabienne Harford:

Pride will kill you. Forever. Pride is the sin most likely to keep you from crying out for a Savior. Those who think they are well will not look for a doctor.

We are all in need of a Savior. There’s no heavenly ranking system for sin. If you’re not crying out for a Savior, then you might be struggling with pride. If you are quick to notice all the other people who are in need of a Savior more than you, then you are definitely struggling with pride.

Anyway, it’s crazy, with as dangerous and blinding a problem as the sin of pride is, I can post this confession and be not at all nervous about the repercussions because America isn’t too bothered by pride – celebrates it even. But what if my Great Sin was something else? What if I asked for help kicking my crack habit? What if I confessed an affair? What if I needed to let my loved ones know I was gay? No way on earth would I freely reveal those things for fear that I would lose friends or at least be treated differently. This double standard is not a God problem. It’s not a Bible problem. It’s a problem we have as people. We’re the ones who have come up with the ranking system. Sidenote: In my heart and in my gut, I’m certainly more disgusted by a child molester than by a Wall Street guy who’s cheating someone out of money. I do think that instinct IS God-given, but meant more for us to protect those who are the most helpless and vulnerable rather than to incite riot against the person committing the crime.

It’s not just believers who adhere to the sin ranking system. I have a non-religious friend who has lived a very difficult life – chronic drug use and relapses, isolation from his now teenaged daughter, a brother who committed suicide. The future feels bleak for him and he was telling me one day how much “better” I am than he is. “What have you ever done?” he asked. “Pride. Pride. Pride. And I have a temper. I yell at my kids when they irritate me.” He rolled his eyes, passing my stuff off as small potatoes. And, I confess, I’d rather have my current set of problems than his. By the standard of the world, I am good. Just fine. My family may even be more functional than average. But as my minister Chris Seidman said recently, “It’s a level playing field at the foot of the cross.” My friend and I are equally in need of the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus offers.

There’s a lot going on right now socially in America. We’ve got tense race issues, gay marriage, gun rights, and illegal immigration. No need to delve into debates over any of those issues, but they’re the reddest, hottest, hot-button discussions people are having. I have my own opinions on these topics, but no ruling or legislation or law has ever disheartened me more than observing the total lack of compassion that spews from the mouths of those (on both side of the issues) who are angrily picking fights in the aftermath. These reactions expose the pride that we are all drowning in.

If we truly understood the gravity of our sin, how could we spend so much emotion and energy pointing fingers at each other?

If we could get a grip on how quickly we’re sinking in our own pits of quicksand, where do we get off berating someone else for the mess they’re in?

Love is what we’re supposed to be doing – letting our understanding of where our own sin has left us lead us to compassion for the people around us who are as wretched, messed up, and pathetic as we are. But that means we first need to GET it. Not many of us feel desperately ashamed and broken over our sin. While we acknowledge that there is a sin rank system in our world and, admittedly, the natural consequences of different sins vary greatly, there is no sin rank system in heaven. We all need Jesus equally and if that’s hard for you to swallow, then you may struggle with pride.

All this to say, it’s this attitude we have about “worse” sins that is keeping people from our churches. I am committed to changing my thinking. To learning to love people who sometimes scare me because of the places they’ve been. To letting the knowledge of my own brokenness lead me to compassion and to serving others who are also struggling with something, be it my same sin tendencies or something very different.

We’re all in this together. We really are. So let’s help each other succeed. And one other thing since this post is kind of a bummer: God takes our jagged, ugly brokenness, carefully and lovingly puts together the pieces with the restoring power of Jesus’ blood, and invites us into his presence to eat with him at his table. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t keep record of our wrongs. Neither should we once we have received the freedom and joy we have been offered through salvation in Jesus Christ. No matter where we’ve been, we all have been given the same shot at happy endings to our life stories.