Romans 2:1-11 – Against Condemning Others

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So, when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (NIV)

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, merely upheld the teaching of his Lord Jesus, who said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NRSV)

Although most people would affirm that showing favoritism is a bad thing, in practice we have a difficult time avoiding it – especially in an election season, like the one in the United States. Political mudslinging is (unfortunately) a time-honored American tradition. And so is religious judgmentalism.

Some of the most emotionally laden vitriol comes from folks who are so heavily entrenched in their religious convictions that they believe any deviation from their way of belief is worthy of scathing criticism.

People, however, do not change because someone criticizes or judges them. They experience transformation through basic divine and human kindness. As a hospital chaplain in a behavioral health unit, I affirm this to be true. Many patients have been told repeatedly by family or friends to stop doing something, get with it, move on, wake up, etc. – all with the condescending edge of judgment. Yet, when someone takes notice, is curious about them, offers helpful encouragement and a listening ear without trying to fix, souls become open to receiving the healing grace of love and truth.

God shows no partiality, and neither should we. God is right, just, and fair in all dealings with everyone. The Lord judges according to divine standards of righteousness and mercy, no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or social standing. And it is all laced with the love and compassion of Christ.

Christians are not exempt or given a pass on being judgmental. Our own unhealthy practices, bad habits, and angry outbursts will be treated just like any non-Christian by God. In a time when decrying the moral condition of our world is nearly a spectator sport, the New Testament lesson for today reminds us that we must first be concerned for the condition of our own hearts before we can point the finger at another.

We all equally stand in need of God’s grace in Jesus.  There is a symbiotic relationship between our actions and the state of our hearts.  A soft and tender heart toward God leads to obedience; disobedience hardens the heart and leads to God’s wrath, no matter the individual.

So, it will help if we all faithfully engage in daily spiritual practices which keep our hearts attentive and alert to God’s will and way.  No matter how busy we are, or how we feel, to forego or ignore the Word of God and prayer on a regular basis will slowly calcify our hearts and render them unable to respond rightly to grace.  Instead, we can drink deeply of the gospel throughout every day so that we may experience peace.

Judgmentalism, favoritism, and cronyism all begin to melt away when we pick up the tools of empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance – using them to forge connections and supportive encouragement. It takes little to no practice to bludgeon someone with condemning criticism. However, it takes repeated practice to speak and act with grace, mercy, and peace, especially when we are stressed and/or anxious about our surrounding circumstances.

Instead of judgment, observe and be curious. Seek more information. Expand the gap between observation and conclusion. The ability to have an awareness of one’s own emotions, to be mindful of self and surroundings, and to do it all with neither criticism nor judgment is perhaps the highest form of intelligence and spirituality.

It is kindness which leads others to repentance, not condemnation. Grace has the final word, not judgment. So, let us be blessed through a gentle spirit which spreads the goodness of God throughout the world.

O God, thank you for the gift of prayer and the grace of your Word.  May it seep deep down into my heart so that I am compassionate and kind, just like Jesus.  Amen.

Titus 2:7-8, 11-15 – “Yes” to Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (NIV)

It is grace which teaches us, enabling and ennobling us to forsake ungodliness and embrace hope. Grace is the scandalous and radical blessing of mercy, forgiveness, and love to those undeserving of it. Judgment is no teacher; it only condemns with criticism leading to self-contempt. Grace inoculates us from the self-despising words of the inner critic, whereas the judgmental voice heaps derision upon the soul and agrees with anyone who comes along and ridicules, despises, or scorns us.

God’s grace in Christ is redemptive. It challenges the notion we are not enough in comparison to others. Grace makes us better instead of telling us we should be better. The redeemed person, made over with abundant grace, accepts herself as a precious child of God, and so, becomes impervious to the critical rejection of others. After all, she has been received and adopted by the Lord of all. Grace enables us to advocate for ourselves and others, since we have an Advocate alongside us continually.

The shame of our past, the struggles of the present, and the stress of a perceived future all begin to melt next to the warm and purifying fire of grace. Jesus has snatched us back. We belong to God. Eager to be upright and holy in all things, and patiently waiting for the return of Christ, every good thing Christians are and do is because of grace.

