July 2007


1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” –Matthew 7:1-2

 

            In my constant struggle to be more like Christ and less like a Pharisee (read that, less like myself), I find that I have a long way to go. This morning, for instance, provided a prime example. As I walked down the street to take care of some errands (you can still walk to your errands in a town like Mulberry Grove) I saw a man standing, talking to another man in a car. Nothing untoward dawned on me until I walked by the scene and discovered that the man standing was a black man and the one in the car was white. Instantly my mind was struck with the thought drug deal.

            Now, it is not necessarily uncommon that someone might be conducting illegal activity such as a drug deal on one of our fair village’s streets, but what hit me moments later was that—although I knew neither of the men involved, I immediately judged them in a less than flattering manner. For all I know, they were just buddies having a chat because they saw each other downtown. Why, because one was a black man, should my mind immediately scream “bad news, bad news”?

            I also must admit that I’ve become a skeptic in the realm of the work of the church (and again proven to be too hasty to think little of my fellow believers). In the last two months, members of my local congregation have been coming out of the woodwork to volunteer to be a part of new or on-going ministries that are part of the life of our church. Here and I thought no one was paying attention to the sermons I was preaching. What it goes to show is that:

  1. God is still able to use that which I think has been a flub.
  2. People are not always as dense as I give them credit for.
  3. I’m still not as far along as I’d like to believe I am.

What about you? Are you more like Jesus today than yesterday? Or are your thoughts turning to judgmental tones unbidden?

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Here’s a list of things that people say they are committed to:

Ø      Family

Ø      God

Ø      Country

Ø      Love

Ø      Friendship

 

Here’s another list—things that I’ve observed that people are really committed to:

Ø      Sports (you choose which one)

Ø      Sports teams

Ø      Clothes

Ø      Food

Ø      Self

Ø      Self

Ø      Self

Ø      Self

 

I see a pattern here. Do you? What makes me think that people aren’t really committed to those things that they claim to hold their commitment? Simply put it boils down to time, finances, and conversation.

When we are really committed to our families, we spend our time with our spouses, with our children. Face it, husband, does your wife know that you love her? That you’re committed to her? Does she know that you put her ahead of everyone, everything, else? Do your children see you as their protector and guide or as the legs and feet beneath the newspaper? I speak to the husbands and fathers here because that is the direction that I must approach this issue from, but the questions can easily be addressed to women readers here. Does your husband feel like you would have no other one? I know that my blushing bride likes movies starring Tommy Lee Jones (she has this thing about older men), but if there ever came a choice between the movie star and the man at home, I have nothing to fear from Tommy Lee.

When we are really committed to the things of God, our finances reflect it. When we look at our expenditures, do we bring more into God’s storehouse (that is, the church), or do we amass clothing, electronics, games, or entertainments that have nothing to do with God?

What is it that we talk about? The weather? The world series? The latest fashion?

What consumes our time, our money, our discussions? All too often, I see people (preachers in particular) wasting time talking about politics. Not just any politics, but the political side of church. We strain at gnats when horseflies are contaminating our soup. Interestingly enough, leaders and preachers in my own SBC continue to be caught up in argumentation and debate over what we believe. Since revisions and re-edits were made that changed our faith statement (Baptist Faith & Message) in 2000, the document has not been allowed to say what it’s supposed to say—things that we as Southern Baptists believe. First one side of the politicos in the convention, and then the other want to use the document as not a statement of faith but a manifesto to be endorsed and worshiped by all who would call themselves Southern Baptist. The difficulty with this is that whenever one side wants it, the other side wants to interpret what it means (and vice versa). It amounts to the same kinds of discussions as are reported about early theologians who were more interested in determining the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin than they were in sharing the gospel.

Others are consumed with talking about American Idol, or the latest craze in fashion or politics, or the price of tea in China.

So what are we consumed with? What do we spend our time on? What do we spend our money on? What do we let dominate our conversation? Discover that and we discover what it is that holds our commitment.

            I was thinking this afternoon about how often we focus on the wrong thing—namely me. We say that we are not self-centered; we even make a stab at presenting a good front. The truth remains that we want what’s best for us. We often overlook the fact that we’re not really concerned about the other person, but about ourselves when we do whatever it is we do.

