Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Christians Judgmental?

Dictionary.com rendered the following definitions for Judgmental:
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judg·men·tal

  [juhj-men-tl]  Show IPA
adjective
1.
involving the use or exercise of judgment.
2.
tending to make moral judgmentsto avoid a judgmental approach in dealing 
with divorced couples.

They also offered up this definition from the World English Dictionary:

judgmental or judgemental  (dʒʌdʒˈmɛnt ə l) 
 
— adj
of or denoting an attitude in which judgments about other people's conduct are made

So just based on the common definitions given, the question that begs to be asked is:  Are Christians Judgmental?  

And the answer is a resounding...YES!!!

Now before you assume too much about the answer and think that this is just another blog on where we as Christians show, through our unloving actions, what hypocrites we really are and how we justly are condemned by the world by not being more like Jesus...I'd like to offer a different perspective.

You see, Christians are judgmental because all people are judgmental.  We make judgments on everything big and small.  Whether it be menial, like what type of shirt goes with the pants I am wearing today, or profound, whether I believe that living together before marriage is a good idea (btw...it isn't).  Making judgments for myself, and by extension others, is part of everyone's daily lives.

The larger problem exists with a culture that wishes to deny the reality that everyone is judgmental under the guise of tolerance.  This guise is often used as a bully pulpit mainly to shut dissenting voices up.  The mere mention of being "judgmental" to Christians has been used to send them scurrying to their politically correct talk so that we don't offend anyone with our judgment.

So let's move onto the real question that really needs to be answered:

Why are we judgmental?

Simply put, we are judgmental because we want what is best for ourselves, and if we are loving, others.  However, this desire is often misinterpreted.  Let me explain.

As a Christian, my belief is that those without Christ are living a life less than what God intended for them.  Their sin has separated them from God and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  Jesus has come to take away that sin by living a perfect life and laying it down by dying on the cross and raising from the dead to show that He (and He alone) has the power over sin and death and grants that life to those who put their trust in His finished work (Romans 3:19-26).

As such, I have given up on my standard of living and exchanged it for Christ's.  Through God's revelation, I discover His plan for my life and how I have fallen short of it.  I have given up my right for my own personal judgment in favor of His perfect judgment (John 5:19-29).  But that means judgment is still there, even if it is not my own.

What gets confused is that things like, living together, homosexual relations, getting drunk, cussing like a sailor, the greed of having more and more stuff or money, anger and violence issues, etc... are all symptoms of a larger problem.  They are symptoms that I recognize are wrong because they do not align with the judgment I have made that Jesus is Lord.  This judgment isn't just what I believe is best for me, but best for every single person because Jesus died for all.  Therefore, I cannot call those actions good because God has made the judgment that those actions cause harm that separates those who participate in those actions from Him.

But when I choose to either not participate in those actions or state that those actions are wrong a different judgment takes place.

1 Peter 4:1-6 puts it this way:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,  so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.  For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;  but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Do you notice their reaction?  Those who don't believe in Christ "malign" those who do.  In other words, they make a judgment that the life you are living in Christ is not as good as their own.  They are just as convinced that their way of life is the right one, not just for them, but for you too.  So to prove it, they hurl accusations about being judgmental and quote verses like Matthew 7:1 out of context to not only shut the believer up, but to prove that their judgment was right all along.

I believe that Christians should stop playing these games and cowering over charges of judgmentalism.  Instead, we should embrace it and expose the fact that everyone is judgmental.  If we do this in the right attitude of love, maybe instead of starting an argument, we might begin a meaningful dialogue that could change their judgment about Christ.  But we won't do it if we don't get over our fear of making a judgment.

  





Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Questioning the Tough Questions

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One of the biggest arguments against the existence of God is the problem of evil (or pain and suffering).  It has been stated many ways usually trying to show how either God, if He exists, is powerless to prevent evil (as in the cases of people harming one another) or is ultimately the cause for such evil (such as natural disasters).  The premise behind such arguments is to diminish the God whom a believer is defending in such a way that no vestige of that God exists any longer and the only logical options are either atheism or skepticism.

What often isn't questioned are the assumptions behind such scenarios posed to the believer.  If these were focused on a little more, I believe, that many of the arguments against theism would crumble against the weight of the very questions asked.

Consider the worldview of the atheist or extreme skeptic that comes down on the side that God doesn't or probably doesn't exist.  From this worldview, the universe came from nothing (or is itself eternal), life came from non-life, and morality sprang from an amoral source.  At the very core of this worldview there are logical contradictions that are left unexplained.

Yet the acknowledgment of the problem of evil shows that the atheist or skeptic believes that there is evil in the world.  He/she claims it as a fact.  The dilemma that has to be answered by the atheist or skeptic before they can ask the believer is:  How can they objectively identify evil that is binding to every person when ultimately our origin (from their worldview) is purposeless?  Unless they can answer that query, the very strength of their objection loses its teeth under the weight of the insufficiency to ask its own question.