The grace of God empowers us to choose the good and eschew the bad. It lifts us with encouraging love and support while simultaneously strengthening our faith to chuck the ungodliness. It is imperative we get interested in the truth of grace as it pertains to self. In fact, the Apostle Paul began his letter to Titus with an emphasis on what is true:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time. (Titus 1:1-2, NIV)

God is gracious. God is true. Therefore, grace is truth. The believer leans into and relies upon the unmerited and undeserved mercy and kindness of God, who does not merely speak truth but is truth itself. “I am the truth,” Jesus said to his disciples, as the very embodiment of honesty and veracity. (John 14:6)

There is a significant difference between doing good because of arm-twisting and living a godly life because of grace. Being cajoled into living the straight-and-narrow is accomplished typically through shaming another to the point of conformity. This is not the way of Christ. Grace bestows renegade love to extravagant sinners. Such a gift is so incredibly overwhelming that gratitude with delightful duty is the typical response.

Furthermore, grace is to be the example given to others. The Christian’s life is to be a model of saying “no” to unconscionable behavior and “yes” to a mindful righteousness which has awareness of the ways of grace. Like changing a filthy set of clothes, we are to put off self-condemning lies and put on the grace of the Lord Jesus. We are to put off the old ratty garments of judgmentalism and put on the new clean raiment given by Christ which is worthy of a royal child of God. Well, of course, we do not deserve this – which is why it is grace.

God is shaping and forming a people of grace in faith communities, distinct from and in stark contrast to judgmental persons in unjust structures of the world – a holy people, a special and treasured possession of the Lord, committed to observing divine ways of grace. (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)

Grace is one-way love. Watch other people you respect as examples and consider their happiness. You will see it over and over: one-way love lifts-up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life.

Almighty God and ever-present Lord of grace, you have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. And in all I do today, direct me to the fulfilling of your gracious purposes through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Mark 7:1-13 – Unmasking Hypocrisy

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One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”

Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you. ’In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” (NLT)

As I read this Gospel text for today, I tried to imagine what emotions Jesus might have experienced when confronted about the lack of attention to tradition from his disciples concerning ritual hand washings – maybe frustration, anger, sadness, exasperation, disappointment, irritation, aggravation, or discouragement. Perhaps Christ felt all those emotions. Whatever Jesus was feeling at the time, I can easily see him taking a deep breath and exhaling a great big *sigh* over the religious leaders’ hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is a disconnect between the values we espouse and our behavior. When there is incongruity between what we say is important and how we really live, this is being two-faced and duplicitous. The men who came to see Jesus were plain old insincere hacks who practiced religious quackery. And Jesus saw right through their fake pretension of righteousness.

First off, this narrative is not a dig on rituals themselves but on using ritual to leverage an appearance of religious superiority over others. This type of motivation for engaging ritual ignores the ethical and moral intention of those rituals.

Sometimes folks can get so doggone wrapped up in how faith is represented that they lose sight of the faith itself.

Hypocrisy has to do with our motives – not so much what we do but why we do it. Rituals are good. Why we do them or not, or how we go about doing them, gets at the heart of our objectives for engaging religious practices. Are they truly a worship offering to God, or are they merely mechanisms for keeping up appearances of holiness?

Hypocrisy is acting a part which is not truly us. It is to live from the false self through the attempt of providing an idealized perfect person to the public instead of embracing the true self and realizing our common humanity with one another in genuine devotion to God and service to others. Religious hypocrisy is particularly insidious because it uses what is sacred for selfish purposes. It damages the credibility of the religion, creates idolatry, and covers hate with a veneer of pretentious piety.

The hypocrite is one who is a bundle of disparate parts in massive need of integration to a whole and real self. The cost to facing this is vulnerably exposing oneself as flawed, imperfect, even ugly. Many persons have no willingness to be viewed by others as such, so they maintain their play-acting and continue to seek the attention and accolades as a model religious person.

We all must come to grips with the reality that God cares a whole lot about why we do what we do.

When the forms of faith become tools of oppression and crushing burdens upon others backs, then those forms have supplanted the faith itself. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and from the heart the hands and feet move. Whenever we care more about being and appearing right than getting it right and becoming better, then we have a heart problem. The heart of the issue is the heart itself. Clean up the heart, and everything else follows – not the other way around.

