Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do Not Judge

An energetic buzz filled the sanctuary today as we enjoyed the company of youth from First Covenant of River Falls, Wisconsin. The brisk chill outside was forgotten for a time as we celebrated another uplifting service here at New Life. Pastor Brad greeted us warmly and, as his custom, tipped his hand to our theme today. "Before you take the speck out of your neighbor's eye, take the plank out of your own eye," Jesus said. And with the assistance of several of the youth we were each handed a small plank of wood as a reminder for when we leave the service today.

Announcements included a reminder that a special Ash Wednesday service will replace Adventure Club and the regular youth group on March 9.

The youth of River Falls led the worship time after Darlene's introit. The Scripture reading was from Matthew 5:38-48, followed by a time of prayer.

Do Not Judge

Pastor Brad noted that it is not surprising when Jesus offers an object lesson from a woodworking shop, since He was the son of a carpenter. The message today was from Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount.
1 “Do 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.
3 “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? 4 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? 5 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. (NIV)

Brad's aim was to get us thinking about the planks in our own eyes. We're all very quick to see the other person's faults... but how is it we're so slow to recognize our own or see things about ourselves that are so plainly visible to others.

He illustrated this with an incident that occurred while he was water skiing a number of years ago. He'd taken a dive and the tip of his board hit him on the head, but he was in such an adrenaline rush that he didn't really feel it. As he prepared to get lifted for another pull, his friends were saying he should get in the boat and have his injury looked at. "What injury?" he wondered. From his perspective he was fine, but from theirs he was a bloody mess... he just didn't see it.

So it is that we are often unaware of how we appear to others, nor do we always recognize the plank in our own eyes when we think we see things clearly, but they are not what they seem.

Pastor Brad elaborated on three points with regard to Jesus' injunction, "Do not judge."

Jesus was not talking about discernment. As Christians it is expected that we will be discerning. Leaders must make decisions all the time was regard to what will harm the flock or be helpful. Juries must make decisions with regard to guilt or innocence. Jesus was not addressing jurors, or asking people to suspend making critical assessments.

The Greek word Jesus used here was in regard to condemnation. We are not to condemn. Stop jumping on people. Here's the paraphrase of this same passage in The Message:

1-5 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

Brad referenced an observation by Dallas Willard. How does Jesus know that those who judge are hypocrites? Is it just that we all come short, like the statement, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."? No, it's because He understands that condemnation is itself the plank that is in our own eye. It blinds us to the reality of the other person.

What is the plank that is in your eye? Brad outlined three.

1) Our attitudes toward those far from God

Romans 1 spells out the downward spiral of those who have rejected God's ways. Often, Christians take a high and mighty stance when referencing those whom this segment of Scripture describes. But then Paul turns the tables. "You have no excuse when you judge."

And yet, too often we hate. Paul's pointed message is that hate is wrong. "These are people who Jesus died for."

Brad asked, "So what is your attitude toward those outside the family of God? Do you judge them or do you love them? Do you feel better than them or humbled that God's grace has come your way in your life?"

2) Our attitudes toward those within the family of God

After a humorous story about a young rabbi that took over a new somewhat divisive congregation, Brad pointed out that one of Jesus' last prayers was that we might be one. Unity in the church is unfortunately rare, in part due to the excesses of Christian legalism. Brad highlights just a few of the "rules" that Christians in the past have promulgated and adhered to: dancing, playing cards, roller skating, wearing makeup, going to movies, listening to jazz or rock and roll, playing pool.

Though we laugh at some of the past man-made legalistic creeds, we're often very serious about the contemporary issues that divide us today. Pulling no punches, Brad listed the following:
True Christ followers only worship with hymns.
True Christ followers only sing choruses to worship Him.
Male Christ followers don't wear ear rings.
True Christ followers don't wear tattoos.
True Christ followers would never have a glass of wine with their dinner.
True Christ followers are vegetarians.
True Christ followers enjoy all that God made on this earth.
True Christ followers would never buy a lottery ticket.
True Christ followers would never go to an R rater movie. (Note: The Passion of the Christ shot that one in the foot.)
A true Christ follower who really loved God would never go through a divorce.
A true Christ follower would never let their children wear a costume at Halloween.
A true Christ follower would never allow Santa Claus be part of their Christmas tradition.
A true Christ follower would never read a Harry Potter novel.... or vote for a Democrat... or for a Republican...
and on and on it goes from our end times views to the appropriateness of what we wear to church.

This is just a portion of our contemporary hit list, condemnation list. But you won't find a one of these on God's list. We divide, we debate, we argue and we judge instead of giving one another freedom to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to each of us through his or her own conscience.

3) Condemnation of those who are unresponsive to our efforts to straighten them out.
Part of this comes from our wrong interpretation of "pearls before swine." But pigs cannot digest pearls, and often end up attacking the one trying to cram those pearls down their throats.

Often our efforts to help others get straight is motivated by a sense of superiority. What we need to remember is that we, too, were once the pigs. Do you really love them or is it more about you trying to get a feather in your cap for straightening them out.

Brad noted that we're not being asked to abandon our convictions, but you can't slam them down other peoples' throats either.

In closing we were reminded that how we love others is how we love the Lord.

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