What they are actually doing is borrowing the definition from a Christian's worldview of evil to deny its Source.  It would be like a liver using the blood given to it to kill the person it inhabited and then using the same blood to deny that the person ever existed in the first place.  Both the origin of the liver and the weapon it uses originates from the very person it is trying to deny.  The atheist/skeptic doesn't believe in God, but their own worldview doesn't allow them to believe in evil either.  Yet, they use the argument from evil (defined by God) to deny that He exists.

Examples often given revolve around horrendous situations of unimaginable injustices.  For example, a 5 year old girl who is kidnapped, raped and killed could be an example used to describe a God who is powerless to prevent evil.  Or the Christmas tsunami of 2005 that killed over 250,000 people can be alluded to as a case where man didn't cause the suffering, therefore, the responsibility of the catastrophe falls squarely on the shoulders of God (making Him the cause of evil). 

But the question that is rarely asked is: To what ideal situation is this unimaginable evil being compared to?    The assumption by the atheist/skeptic is that a man or woman who has lived 100 years, married, had a wonderful family, never experienced war or tragedy and dies naturally in their sleep has lived the life longed by every human being.

Consider carefully the alternative given by Christians.  Within the Christian worldview evil is both acknowledged and dealt with totally and finally.  Sin enters the world and causes both death and suffering.  These are evils that must be dealt with and ultimately are at the cross of Jesus Christ.  In the Christian worldview death is described as "the last enemy to be destroyed" (1 Cor. 15:26).  We are given a glimpse of when this happens, at the end of time, where the dead are raised and are judged according to their deeds.  And after that final judgment, after every evil action has been weighed and dealt with justly, after Satan himself has received his justice, death itself is destroyed (Rev. 20:7-15).  Afterward, we are told that "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:4).  Evil, from its very root, will be dealt with never again being allowed to reek its damage on man and his relationship with God...for death, the final destination of pain, suffering and all things called evil, will no longer be part of the equation.

The atheist/skeptic's answer to this question exposes the fact that they are ultimately powerless to explain their own nuances within their definition of evil.  The harsh reality is that the implications of their worldview render the lives of the one who was brutally murdered, tragically cut short or peacefully preserved until their final fading equally meaningless.  In each and every situation, no matter how tranquil or troubled the life, the person dies and their lives, in the grand scheme of things, mean absolutely nothing.  To the atheist/skeptic, even in the ideal, death is part of the solution, not part of the problem.



Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dirty Laundry

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She walked into my office having been escorted by our secretary, tissue in hand, eyes red from the constant flow of tears.  I invited her to sit down and tell me her story. 

For the next hour, she shared heart-wrenching details of a relationship gone bad.  It was the disinterest that tipped her off that something was wrong.  Though only married 3 years, the problems began in earnest 18 months before.  He stopped doing the little things like, playing with her hair and surprising her with small thoughtful gifts.  Her personal favorite was when he would show up at her work with a mocha from Starbucks, she adored that just because it came from his hand.  But he hadn't done that in well over a year now. 

Shortly after they were married, they were blessed with a beautiful daughter.  With parenthood, comes a lot of responsibility.  Maybe the extra chores of life had just begun to suck some of the vitality of their marriage away, she reasoned.  Life is much busier with a baby than either of them had imagined it would be.

Still that didn't explain the distance that she was beginning to feel with her husband.  He was becoming short with her, often getting angry at the smallest of things.  He would stay up late at night away from her, waking up in the morning with just enough time to get to work, but no time to talk.  She began to think after about 3 months of this pattern of life that maybe someone should help them with the problems that were beginning to arise.

She mentioned it to him one unusual night where they actually planned a date with one another.  He assured her that there was nothing in their marriage so wrong that they couldn't fix together.  Besides he didn't want to go to someone else and lay out all their dirty laundry in front of them.  He seemed to listen that night and it gave her the assurance that everything was going to be alright.

However, the change was short-lived.  About two weeks later, things had reverted back to their normal state.  And the questions started filling her mind, "Why didn't he want to spend time with her?"  "Was there something wrong with her that she needed to change?"  The questions led to suspicion and the suspicion led to action. 

One day after her husband went to work, she stayed home and began to snoop for any clues that might offer a reason for the change that she was seeing in him.  She hoped and prayed that whatever she found would be something that could be fixed and she secretly feared that he had simply fallen out of love with her and found another. 

What she stumbled upon, she wasn't prepared for.  She discovered that he had been frequently visiting porn sites.  The feelings of shame and betrayal flowed through her consuming her every thought until he came home from work.  She confronted him on it in a fight of epic proportions that she was sure changed the relationship forever.

He promised to change, he was remorseful, but two months later he had fallen back into the pattern again.  Only this time it was worse.  He didn't try to hide his addiction anymore.  He used it to blame her for not being intimate enough with him.  All of the little things that she had noticed in her relationship going wrong earlier was now being blamed on her and her lack of intimacy toward him.  The irony and the guilt heaped was unbearable.  But she managed to hold up under the pressure for nearly 9 months now.