The probity of today’s Gospel lesson is that we might misinterpret what is important to God. We may be playing the hypocrite yet have the belief we are genuine. The capacity for our hearts to enlarge with love is in direct relation to an awareness of the hidden motives buried within those hearts. Evil intentions and motivations are what separate us from God – not our race, class, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, behavior, rituals, or anything else on the outside.

 

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“You can see the speck in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the log in your own eye. How can you say, ‘My friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You’re nothing but show-offs! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.” –Jesus (Matthew 7:3-5)

If we find ourselves being nit-picky of others, this is usually a clue that the unconscious self is trying to protect us from facing the pain of our own sins by projecting and focusing on another’s supposed missteps with tradition or ritual.

Fortunately, Jesus came to this earth full of grace and truth. Christ sometimes, maybe oftentimes, set aside niceness and decorum to go for the heart. In shining light on the motives behind the deeds of people, some repented and received the good news of the kingdom of God; and, others resisted to maintain their illusion of control and superiority. None could ride the fence with Jesus around. You either loved him or hated him.

The beauty of grace is that when we squarely and uncompromisingly face our sins and let go of things we consider so important, and turn to God with authenticity, we are welcome at his Table.

Most holy and merciful Father, we acknowledge and confess before you our sinful nature, prone to evil and slow to do good, and all our shortcomings, offenses, and malevolent motives. You alone know how often we have sinned in wandering from Christ’s way of grace and truth, in wasting your gifts of compassion and justice, and in forgetting your love. O Lord have mercy on us. We are ashamed and sorry for all the ways we have displeased you. Teach us to hate our errors; cleanse us from our secret faults; and forgive us our sins; for the sake of your dear Son, our Lord. Most holy and loving God help us to live in your light and to walk in your ways according to the commandment of Jesus Christ, our Savior, in the enabling of your blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.

No Condemnation

 
           One of the great promises and privileges found in the entire New Testament of the Bible is from Romans 8:1 – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  No condemnation means “without judgment.”  God has pronounced a verdict, and that decision is final.  Christians have been united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit.  Think about the implication of that reality.  Since God does not condemn us, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other believers.
 
Since no condemnation is our reality as Christians, we are to believe this promise of God and swim in its wonderful privilege.  Believe that the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ.  If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe.  Let the Holy Spirit of God take the redemption of Christ and apply it to your life.  Allow God’s Holy Spirit to do His work of giving life to you in a very real and practical way.  It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead.  It would be silly because you did not put yourself in a position to actually become clean.  You may believe that a shower and using soap and shampoo would make you clean, but if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of actually taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not really be clean.  We must all put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of knowing our wonderful state of cleanliness and no condemnation by actually reading the Word of God on a regular basis; by praying in the Spirit on all occasions; by practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
 
            Let’s use the picture of marriage to help us understand both our reality and our responsibility.  A man and woman are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony.  The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime.  The minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony; he declares a blessing.  But from that point forward the two people must work on their marriage.  They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together by intentionally doing things like creating date nights and conversations on the couch; by learning and appreciating and participating in the other’s interests and life.  God is not opposed to effort – He is opposed to the notion that we save ourselves.  Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves.  But having a marriage license does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship.  A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between two people.
 
It is a beautiful thing to be in a relationship where there is no condemnation.  Because of Jesus Christ we are free to be the people God created us to be:  forgiven and no longer burdened by sin’s condemnation.  An apropos description of the church is that they are the community of the redeemed.  Since followers of Jesus possess redemption they now have the freedom to serve the church and the world without worrying about what others think.  There is no fear because our position is secure in Christ.  Ornery people do not have the last word – God does.  And God has pronounced that there is no condemnation for the believer in Jesus. 
 

 

Let this verse of Romans 8:1 be your constant companion by putting it to memory and using it throughout the day to remind yourself of your standing in Christ.  Mull it over at night as you fall asleep.  Bring it to mind as soon as you wake in the morning.  Then watch the Holy Spirit take those sacred words of Scripture and transform you from the inside-out.  May it be so.