Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Day Thirteen: Who am I to Judge?



More and more lately I've been hearing derogatory comments about "judgmental people" (usually, but not always referring to people of faith).  It's true, there is a sort of judgment among people of faith that is faulty and destructive.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for it.  This sort of judgment results from a fixation on rules and legalism.  It is harmful particularly in respect to reaching out to people who do not believe as we do.

The purpose of Christianity is redemption of souls, not modification of behavior.  So when judgement refers to prideful and puffed-up critiquing of another person's actions in hopes of correcting wrong behavior--or worse, in an effort to elevate my own opinion of myself--I agree wholeheartedly that it is bad.  There is an evil and destructive tendency in each of us to place our actions and opinions on a pedestal, and belittle and scorn the actions and ideas of those who disagree with us, but it has no place among the followers of Christ.  We, of all people should recognize that every human is a fallen being and redemption is made possible only through the blood of Christ--not by our perfect performance.  I really want to wrestle through thinking about this, however, because while I think that legalism and pride have wounded too many broken souls, I think we're heading in a direction that is also not quite right.  I don't claim to have any answers at this point, just some uneasiness that needs to be sorted out.

If any pastor or seminary types read this, I'd love your input!

You see, lately the context in which I am often hearing scorn of "judgement" as if it is the unpardonable sin is different from the haughty reproach of legalists wanting the whole world to act better (meaning exactly the way they act).  

However, more and more when I hear people proudly assert that they judge no one and no one should judge them, it is really more in the sense that it is wrong to call anyone else's actions wrong. (Please don't miss the irony there.)  It seems today that to call any action wrong is deemed "judgmental." 

I usually find myself thinking, "You keep using that word.  I don't think it means what you think it means."

Here's my discomfort:  Nearly every time I hear a person say we should not judge others, they typically mean "how dare you call any one else's behavior a sin--because you are not God."  No, I'm not, and we should all be exceedingly thankful for that.  But here's the thing:  God IS God and He did leave us some instructions.  He even gave some commands and prohibitions, and they are pretty easy to find.  Many of them could actually be considered absolutes.  So, because God is God and He set some guidelines, there are some things that are, in fact, sinful.  So it's okay to call them that--not because I say they are sins, but because God says so.  Stating a biblical truth isn't necessarily being judgmental.

Everyone seems to be very familiar with the verses in Matthew 7, where Jesus says the famous lines, "Judge not, lest ye also be judged," and warns listeners that they will be judged according to the standard they use to judge others.  Sobering council, for sure.  However, the advice He gives later in the passage is not to ignore sin, but to "FIRST get the log out of your own eye, and then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."  

We are to search our own hearts first, but we're also expected to help our friends deal with theirs.  I think it's also important to note, for people who love to beat "judgers" over the head with this passage, that I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking so much about individual sins, but about our standing before God.  

At the time, the Jews relied heavily on performance, rituals and their belonging to the Tribes of Israel to make them right with God.  They relied on the law of Moses. The problem is that they missed the point of the law, which was to show them their fallen status before God and help them recognize their need for a Savior.  He was that Savior and was about to institute a new Covenant by which all people, not just Jews, would be judged.  He wanted all people to realize that just as Isaiah said, "all their righteous acts [were] like filthy rags" compared to God's holiness. 

Therefore, if they were judging others according to how well they kept the law--they were in trouble because they themselves would be held to the same standard. I just don't think we can say from this passage that if we call an action sinful that we are judging another in the way Jesus said to avoid.

In fact, later in the New Testament there is ample teaching that in speaking the truth about sin, we are in fact loving others and obeying God by leading them to Him.  For example, in 2 Timothy, Paul instructs: "Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."  

Later in the same letter, he advises Timothy, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing an His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience an careful instruction."   I fear that anyone who follows his charge today would be criticized by many for being judgmental.

We must be gentle.  We must handle the word correctly.  And our motives must be pure--the redemption of others.  We CERTAINLY must first do some log-plucking to get our own spiritual vision clear.  But then we are commanded to speak, while leaving eternal judgement up to the Only One who has the authority to judge.

Think about this:  God will judge men in two ways.  By their own perfection (because perfection is what is required to be in the presence of God), or by Christ's.  Because most people today don't like to think about sin, or call a sin a sin, they consequently assume that they are good enough and God is loving enough that everything will be okay.  Except that it won't.  Not without repentance and submission to Jesus.  But why repent if you don't think your actions are sinful?

