Judgment, Fear and Wisdom

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“Judgment” is a dirty word by modern standards. Though we make judgments about many things every day, the modern ethic of tolerance demands that we shy away from judgment. For that reason, people have a hard time with the Old Testament. Continue reading “Judgment, Fear and Wisdom”

Do We Stand in the Way of the Prodigal

A look at the prodigal son parable through the medium of music.

I am compelled by a phenomenon that I see in modern culture. Maybe it is not a new phenomenon, but the current expression of it is new (because it is happening now). The video above is an example: Jesus, Jesus, is a haunting ballad of the unbeliever by Noah Gunderson. Continue reading “Do We Stand in the Way of the Prodigal”

The God that We Judge

CourthousePeople say that they reject Christianity because of the Old Testament. They say that they cannot believe in a God who strikes people dead and instructs His people to wipe out (kill) other people.

There are other reasons, of course, that people give for not believing. My focus in this writing is only this pop culture view of Christianity and the God of the Bible.

I think what people are saying when they say they cannot believe in the God who is described in the Old Testament is that they can’t believe in a God who seems to be (to us) so arbitrary, angry and jealous as God is portrayed in the Old Testament.

There are many things that can be said in response to this popular sentiment. For one thing, if there is a God, it doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe: God is God regardless of our beliefs. There is Truth in the world, and it transcends me and you. The important question is, then, not what we think about God as revealed in the Old Testament, but whether it is true.

Considering whether God as revealed in the Old Testament is true should begin with some understanding of the Old Testament. In reading what people write and listening to what people say, most people (in my opinion) reject “the God of the Old Testament” or God as revealed in the Bible with very little understanding of what they are rejecting. They are rejecting a distortion or caricature. If you are going to reject something, at least understand what you are rejecting!

Continue reading “The God that We Judge”

Whatever We Fix Our Eyes On We Reflect

I have found myself recently caught up in the torrent, reacting and re-reacting to the various comments, news clips and videos, like waves of offensives and sieges…

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The world seems to be coming unglued! Militant, radical Muslims in Iraq are killing Christians, minority religious groups and even other Muslims. Hamas bombards Israel, and Israel responds with shelling that is killing women and children. At home, police decked out in military gear in a Missouri town are confronting an angry mob looting in the street and threatening to kill policemen.

Daily posts on Facebook and other social media demonize Barack Obama and “liberal Democrats”, or greedy corporations and capitalists, or Israelis or Hamas. The air is filled with ranting on both sides and all sides decrying every conceivable evil in the world. The cacophony seems to be reaching new heights. The many forms of social media make ranting as easy as shouting out the window to a world that is right within earshot.

I have found myself caught up in the torrent, reacting and re-reacting to the various comments, news clips and videos, like waves of offensives and sieges, until I began to realize something was happening to me…. Continue reading “Whatever We Fix Our Eyes On We Reflect”

God Simply Is

We are here today and gone tomorrow. God simply is. God always is. God defines the rules.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)

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Did you ever stop and think, “If God is God, He can whatever He wants”? Somehow it seems politically incorrect to think like that. Should we not love all people? Should we not wish everyone well? Should we not be judgmental? Should not God be like that?

If you think about it without preconceived notions and with a little rational thought, is not God the one who decides those things? I can see why people would want to believe there is no God. “He is not a tame lion” as my favorite author has said. If God is God, we do not control Him. We have no say in the order of the universe or the laws that He put in place. There is no question of right or wrong when it comes to God; God simply IS!

As God instructed Moses when he sent Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, tell them, “”I am who I  am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ”I am has sent me to you.”” (Exodus 3:14) God simply is.

We did not make God. He made us. We did not create the rules for the operation of the universe. God made those rules. We do not define how God must relate to us. God defines how we relate to Him.

God made us like Him. “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) I suppose there should be no wonder that we would be like Him in wanting to control the universe and define it. The thing is, though, it is not our province to establish the rules or define how they work. We may want to control things, but we do not control them.

We are here today and gone tomorrow. God simply is. God always is. God defines the rules. God has mercy and compassion on whom He will.

I consider from time to time the possibility that things might be different. God might be a tyrant. God might be cruel and unmerciful. Some even think He is that way. If it were true, God would not be wrong. God is.

I am thankful God is not that way. God assures us that we will find Him if we seek Him with all of our hearts and souls. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

In the context of God is, however, we do evil when our hearts are not set on seeking God. (2 Chronicles 12:14) Still, even if we have followed after false gods, have worshiped idols and have sinned in the sight of God, if we humble ourselves, pray and seek God, He will hear; He will forgive the sin; He will heal. (2 Chronicles 7:14) I, for one, am very thankful that God is that way … because He does not need to be that way. God is, and He defines the way it is.

The ultimate evil is in not seeking God. We do not think of evil in that way, but it is not for us to define evil. In the context of God is, evil is not acknowledging Him, not recognizing Him for who He is, not seeking Him. Evil is ultimately being separated from the God who made us.

The Contents Are All that Matter

3rd Grade Faberge EggThe old saying, “you cannot judge a book by its cover” has the ring of truth. Jesus said essentially the same thing, “Do not judge by appearances….” (John 7:24)

One difference between God and people is that God sees the heart; we only see the deeds. “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10 When we judge others, we can’t see what God sees. We enter dangerous territory. We tread into the territory of God. Indeed, we trespass on the province of God.

Even though we cannot see into the hearts and minds of other people, we sometimes act as if we can. We spend much time and energy analyzing and dissecting the specs in other’s eyes, ignoring or missing the logs in our own eyes. We go where angles dare not tread.

