Posts Tagged ‘judgment’

First of all, please understand, I am not an “out and out” advocate for abortion. This is not my point. In most circumstances, it is not a choice I would encourage anyone to make, the unintended consequences being far-reaching, unpredictable, and possibly heart-wrenching. And yet, I do not consider abortion murder either. Not in the way so many of my Christian brethren believe. For them, I am apostate.

With that said, please feel free to skip this post. You see, because I will not condemn the woman who chooses this path, particularly without full knowledge of her circumstances, her history, her heart.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” [Matthew 5:21-22a, NIV] Isn’t the implication here, the “same” judgment?

“. . . For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23b, NIV]

“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; . . . [Romans 3:10a, NIV]

Are there people who abuse the legal right to an abortion, treating it like the “morning after pill?” Absolutely, and I find this grievous. But there is no law that doesn’t have abusers and liars. The more often someone abuses any law, the easier it becomes, not allowing the import of their choices to weigh upon their souls.

I know, there are many people I love and respect; for them, there is no time that ending a pregnancy is justified. They claim they speak for the innocents. I get it. But condemnation comes cheap these days, forgetting that no sin is worse than another, not really. Can we really walk in the shoes of the woman who must choose? To make the choice “illegal” will not make her journey any easier.

In other words, I am not the judge or the jury for a woman who seeks to end a pregnancy any more than I am the judge of lifestyle. I have friends of the same sex who have been in very long relationships while many heterosexual (even Christian) friends have cheated on their spouses and often divorced (all forbidden by the “letter of the law’).

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” [John 8:4-7, NIV]

It’s a dilemma and a mystery where to stand. I understand, intellectually, both sides of this dilemma, but, in the end, I have made my choice, one of mercy and grace (given to the very ones who don’t deserve it any more than I do).

When I look at the circumstances into which many children are born in the name of “righteousness,” I quake. Too many children are physically and emotionally abused by unloving adults; too many go hungry; too many are cast-offs and enter a life of resentment and paybacks for the misery of their childhoods. Is this an excuse? No, but it is a reality. Bringing a child into the world comes with responsibility and demands. This is one of many reasons, advocates support a mother’s right to choose – is she a fit mother? Is there a man or partner willing to share the burden of parenthood? Is this the best for the child?

In my view, there is not enough anecdotal evidence of “close-calls” for those adults who were nearly aborted, were not, and became gifts to society. Of course, God is God and anything can happen. But my feeling is that for every wonderful story, there are ten or hundredfold of sorrow. If it were not so, endless poverty cycles and unwed mothers would not be our society’s norm.

Best case? Teach people about longings. Teach both men and women of all ages about sex and why it exists, for joy, yes, but not just a one-night stand but a long-term, ever evolving relationship that is part of becoming parents. Teach people about contraceptives and give them away for free! Demonstrate love. Apply grace.

And let God work out the rest.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:30-31, NIV]

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Illustration by Brain Danaher

I’m not much into fishing. In fact, I’d say I’ve gone fishing exactly one time. This metaphor for drawing people to the Christ doesn’t exactly resonate. My view of fishing: get some equipment, pick/find a spot, bait the hook, throw it out and wait; get a nibble and yank like crazy. Lose fish. Start over.

Matthew 4:19-20
As He was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He noticed two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, throwing a dragnet into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, Come after Me [as disciples—letting Me be your Guide], follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men! [Amplified]

What’s the attraction for fishing? I see people fishing off our town dock all the time. Sometimes in small groups, sometimes alone, sometimes with a kid-relative. When I go on vacation, there are signs everywhere for bait (apparently different bait works with different fish – I got that much). And the first time I actually walked around the fishing department of a sports store, I was shocked. There were so many different lures and poles and gadgets. Did these actually make someone a better fisherman or just high tech?