Can you see a little why I am feeling so uncomfortable with the whole "let's not be judgmental" movement? I am SO not pushing for legalism.  I am not at all negating the fact that we are also called to show others the grace we have been shown.  I just have some fear and trembling that in an effort to be gracious we are avoiding conversations that will ultimately bring salvation. 




Monday, September 14, 2015

Day Twelve: Roller Coaster Ride



This little guy doesn't look so much like this anymore.  I am sure I've mentioned this a time or two before, because I'm the teeniest bit obsessed about it lately, but, God willing, this May he will graduate high school.  For me, this is a big honking deal because I have homeschooled him since kindergarten--since birth, actually, if you want to count learning to talk, eat with utensils, and use a toilet.  (Fun Fact: Every mom is a homeschool mom.)

I homeschooled all three of my kids, but the girls got a few years in the local public school. The daunting tasks of teaching a child to read and cementing the basics of arithmetic were performed by the wonderful professional staff at Geneva Elementary School, God bless them.  With my girls, I just had to build on the excellent foundation they received during their first few years of formal education.

Not so my boy.  If you know me and know him, it's a little insane that I even attempted schooling him, but here we are! For better or worse, we are in the homestretch.  I should tell you, if my son were to give his version of our homeschool journey, he would say that I taught him until the fifth grade and then he pretty much taught himself.   MY version is that until the fifth grade I gave him the tools he needed to self-educate, and then from fifth grade on gave him ever-increasing opportunities to apply those skills.  Those opportunities included on-line courses, group classes through a wonderful umbrella school, and dual enrollment classes at the local community college.  (Just for the record.)

This spring will be my third and final graduation, and then this very significant task will be complete.  I know some women grieve this event, but I will be doing a hallelujah dance.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved homeschooling and the family bonds that have resulted for us.  Especially with my son.  Let's just say that this has been a beautiful but very hard thing for me.

Circle Christian School, the private umbrella school that we have used since he was a third-grader, puts on a beautiful graduation ceremony. In recognition of the vital role of parents, at the graduation ceremony it is the PARENTS who hand the scholar his or her diploma, not school officials.  Dad gives the diploma and mom moves the tassel on the graduation cap.  As each student walks up on stage to meet his parents, the audience has an opportunity to listen to a pre-recorded message from the parents to the graduate.  It's a great tradition.

As we recorded our message for our first graduate four years ago, I said to my husband, "When Reed graduates, I get the WHOLE forty seconds.  I've earned them."  Truth be told, though, I don't think even the whole forty seconds would suffice.  We may need an entire book.

Schooling this human mountain of exuberance, curiosity, and sensitivity has stretched me beyond imagining and revealed character flaws that I might have remained blissfully unaware of.  The two of us are a study in contrasts.  When we did the Cloud/Townsend assessment of personality, my score on the Introvert/Extrovert scale was on the very extreme of the Introvert end.  His score blew right on past the end of the Extrovert portion.  Seriously, they will have to invent a new test to measure his extroversion because this one just didn't go high enough.  I have a high need for quiet, he makes noise even when he is sleeping.  You get the picture.  Not exactly a match made in homeschooling heaven.

We definitely had our days.  One that stands out vividly was a battle we had over math and the fact that I INSISTED on making him re-do problems that he had miscalculated. Emotions ran high enough that I had to give MYSELF a time-out.  My friend Carla dropped by and found me sobbing on my bed promising, "I am so sending him to public school---and I don't care if they make fun of him and tell him he's stupid!"  (That little confession is for all of you out there who think I'm this sweet, saintly woman who reads aloud to children and is a constant ray of sunshine.)

To add to the excitement, when he was in fourth grade, I began teaching homeschool writing classes to help supplement the family income--leaving him with a list of tasks to accomplish in the dining room while I was in class in the living room.  This poor social being dreaded those hours and HATED those tasks.   Even though I am certain he felt that he worked diligently during those times, I was routinely left with evidence of what else had occupied his time.  Once after a long afternoon of solo work, I came to check his progress and found a disturbing amount still unfinished.  He groaned, "Can't I stop?  I've been doing school aaaalllll daaaaayyyy."  It was so pathetic I might have had pity on him, except that there was a pile of a thousand paper cranes on the table and an upside- down bike (wheels still spinning) in the front room.  On days like that I prayed his diversions were evidence that I was raising the next Thomas Edison.