            The parent would like to think that they actually have the best interests of their child at heart in something as simple as a child’s birthday party. So we invite everyone, thinking about the loot that our child will come away with and don’t even consider what we are doing to the child—turning them into ourselves, selfish and materialistic. What does the baby come away with but a desire to be king/queen for the day and a bad case of the “I wants.” The truth of the matter is that we waited until the last minute to think about the celebration and so we didn’t give any thought to the guest list—just invite everybody. Several things are at work here:

  1. I don’t want to think about who ought to be invited (it takes away from my time).
  2. I want my kid to have lots of stuff (it really means that I get more attention through my child).
  3. I don’t want to offend anyone (so I invite everyone, without thought to who my kid wants at the shindig).

Experts tell us that at early ages, the rule of thumb to keep the party manageable is to allow your child to invite only as many friends as they are old (if it is their fifth birthday, they can have five friends). This is a good rule of thumb, ignored by most people on first through fourth birthdays when they invite all their adult friends without thought to the child. This is also another effort at making the day about you, the adult, instead of the guest of honor. How? You say. The point of limiting the number of guests is to save the adults time in planning, preparation, and clean-up.

Make the event about the child—let them choose the guests as well as the menu (within reason, after all they are still children).

We also approach spiritual life with this same all about me mentality. It’s a far cry from Matt Redmon’s 1999 reminder of what worship is all about:

 

Heart of Worship

When the music fades and all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the things I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus

King of endless worth, no one could express
How much You deserve
Though I’m weak and poor, all I have is Yours
Every single breath

And so, we get jealous of others who are serving where we should have been asked to serve. We volunteer for the special jobs that we don’t want others more qualified to do. We see ourselves as more important than we really are. If it’s my ministry then why should I allow anyone to help? If it’s my church then why should I invite anyone else (except those I approve of) to worship here? As a matter of fact, we often witness only to earn the bragging rights for having witnessed.

Whose kingdom is it anyway? Whose message? I believe that it’s time for me (and thee) to come to the conclusion that what I do is rarely if ever really about me. It’s always about someone else—in all aspects of my life.

 

            This week, as our country celebrates the concept of freedom, I find myself reaching a point in Erwin McManus’ book Uprising in which freedom is the theme. Granted I’m still chewing over the introductory material (he just wrote the sentence from which the book gets its title—“. . . to experience this freedom there must first be an uprising—a revolution of the soul”), but I’m beginning to take that deeper look at freedom that is required of believers in Christ.

            What we often label as freedom isn’t really freedom at all. In us all there is a longing to be free, a desire to make choices. It’s part of our created being, our make-up, if you will. In striving for this freedom we look for all types of release.

            We are told that to free ourselves from the confines of society, we should turn to alcohol or other drugs. It will free your mind, remove your inhibitions. Sadly, to look for freedom here, we must turn ourselves over to the slavery that is addiction.

            Others suggest that, if we will gather to ourselves more and more material things—money, cars, houses, electronics, things and things and things—we will be free to be happy. Again we turn over control of our will to these things.

            Liberate yourself, we are told—do what feels good. Run naked through the tulips, engorge yourself with chocolate, indulge yourself with all that you want and desire. In doing so, you will be free.

            After listening to all of these voices, we discover along with the writer of Ecclesiastes that “everything is meaningless.” (see Ecclesiastes 1:2) The final conclusion is that freedom, true freedom, is found in reverence for God. When we begin to plant our feet in the footprints set forth by God we are truly free. That freedom frees us from all the world’s claims on freedom. It also frees us from all the limitations placed on us by the Pharisees (of old and the modern version who have become the watchdogs of all that everyone does).

            At the same time I find myself free from worrying over everyone else. I am conscious and concerned for all those souls with whom I come in contact. I bear witness to the freedom that is found in Christ—but I am not responsible for the decision that they make. I no longer have to look for places where I can impose my own brand of bondage so that everyone is like me. Early church fathers determined that the relationship with Christ was issue with believers and not the adherence to the physical restraints of religion.

            Freedom is not always easy, nor is it always popular—we are more comfortable when we give in to our confinements and feel (self-)righteous when we impose them on others. But true freedom occurs when we allow Jesus to be our confinement and our structure. When I let the walls I have built fall away, I discover freedom within the confines of Christ, and He shows me that His walls open up all kinds of roaming space for me . . . as well as others.