But let’s go back to the message behind the metaphor. Jesus was talking to fishermen who used nets. It was more like a drop it in and haul ’em out kind of fishing. The expectation was that “human fish” would be hauled in by the hundreds and even thousands. I wonder if the fishermen-disciples started out expecting some additional equipment.

In the end, the fishing was done quite differently: travel, talk, share, teaching, listen, accept, and invite. The bait was love. Only one kind: unconditional.

Some people still think fishing for people requires a lot of extra stuff like buildings and hot worship music and lights and video and an “online presence.” Are people so different today? Or are we just in a hurry?

Peter was in a hurry. By the time he got to the day of Pentecost, he was bringing in believers by the net full. But in the end, despite the initial haul, the most effective method was still travel (go to where the fish are), talking (give and take conversation), sharing (give what you have and can), teaching (what you’ve learned long the way), listening (everyone has a story), accepting (practicing the art of non-judgment), inviting (live life together) and love (do, act, and touch in their best interests).

In God’s time, I am fishing every time I with someone, every time I engage with someone, every time I touch someone, every time I share space with another human being. My success as a fisher-woman is my commitment to handing out the bait.

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Meandering Passage: Light Ahead

After all, peace is fleeting, fragile and easily broken. Peace is readily distracted. Peace is coy, difficult to find and keep. And worst of all, peace is relative to our perceptions and experience. Peace is not simply the absence of violence. Peace is intentional.

Psalm 34:12, 14
Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, . . . Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Before I can even consider the pursuit of peace, I must first turn from evil and do good. In other words, peace is impossible in the midst of evil-doing: lying, cheating, gossiping, coveting, envying, gluttony, resenting and hating, just to name a few. And then there are the more obvious crimes of evil among peoples and nations: murder, adultery, stealing, bribery, destruction, uncontrolled ambition.

How badly do I want peace? Am I willing to turn away from bad habits in the name of peace? Or, is it just a kind of talk, a warm fuzzy type of wishful thinking. Is it like hoping to win the lottery. Am I waiting for some outside force to give me the desire to change? If I just had this or that, then I could change. If my husband was better, different, stronger, more loving and attentive, more anything, then I can change? If my children were more obedient, considerate, thoughtful, reliable, or successful in school, then I can change? If I had a better job and a housekeeper, a cook and a complete wardrobe, then I can change?

Then I can exercise every day and stop eating emotionally, then I can stop hiding my “white lies,” then I can stop judging and gossiping, then I can stop envying my contemporaries for their apparent successes. Then…. then…. then?

Here’s the most likely solution. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not turning away from the evils and mistakes all at once. It’s in baby steps. And for each turning, there is a puzzle piece to the mystery of peace. Each time, I choose to walk away from the gravitational pull of sin (error, offense, pride), the path to peace is lit up just a little more.

Do I love life? Real life. Expansive, balanced, thrumming life? Or, have I settled for less?

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Here’s a picture for you, hate as a knife; hate as a gun; hate as a club; hate as a poison dart. They are all tools that a person can use to unleash a violence on someone else and it does damage, sometimes permanent. Hate is potent. Who am I kidding? It’s always within my grasp.

I John 3:15
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

Over the years, I have engaged many people about my faith. And, in particular, my desperate need for forgiveness, for my own sins as well as a willingness to forgive others. So often, their comeback to me is that they haven’t done anything so bad: they haven’t murdered anyone or stolen anything or taken lethal drugs. They speak as though there is such a thing as an “ordinary” life of niceness, their “good person” syndrome, a whitewash.

But I say they have murdered, at one time or another, with hate. And, unfortunately, in the paradoxical world of God, that hate might have appeared justified, the object being a mean, cruel, even evil-seeming person, or an adulterer, a child abuser, a wife beater, a liar, a betrayer. Do any of these descriptions make your blood boil?

That’s different, you say. They deserve to be hated; they broke the laws of humankind. They are “Cain: who slew Abel” [Genesis 4]. Instead of casting them out of the garden, you cast them out of your life. It’s a way to soften the feelings, to put blanks in the pistol, to dull the edge of hate.