Another day I finished class and went to check on him.  Nowhere to be found.  So I went outside and called for him.

"I'm up here," he answered from high in a tree by our front porch. "I needed fresh air and movement, so I'm doing my school outside."

 Ever the skeptic when it came to him and school, I asked, "Oh, really? What are you working on?"

Please take a moment to fully appreciate his response: "I'm doing my handwriting lesson."  (Because everyone knows that cursive is much easier to do if you are also trying to balance on the limb of a tree!)

And don't forget that proud mama moment when, on a field trip to the local radio station, my impulsive son  ANSWERED THE TELEPHONE HOTLINE when it rang.  They were not amused.

So, you can see, it's been a roller coaster educating this boy/man, but did we did it.  My boy learned how to learn.   I daresay he learned as much from what he explored while he was avoiding schoolwork as he did from the schoolwork.

And I learned a few things, too.

I learned that it's not good to shush an auditory thinker--because he has to HEAR himself say things in order to understand.

I learned that it's much easier to make up a math deficiency than a relationship deficiency.

I learned that some days it's okay to throw the academics out the window and just have a good belly laugh.  (Our go-to on days like that was a wonderful book titled, "Walter, the Farting Dog.")

I learned that even though silence is golden to me, the endless words of my son are far more valuable and will only be ringing through my home for a very short while.

Most of all, I learned to love the roller coaster.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Anything Update. What a Difference a Week Makes.


A week ago I sat teary-eyed on a couch explaining to my bible study group about my invitation to travel to Myanmar (formerly Burma) with two staff members of She is Safe. My tears were the result of an inner turmoil that had been churning for days.

I really want to go, but really couldn't see why I should.  As I hashed out my struggle to decide, one friend finally asked, "So, should we pray that you WILL go, or that you WON'T?"

My response was, "Yes."

The fear factor really wasn't an issue after the initial shock of the invitation.  As I told my friend Katy, I'm pretty much always afraid, so I've learned to mostly charge on in spite of it because I don't want to miss my life.

My reluctance really had more to do with the fact that it is a large chunk of money, and whether it's out of my bank account or the from the generosity of others, it could just go straight to the work of She is Safe and not spent on sending me halfway around the globe.  I wasn't sure (and I'm still not sure) what I have to offer that would justify the expense. In fact, when I first spoke with the adorable woman who will be leading the trip, she encouraged me just to be open to using "whatever special skills I might have" while we are in Myanmar.  I could not think of a single special skill that might be useful.  I'm really nice--which I guess is a skill--?--and I'm great at reading stories aloud to children.  Aaaannnnd that's pretty much it.

As I sit and type this now, one short week later, I'm in a completely different place, feeling that as long as God keeps giving His yes in response to my yes, I'm going to Myanmar. And I'm fairly certain that it is what I'm supposed to do.

So what changed? First, I finished the book Helping Without Hurting, which is required reading for the trip.  (Everyone should read this book, by the way.)   In the book, the authors emphasize that short-term mission trips, to be most effective, need to be in support of long-term, preferably grass-roots efforts run by nationals in the host country.  The author told of the vital importance of visitors engaging and encouraging the field workers they meet, even claiming that such interactions provide far more value to the trip than any physical or material help.  We westerners (like me) want to hit the road and serve, which too often means doing things that local people could do themselves.  We tend to think of going so far just to fellowship as unproductive.   

So false. 

Think about this: in most of the Majority World, Christians are in the minority.  In Myanmar less than five percent of the population is Christian. To be able to meet with believers from across the globe and know that they are not alone, but supported in prayer by brothers and sisters whom they have now met face-to-face and shared meals with---think what an encouragement that is.  Maybe there IS a need for my "talent" for being nice!

The book was instrumental in changing my perspective, but so were people.  My friend Katy and new friend Kristin, who will be my travel partners, have been a huge encouragement just by sharing their experience, wisdom, and confidence.  Even though we can all agree that we have very little idea how I will be of service on this trip, they are certain that I will be a valuable member of the team--and God will show us how.

It has also been an amazing week to sit and see God work.  Before I even got support letters printed and mailed out, I had received over half of the money for the trip in donations from friends excited to be a part.  Given that encouraging sum, the trip leader called me yesterday saying that she felt comfortable going ahead and purchasing my ticket even though I was still a few hundred dollars shy of the full cost.  On faith we went ahead with buying tickets. Within minutes of getting the confirmation e-mail about the ticket, I got a notification that I had received a donation that would more than cover the needed cost of the ticket.

