Tag Archives: Judgment

Words, Words, Words

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:36-37

Just last week I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the forensics of words. Scientists were able to accurately ascertain who wrote each of the disputed Federalist Papers by studying the words the writers used. Our words are like our fingerprints. We can be identified by our words.

Words. It strikes me this morning that my life is a trail of words. Just this blog alone has 3,625 posts. If I average 300 words per post (I’m not sure what the real number is), that’s nearly 1.1 million words. Yikes.

I think back to all of my words. There are the words I’m proud of like these blog posts, messages delivered, plays, stories, “my life for yours,” and countless repetitions of “you are lovable, valuable, and capable.”

And, there are words that condemn me. Broken vows, empty promises, critical words, profanities, obscenities, words of darkness. I can call them to mind just as quickly. They are mine. I’ll be honest with you: Jesus promise of judgement for every word sobers me up quickly. My own words condemn me.

Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

This morning I am simply reminded that my words are a spiritual barometer. Perhaps I need to be more economical with my words. Fewer words, chosen more wisely. Beginning now.

 

 

 

(Have a good day!)

Judgment, Fruit Inspection, and Mixing Metaphors

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

For over 25 years I have been in the business of the behavioral analysis of human interactions (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training and quality assurance purposes“). One time the Quality Assurance (QA) manager of a client told me that she gave an agent a score of “0” on her call. There were about 30 behavioral criteria analyzed in a given call so that the score reflected a generally accurate picture of what the customer did and didn’t experience in the interaction. To get a “0” an agent would almost have to pick up the phone and immediately stroke out, but even then the agent would be credited for not rushing the caller off the phone. Getting a zero is practically impossible if the agent had blood pressure and a pulse.

As I asked a few questions I soon discovered that the manager didn’t particularly like the agent who took the call she scored “0.” I suspect there were other employment or personality issues between the two. When the agent did something the manager didn’t like on the call, the manager took the opportunity to exercise her power and dismiss the agent and her performance as utterly worthless.

In today’s chapter Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount with a direct command not to be judgmental of others. He goes on to illustrate what he means by describing those who will find a “speck” of something wrong about someone else which they use to justify their judgment, grudge or dismissive attitude towards that person. The judgmental person is, of course, ignoring the glaring 2x4s of their own personal flaws as they do this.

Later in the chapter Jesus is speaks specifically about “false prophets.” In Jesus day there were all sorts of religious teachers, cult leaders, and false prophets making all sorts of religious claims. One of the things we fail to realize is that teachers and preachers claiming to be the Messiah were quite common in Jesus’ day. Just like televangelists and cult leaders in our current era, it was a lucrative gig to convince the crowds you’re the Messiah.

Jesus then gives a word picture to help his listeners be discerning and objective in their Quality Assurance assessment of these “false prophets.” Look at the fruit of their teaching and ministry. Is it the things of God? Goodness? Humility? Generosity? Repentance? Reconciliation? Changed lives? Or is it the things of this world? Wealth? Arrogance? Pride? Power? Control? Hatred? Look at the outcomes and results of these prophets and teachers. That’s the way to know if they are servants of God or servants of themselves.

Along my life’s journey I’ve run into many of my fellow followers of Jesus who will proudly and loudly proclaim: “I’m not supposed to judge other people, but I am called to be a fruit inspector!” These individuals then quickly find a “speck” on the “fruit” of another person’s life and feel perfectly justified in claiming the power and authority to dismiss or condemn the whole tree for quality issues. They use Jesus’ call to be “fruit inspectors” of false prophets to justify their judgement of anyone and everyone’s “specks.”