At the same time, we spend much time and energy making ourselves look good. We do things for others to see because we want approval and a pat on the back. Jesus judged the Pharisees for doing exactly that. He called them “whitewashed tombs”. They looked good on the outside, but they were dead on the inside. The people who pray eloquently for others to hear or give publically for others to see have received their rewards, Jesus said. The approval, acceptance and praise of other people is the reward, but the ultimate reward from God is lost in the process.

Does that mean that any public prayer or gift is of no consequence? I don’t think so. It all depends on the attitude of the heart and mind. It depends on the things that only God sees. God searches our hearts and examines our minds to judge our deeds. If the heart and mind is right when we pray and when we give, our blessing comes from God.

It seems to me that the same principle must work in reverse: that a person who only prays alone and only gives when others are not looking, but does it out of a heart and mind of pride and self-righteousness, is no better off than the person who prays and gives in public to be recognized by others. Again, what matters is what God sees, not what other people see or do not see. What matters is the heart and mind. Our deeds will be judged and rewarded according to the attitudes of our hearts and minds.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we do not always do what we know we should do. We fail to do the right things sometimes even when we want to do the right things (or at least think we want to). We sometimes have a hard time recognizing the truth about ourselves. We condemn ourselves when Jesus says there is no condemnation. We judge others when we are quick to forget our own shortcomings. Frankly, we are not well equipped even to judge ourselves accurately. Who, then, are we to judge other people, let alone their motives?

If we are trusting in ourselves and the good things that we do and have done, we are trusting in the wrong things. Yes, God judges and rewards us according to the things we do, but God searches our hearts and examines our minds in order to reward us according to our conduct. It is not the conduct, itself; it is the heart and mind of the person that counts. We can’t even be certain of our own motivations. Thus, we must pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! … see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

What a state we are in? But that is precisely where God wants us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) If we could judge ourselves accurately, wouldn’t we also become proud of that fact? The truth is that we are utterly dependent on God even for the most basic of things.

Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) Jesus suggests that we will be judged and measured by the same standard we judge and measure others. If we live our lives by that premise, we will give generously and forgive unconditionally and spend no time judging or condemning others.

If God is in the business of rewarding people according to their deeds, we can trust the judging to God. We are not in the position to judge even ourselves. That will free us up to get about the business of doing what God wants us to do: love God with all your heart and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no higher calling. It does not matter what is on the cover; the contents are all that matter.

Pausing the Reality Show

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I stumbled upon on Seth Godin’s blog today. Reality is not a show. He blames what he calls the “punditocracy” for turning life into a game and issues into drama “with winners and losers, villains and heroes and most of all, black and white issues” for their own profit.

From politics to natural disasters and even things like poverty and technology, everything is presented or spun into an “us and against them” reality show, suggests Godin.

Polarization is big business. Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and others on both sides of the ideological divide are pundit business machines. Certainly the liberal gamesters have been a little slower to capitalize on the opportunities that black and white buffoonery provides, but they are coming around. It seems we are becoming more polarized as a society, if politics is any indicator. Has the aisle between the two political parties ever been wider?

At the same time, we do not seem to need much political urging or pontifical force to line up like solders on one side or the other on the issues of the day. The Treyvon Martin case is a prime example. The ink was not dry on the presses when people began to convict or exonerate George Zimmerman in a flood of pontification. Social media allows us to declare our stances almost instantaneously on any issue, national or local. Innocent until proven guilty lost this game, as it usually seems to do in these dramas. Letting the wheels of justice do their things does not seem to fit comfortably into our thought processes.

Android phones must be better than iPhones, or iPhones must be better than Android phones. We do not seem to tolerate uncertainty or inbetweens. Why is that?

Ironically, we hold up tolerance as the ideal to which polite and learned people aspire (or at least that is the standard that we demand of those who disagree with us).

I wonder if we have lost the ability to concentrate on anything long enough to reserve judgment.

I remember watching MTV when it was still Music Television and feeling perplexed by the rapidly changing images in every music video. I could not latch on to anything. It moved too fast. Those music videos of the ’90’s seemed to be a reflection of the way society was going at the time, and continues to go. I am not sure that is the way we want it. Or is that just the way “the media” wants to package it to us? Politicians give us “sound bites” and phrases. Social media allows us to communicate in snippets with Twitter as the extreme example. Email has replaced letters, and texting is preferred to email. Each evolution in technology is tending toward shorter, more truncated, communication.

I think these things are related to the polarization of our society. We are somewhat like lemmings in this reality show life (not that lemmings are anything like what we have been told). We do not want to dwell for long in between; we want to rush to our destination, decision, judgment, adulthood. Maybe that is a reaction to the speed at which information and life comes at us. Maybe it is because we have lost the ability to focus and to hold things in tension.

We act as if each of us is the captain of our own certainty, and we dare not lose grasp of it. In our lives today, every silence is filled with sound, every pause is a transition, every moment is filled with activity. We must latch onto judgment lest we be carried away and lost in the dizzy array of thoughts, images and information whizzing past us like the strobe light scenes of an MTV video.

In this tendency to gravitate quickly to the poles, we lose compassion, understanding and relation. We are drawn into the game and lose the nuance of real-life difficult decisions. In Seth Godin’s words, we “turn pathos into ratings” and make just about everyone “the other”. I am afraid in this process we are losing the sticky interconnectedness that binds us all together in this journey called life. Seth suggests that Facebook “likes” should be replaced with hugs – a little human relation to bridge our different perceptions and viewpoints.

In reality, we are all winners and losers, good guys and bad guys. People are complex. We are not easily reducible to a black/white images. We do ourselves, our neighbors and our world an injustice when we rush to conclusions and judgments. We need space in our existence. We need stillness in our lives. We need to let things percolate in the inbetweens.