That's enough confirmation for me to keep moving forward!  If God can make all this happen (because it surely wasn't me), then I guess He'll find a way to use me, too.




Thursday, September 3, 2015

Day Ten: Where'd the Money Go?

My father, because he had four children who just insisted on being fed, clothed and educated, began saving for his retirement when he was 50.  I remember this because I have a vivid memory of riding in a truck with him just after his 50th birthday and he told me, "If you start now saving $25 a month into a mutual fund, you will have more money at age 65 than I will have if I save $500 a month starting now."  (Excellent advice, by the way.)

I am now the age my father was when we had that talk.

I should have a rocking' retirement account going now, shouldn't I?  Not so much.  And because I have passed the half-century mark, I've been thinking seriously about retirement money lately.

I took his advice--at age 20 I opened a retirement account and diligently socked away $30 every month.  Then at age 25 I used the money--minus a penalty--to go to graduate school.  (It was okay, I was still young, right?)

The thing is, between the two of us, my husband and I (mostly my husband) have made a decent amount of money together during our working years.   Not riches, but we've worked hard and been paid for it reasonably well.

Lately as we look at the balances in our respective retirement accounts--and how much is NOT in them-- we scratch our heads and think, "Where did all that money go?"  Surely we should have more to show after all this work!

We joke that we are on the Rapture Retirement Plan.  Jesus needs to come back before we're too old to work.

This search for the missing money has gotten me thinking about the fact that where it went says a lot about what we treasure--so I've been looking back to see what the money trail says about what I value.

I can tell you where it didn't go.  Not to fancy cars.  Not into a fancy house.  Not into decor.  (I think after 22 years of marriage we only have three pieces of furniture that we purchased ourselves. The rest is other people's lovely cast offs.)  I don't have a problem with people spending on things like that, but if you come to my house, it will be clear that my treasure is not in home decor.

Some of the places I see the money spent make me happy--like to support two handsome scholars in Haiti and a sweet girl in the Philippines who sends me the loveliest pictures.  Some of it has helped support missionary pilots for the long term, and some has helped young people take shorter mission trips.  A fair amount of it goes to support the work of organizations who work effectively to help alleviate poverty in transformative ways or help fight human trafficking here and abroad.  I'm also a big believer in participating in the ministry of my church with both my time and my money.  I'm good with this money not being in my retirement account.

I'm also fine that we spent some money on family trips and college educations even if it means we have less in our golden years.

However. 

There is a dark side that my spending patterns are revealing about my treasures.

My bank lets me get reports in the form of pie-charts about categories of spending, and it's quite an eye opener (okay, not really).

I treasure food.  Not eating out, just eating.  When I saw the piece of pie that represented spending on groceries, I asked the hubs if maybe we could get by on just two meals per day...

I treasure books.  It's embarrassing, really, how much I spend on books when there's a library just seven miles away.   (But then the expense would be library late fees....)  Amazon prime with it's free shipping and the instant gratification of Kindle books has definitely put a hurting on my ability to retire young.

But the biggie, the deep dark underside of me is this: I have wee bit of a problem with shoes.    Not any shoes--I don't even own a pair of pumps. No, the problem is running shoes.  It may be a mental-health issue, but for several years now I have been on a rather quixotic quest to find the perfect running shoe that will protect my knees, cushion my aging hips, and at the same time make me ridiculously fast.  I fear my desperation has made me an easy target for any reasonably talented copy-writer working for a shoe company. (In my defense, I only buy shoes that are on sale.)
Don't believe me?  I submit to you my attempt at running-shoe perfection from just this past year--and it doesn't include a pair that I gave away to a college student.




(I know, right?  The purple ones are my current favs.  I've come this close to buying additional pairs--on sale, of course--in case they decide to discontinue them.)

Seriously, if I am ever going to retire, you need to pray that I will let go of this ridiculous dream and accept the fact that they will not create a shoe that can make me fast.

In the meantime, if you happen to wear a size 7.5 I'm having a sale on slightly-used, almost-perfect running shoes to help fund my IRA.







Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day Eight: Better Words than Mine


Today instead of offering my own words, I want to make the gift of these words that touched me this morning.  They are the words of the Apostle Paul, written to believers in Colossus.  Think how beautiful our world would be if we all just lived this advice:

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful."

Shall we take this challenge, my friends?  I'm in.

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