This morning I’m thinking about the ways we mix up Jesus’ metaphors and twist His teaching to justify the very things he commands us not to do. Even as I write this I’ve got my own 2x4s staring me square in the face. I’m praying for mercy this morning, and confessing my own critical and judgmental attitude towards others. God’s Message tells us that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. In order to consistently produce a good crop there is regular regimen of cultivating, watering, tending, and pruning. I’ve been following Jesus a long time, but I constantly have some pruning to do.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

I Don’t Want to Ruin the Surprise

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
Isaiah 66:22-24 (NIV)

Today we end our long journey through Isaiah’s prophetic tome. Granted, it’s a long slog at 66 chapters. Yikes! We started in late September last year. Isaiah’s work ends with a vision of the end times. It’s what theologians call eschatology: the study of the end times and the final destiny of humankind. Once again, there are clear connections between Isaiah’s vision in today’s chapter and that of John in Revelation.

The study of eschatology has never been an exact science.  Intelligent, knowledgable, and sincere scholars have forever argued this theory and that theory regarding how all things are going to end. I was raised in the conservative protestant evangelical tradition to believe that Jesus would someday call all believers on earth to be “raptured” to heaven, triggering a seven-year tribulation of hell on earth, followed by the return of Jesus to earth, the imprisonment of Satan, and a 1,000 year reign of Christ, followed by a final battle and judgment in which the saved go to heaven and the unsaved go to hell.

There are countless other versions of the end times in which the same Biblical texts are interpreted a myriad of different ways. There are versions in which there is no rapture, or the rapture will happen half-way into the tribulation, or the rapture will happen after the seven years of tribulation. There are versions in which there is no 1,000 year reign, or perhaps the 1,000 year reign has all already happened, or perhaps it’s happening all right now, or perhaps it will never happen literally, or perhaps it will happen but with no real eternal damnation, or perhaps… you get the picture.

When I was younger I studied it all more fervently, presented my own interpretation more dogmatically, and took it all more seriously. The longer I’ve continued in my journey following Jesus the less important it has become to me. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I will forever continue my journey into God’s Message and pursue Christ. I have just noticed along my journey that we who claim to follow Jesus have historically been quick to place too much importance on theological litmus tests at the expense of the only two things that Jesus Himself said were truly important.

This morning I’m thinking about Wendy. My wife hates when surprises are ruined. She will blissfully ignore hints, turn a blind eye, and put things out of her mind if she thinks that it might ruin what is intended to be an eventual surprise. When Jesus was asked about His return He deferred knowledge and said, basically, “it’s a surprise.” I think I’ve adopted Wendy’s attitude as my theological bent toward eschatology. It was obviously meant to be a surprise.

So, taking a cue from Wendy, I think I’ll let the whole end-time thing be the surprise Jesus intended. Today, I’ll just keep focused doing the two things Jesus said were important for me to do:

  • Love Him.
  • Love others (even Amillenialists)

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My Butt Ain’t That Big

God’s Message to his anointed,
    to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand…
…I’ve singled you out, called you by name,
    and given you this privileged work.
    And you don’t even know me!
Isaiah 45:1,4 (MSG)

Yesterday, over coffee with a friend, I was sharing my experiences of attending a fundamentalist Bible college one semester. My friend asked me where the college was and I told him where it was located.

He looked at me in surprise.

I never knew there was a Bible college there!” he exclaimed.

Shhhhh!” I whispered, lifting my finger to my mouth. “They don’t want you to know they’re there!

I was jesting, of course, but the truth of the matter is that throughout most of my life journey I’ve found many followers of Jesus, and especially many of the denominational institutions, are an exclusionary bunch. Membership requires strict adherence to a rigid set of doctrinal beliefs and/or public adherence to a list (sometimes formal, sometimes not) of moral and puritanical behavioral rules. If you don’t tow the line, you’re not welcome. Many will go so far as to say that if you don’t tow the line then you’re not only not welcome in their church but you’re also not going to be welcome in heaven either.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and the deeper I get in my relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the more I’ve come to see this exclusionary religious model, adhered to by so many proclaimed Christian institutions and denominations, as antithetical to God’s actual Message and example.