There were years I hated my own mother for the emotional damages she brought into my life. There were times I hated my brother out of sheer jealousy for his abilities, for his “position” in our family, for his successes that perpetually outshone my own. There were intervals I hated my husbands (in certain seasons of our shared lives), for their disdain of me as a woman, for their disregard, for their isolations. There were girls I hated who were prettier than me, smarter than me, “in” while I was “out,” or acknowledged while I was invisible. There were lovers who bruised my heart and cast me aside. There were neighbors who crossed the line of decency. There were . . . there are . . . enemies of the state, terrorists, and many, many, unnamed villains.

Oh yes, plenty of people to hate. And yet, none of my hate effective in relieving my own soul, heart or mind of injury. What has been done to me, I cannot re-write, I cannot change my past with the weapons of hate, nor can I pay them forward. Hate perpetuates hate. It feeds upon itself.

Back to the paradox: there is a reason that Jesus taught us to love our enemies [Matthew 12:44]. I think we have mistakenly relegated this command to an ideal, something nice to work toward. But I have come to believe it’s a weapon in its own right, not just as powerful as hate, but more powerful. It’s a neutralizer, a transformer. If hate is a weapon, love is a bomb that changes the landscape completely.

It’s not a suggestion: it’s a guarantee.

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Favoritism with ice cream is a lot different than favoritism with people. Oh I might try not to judge people on first impressions but I find it inescapable. Can I overcome these moments with intentional action?

James 2:1, 4
My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Some years ago when we still lived in Atlanta, we attended a small church composed mostly of fellow believers who had been asked to split away from a larger denominational church because of our bent toward the charismatic. One of our leaders, Jim, was a wonderful man, kind and dignified, smart and loving. I will never forget the day he taught about enthusiasm: “If you want to be enthusiastic, sometimes you just have to act enthusiastic to feel it.” And then he proceeded to stomp and cheer and pump his arms around like a lunatic. It was hysterical but his message stayed with me.

Personally, enthusiasm comes easily to me. In fact, when I’m excited about a project, I’m quite the cheerleader, almost nauseatingly so, I’m sure. But how can I take that passionate commitment to action and use it to break down my internal tendencies toward judging others through intentional choices to change?

Some people call it a “besetting sin.” When I looked that up, it can also mean a type of harassment, or being surrounded, or an obsession. I can certainly relate to my judging of others in that way. My time in confessional prayers is dominated by asking forgiveness for my judgments. And in my way of thinking, judgment and favoritism go hand in hand. I cannot “favor” one person above the other without having made a negative of judgment of the other.

What to do? I know I can’t just tell myself to stop. If that worked, I’d be golden by now. Should I treat it as a bad habit and follow these 29 Tips for Changing a behavior?

Here are some suggestions from Oprah.com (go figure) written by Tim Jarvis. At first I was going to make a joke about it, but perhaps I need to take a few of these ideas to heart:

  • Like the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, it may take a number of efforts to get to the “boiling point” or threshold when things happen. So, in my case, the more I tackle this issue, the more aware I am and the more opportunities to get over the hump.
  • I need to think more about the other side, what it would look like and feel like to “not” be a judge so much. Instead of looking back at my failures, look ahead.
  • One of the approaches for change is to engage in community. This is why groups like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous are so important: support and encouragement. Hmmm. Not sure how to translate my habit of the heart into a club of regenerated judges.

A friend of mine who struggles with food addiction says that this is one of the most difficult addictions to tackle. After all, unlike alcohol and drugs which can, to some degree be avoided, food is always with us. I think judging and dis-favoring others is similar. People are everywhere. I say that I love to “people watch,” but I wonder if that’s not just a buzz word for judging, mocking, and categorizing. Not a good thing.

What do you do? Honestly. Am I really alone out here?

Lord, forgive me again. Today. And right now, I’d appreciate it.

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Grace is everything. If I could only grasp the full power of grace every day, nothing could cause lasting harm. Grace diffuses anger, despair, disappointments and resentments which all fuel bitterness. And bitterness hurts everyone.

Hebrews 12:15
Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God’s grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it.

For some years I worked with the Elijah House ministries; I read many of the John and Paula Sandford books, I participated in the Basic School which taught the essentials of prayer for healing and how to recognize and address bitter root judgments. I met with my own counselor for several years.

So many early bitter roots are like persistent weeds in the garden that grow very deeply in the soil. They cannot be merely cut at ground level, they must be pulled out, otherwise, they will tend to grow back, sometimes larger, stronger, and even deeper than before.

Hurtful instances in our past act in the same way and can derail a life. My own life was on a treadmill of resentments about situations that were mostly outside my direct control: my father’s alcoholism and death when I was a child, my mother’s mental illness, our relative poverty, my brilliant brother, just to name a few. I had an internal tirade always playing in my head: why these parents, why this family, why this city, why this school, why this husband, and why this body. And the follow up to “why” became “if only” — if only I had more money, if only I had a different family, etc. The litany was endless. And each verse dug my roots in deeper and deeper.

When I began the healing process of allowing the Spirit to weed my garden heart, I thought I would explode into a million pieces. I had held on to those issues for so long that I didn’t know who I would be without them.

Although I was able to release many of my old hurts and habits, I recognize now that a life picks up other hurts along the way. Not all bitter roots come from childhood or even teen years, they can find yummy soil ten years ago or five or even yesterday. How deeply they are planted and how much I water my bitter roots will determine how easily they can be removed.

This is where grace comes in, through the love and power of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Messiah, and the intention of God to make all things well.

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The second appearance of the Christ is critical to the faith. But I must say, it’s been an event a long time coming. No one can really imagine what the Second Coming might look like. Scriptures are fairly vague at best.

Hebrews 9:28
. . . so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

There’s Revelation 1:7 — “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. . . ” and Matthew 24:30 — “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” and II Thessalonians 1:7b — “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

So what do we have here: clouds, flames, and signs with the Son of Man manifesting in the midst of it all. Artists have rendered this idea/image as either the Bible School Jesus all in white, robes flowing, or some kind of King image, all in gold, often times on a horse, and full of majesty (whatever that means). In either case, he is recognizable. Me? I don’t think so. I don’t think we’ll understand the Second Coming any more than we understand the ways of nature. We may be able to describe its properties, but not its essence.

Some people talk about the Second Coming of Christ as their chance to say to unbelievers, “See, I told you so,” “I warned you!” They act as though they wouldn’t be in the same shock and terror and wonder! Face it. How many times do things appear out of nowhere in the sky? I have to laugh as I consider whether all the spaceship movies are getting us ready for that appearance.

Of course, not everyone believes this can even happen. I remember standing at a bus stop every day to wait for the public bus that would carry me to high school (this is pre-school buses in Indianapolis). On the corner was a church of some type or another and on their sign, it always said, “Jesus is coming soon!” From my limited understanding of Christianity in those years, I thought they were really stupid. How could Jesus come again if he had already come. This was a teaching I never got (or understood) in Vacation Bible School or the more formal Latvian Lutheran church services. I don’t think I was alone.

A Second Coming is not something which we can prepare for in any way. When Harold Camping touted his May 21st forecast of judgment day (now pushed back to October 21st), he made it sound like people could actually do something in time for that day. That’s not the purpose of Christ’s coming. It’s the end of the age. Whatever happens next will be new, different, not recognizable. It may mean death or it may mean transformation. It’s a nexus moment. When the Christ comes, and if indeed, it’s “in the sky,” then the universe has changed dramatically. Both things cannot co-exist and be the same as before.

And why do the scriptures say that people will mourn? Is it because they didn’t believe or is it the loss of what we know. Our children and our children’s children will not know life as we know it. Everything must change. Everything will change. And if we don’t like change now, “Baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

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