In today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah gives a message about Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid empire in the middle part of the sixth century B.C.. Cyrus was not Jewish. He didn’t claim to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. In fact, Cyrus had a reputation of a “live and let live” policy for allowing the nations he conquered continue to pursue their local religions. It was quite progressive in his day. Cyrus was not one of “God’s chosen” people, and yet God through the prophet Isaiah calls Cyrus his “anointed” whom He has “taken by the hand.” God has “singled Cyrus out” and “called him by name” even though Cyrus has no knowledge of this.

This morning I am reminded that the Creator, and Almighty God, does not live inside the box of my personal doctrinal and religious parameters. I am responsible to follow the path to which I am called, to follow Jesus’ teachings and example, to live out the comprehensive law of Love, to let God be God, and leave judgment to the Judge who is infinitely beyond all that my finite mind can think or imagine.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is a huge chair.

My butt isn’t nearly big enough to fit on it.

 

“Every Subject’s Soul is His Own”

church elders“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.” Ezekiel 18:30 (NIV)

This morning as I read today’s chapter I was reminded of a story shared with me by a man raised in a very conservative, religious family. In his youth, the man had been a real hellion, getting involved in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors and rebelliously acting out against his parents. Because of his rebellious reputation, the elders of the religiously constipated church paid weekly visits to his father, shaming him for not being able to control his son. In turn, the son seemed to carry a sense of guilt and shame for what he put his parents through.

In a land and culture of rugged individualism and personal freedom, I think it’s hard for most of us to fully grasp the social realities of living in a staunch, patriarchal society like that of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. While there are still pockets of it as in the example I shared, I think most of fail to fully appreciate how power, wealth, and position flowed from father to eldest son or male relative. From a societal perspective, shame and guilt was shared in the same way. A father’s shameful acts tainted the son’s reputation. A son’s shameful acts tainted the father’s reputation and ability to control his family.

I have observed that in these types of patriarchal sub-cultures the truths of God get easily and confusedly mixed up with the cultural rules and power plays of the local authority figures (family fathers, church elders, town council, secret cabals of local businessmen, and etc.). So it was in Ezekiel’s day, and in today’s chapter God attempts to set the record straight through Ezekiel.

A child is not guilty for the sins of his or her parent and a parent is not guilty for the sins of his or her rebellious child. Each person must stand in judgment before God for his or her own actions. Period.

Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own.”
– Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1)

Today, I am thinking about ways I may have mindlessly allowed one person’s actions or reputation taint my feelings or actions towards that person’s other family members. And, I’m determining to change my way of thinking.

Needed: A Good Samaritan in a Hell-Fire and Brimstone World

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...
An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Job 20:29 (NIV)

Zophar now responds to job, and there is a subtle yet major twist to the rhetoric. Up to this point, the three amigos have been making the case that, in this life, the righteous are blessed and the wicked suffer. Job continues to argue that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities he is suffering.

Zophar now expands the rhetoric and introduces the theme of death into the mix:

Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
    and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
    banished like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will not see him again;
    his place will look on him no more.
His children must make amends to the poor;
    his own hands must give back his wealth.
The youthful vigor that fills his bones
    will lie with him in the dust.

Their appeals are clearly not working, and the self-righteous trio are hell-bent on satiating their judgmental blood-lust. Zophar decides on escalate things to another level. It’s time to pull out the big guns. He brings out a little hell-fire and brimstone from the rhetorical arsenal to convince Job to repent before he dies and returns to the dust and remembered no more.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

I remember seeing a story on CBS Sunday Morning several weeks ago (the show is part of the Sunday morning ritual for Wendy and me) exploring our concepts of heaven and hell. They interviewed an old hellfire and brimstone preacher and included a clip of his fear inducing rants from the pulpit. It seems to me he must be a spiritual descendant of Zophar. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the appeal to fear with the example of Jesus who said He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. At the same time, even Jesus was known to utter a stern warning now and then, and I have come to realize along the journey that God uses all sorts of messengers and messages to reach the ears of His lost children.

Today, I am thinking about Zophar and his friends, who seem more concerned with proving themselves right than about loving, comforting, and easing Job’s pain. It’s as if their spiritual world view carries more importance than a simple act of kindness. They seem like the good religious folks who passed by the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the righteous, religious folks who acted in accordance with the heart of God, but the unrighteous, on-his-way-to-hell-in-a-handbasket bloke from the other side of the tracks in Samaria who simply acted with compassion and kindness.

Job needs a Samaritan. So do a lot of other hurting people. That’s who I want to be.

Unconditional Love for Irreconcilable Suffering

job-and-eliphaz2“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
Job 4:7-8 (NIV)

When I was young, I began to notice that men and women have very different sub-textual conversations. I became fascinated with a phenomenon I observed in my female friends. I would be in a social setting with a female when another female enters the room. My friend would suddenly turn and whisper some critical remark about the stranger. A few probing questions led me to the realization that within a nano-second my female companion had sized up the female who just entered the room and had filled out a complete mental dossier on her competition. She knew what the other female was wearing, her socio-economic status, what kind of person she was, and exactly where she was to be filed in the categorized file cabinet of her brain. The hi-speed, interpersonal judge, jury, and executioner from across the crowded room.

Along the journey I have continued to observe this non-verbal social world of women. I have, after all, spent much of my life in an estrogen wonderland surrounded by females. I find it fascinating. (Personal Note: I realize that I’m making a broad generalization here. I’m not picking on women. Men have similar unspoken judgments, but in my experience it just looks and behaves differently. That’s another blog post for another day.)

As Wendy and I were in the depths of our journey through infertility, I became aware of just how deep and strong women’s thoughts and core beliefs around pregnancy and motherhood can run. In this unspoken, invisible world of non-verbal female communication there exists a sub-culture in which fertility is spiritual currency. If you are a woman who gets pregnant at the drop of a hat and cranks out multiple children in succession, then you are a female all-star, blessed and living right. If you are a woman struggling to conceive then there are some serious question marks surrounding you and this curse you are experiencing. There must be some reason God is withholding this fundamental female blessing from you.

In yesterday’s chapter we left Job and his three friends on the ash heap. For seven days the four of them sat in silence when Job finally opened his mouth to speak. What poured out what was a highly emotional rant of despair that you might have expected from a man who had lost his children, his workforce, his wealth, and his livelihood before breaking out in painful sores all over his body.

Today, the first of his three friends opens his mouth to speak. His name is Eliphaz, and he comes from the ultra-religious wing of society for whom life is very simple. Everything in life fits neatly into their black and white box and it parallels the thinking I’ve observed around fertility in certain subsets of the female population. If you are visibly prospering you must be living upright and piously because God is blessing you. If you are visibly suffering then you must have done something to deserve God’s punishment. Plain and simple.

Too simple. Eliphaz asks, “Who, being innocent ever perished?” Stop right there, Eli. Let me give you a short list off the top of my head:

  • Still born and miscarried children
  • The millions who were marched into the Nazi gas chambers
  • Millions of civilian war victims throughout history
  • The journalists who were beheaded on video by ISIS to make a point
  • The Christian couple I read about in Pakistan who just last week were beaten to death by the Muslims in their village.
  • My friend who was hit by a drunk driver
  • My friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short by incurable diseases

Job has suffered incredible tragedy and the first thing he hears from his friend is a backhanded accusation that he must have done something to bring down God’s wrath upon himself. Eli’s words reveal his heart. He is less concerned with showing love, empathy, and compassion to his friend, and more concerned with trying to reconcile what he’s witnessed with the rose-colored glasses through which he sees a simple black and white world.

Today, I am thinking about those who suffer around me in ways I can’t comprehend. I am determined that I do not want to be a friend like Eliphaz. Trying to reconcile irreconcilable suffering within my personal world-view is less important than simply loving a suffering friend without reservation or judgment.