She was only in my office now because of a note that he left her confirming the worst of her fears.  He no longer loved her and had found another.  He was planning on leaving at the end of the month and wanted to divorce her as quietly as possible, so not to disrupt the life of their 18 month old daughter too much.

She finished her story, sobbing uncontrollably, directionless and afraid of what the unknown future held for her.  She didn't want to be a single mom.  She had never been alone in her life.  She went from being a daughter to a wife and never thought she'd have to face her current situation as a reality.

And all I could do was wrap my arms around her and tell her that God will help her through this time...and pray.


I cannot tell you how many times a scene like this has unfolded in my office over the last 12 years.  It isn't always a wife, sometimes its a husband or a parent of a child with a situation that has gotten out of control.  However, no matter the issue the root cause is always the same...pride.

By the time the people walk into my office, the damage has already been done.  They aren't walking into my office to repair a problem that can be fixed.  They are shattered and need a whole new life.

The real tragedy occurs when people who have troubles entering into their lives pretend to the world around them that these things don't exist in the first place.  Many times, when counseling hurting people I will ask, "Who else knows about this?"  The answer I receive is predictable because I've heard it many times before.  "No one" or "Only my parents" are the most common responses.

It had taken the dismantling of a life to humble a person enough to walk into my office and finally admit that everything wasn't alright.  They had been deceived--by the enemy or our culture or just the shame that their lives weren't what they thought it should be--to stay silent about their "dirty laundry".

What's worse, in many cases, the people who come into my office are people who have been a part of our congregation or daycare for years.  I've rubbed shoulders with them, asked about their families and tried to live life together with them.  But in the most important interactions of their lives, I, like everyone around them, was left out for fear that their dirty laundry would leave an indelible stain on our relationship.  In their mind, the fact that they didn't have things all together in marriage, with their kids, in an addiction, in their financial difficulties, etc. is somehow going to change the way that I (or God) views them.  So they try to act perfect in hopes that no one will see their marks, while crumbling on the inside because no one is there to help them in their time of need.  Help they have denied because of their pride.

They have forgotten that it is the role of the body of Christ to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) to fulfill the law of Christ.  Not to pretend that we have no burdens to bear.

Jesus plainly said that it wasn't those who were well who needed a doctor, but those who were sick.  He came to call those who were sinners, not the righteous (Mat. 9:9-13).  Jesus spoke this to the Pharisees who didn't believe that they needed anything from Jesus either.  You see, the help is for the broken and needy, not the self-deluded self-sufficient. 

Paul boasted in his weaknesses and all the hardships that he was enduring claiming that when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).  His weakness showed him his need for Christ, but he didn't try to hide it, he exposed it so that others would see that where he failed and was lacking, Christ is sufficient. 

This, I believe, is one of the most important subjects I could ever write about.  It strikes at the heart of what causes us to become the type of church that so many in the world believes exists.  Why are we perceived as judgmental?  Why do we worry so about our weaknesses?  Why are we afraid to admit that we don't have it all together?  Because when we cover for those fears, we become the very Pharisees we have tried all of our lives to avoid.

We long for healing.  We desire authenticity.  But we want someone else to go first.  We deliberately forget that the weight of burdens are much lighter when they are spread amongst many shoulders.

So what can we do to stop this destructive cycle that is crippling believers everywhere?

1.  We need to convince ourselves that there is no shame in having problems, even serious ones.

Remember, we are told in Scripture that no temptation has seized us except that which is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13).  What often gives us shame is the perception that we are the only ones going through problems.

Right now, there are people in our congregation and daycare having difficulties in marriage, struggling with porn, drug, alcohol addiction or homosexual desires, secretly financially struggling to pay last month's bills, having rebellious children that cause hatred, discord, and pain (even to the point of having them kicked out of the house) or have gotten pregnant, etc...(the list is endless). 

This isn't some breaking of confidentiality toward those who have entrusted me with some dirty secret...this is common!  We have fooled ourselves into believing that problems and temptations disappear once you become a Christian...at least the really big ones, and we desperately need to get over that if we are ever to find true healing in the name of Christ.

2.  We have to be brave enough to share our problems and sins with those who genuinely care for us with the love of Christ.

Stepping out and being vulnerable with our lives is hard for anyone to do.  Because it's hard, many don't do it at all. 

However, like my account above, the worst culprits are guys.  Guys who don't act like men and convince their wives and families that the best way to deal with problems is to pretend that they don't exist...and set before their families a pattern of self-sufficiency that often leads to turmoil in individual lives and the destruction of the family.  Many men simply refuse to ask for help for anything...and I often have to deal with the aftermath of their selfish decisions.    

If this seems harsh to guys, it's nothing compared to the destruction given to wives and children who have been constantly rebuffed by their husband/father in efforts to deal with problems by bringing someone else in who truly cares for them.  The ignorance of the problem often leads to very bad outcomes.

We have to become good at sharing our problems as they happen, not when they grow too big for us to handle.  The fear of shame or rejection becomes less and less the more we share with those who truly care for us as Jesus does.  We realize after each sharing that we are valued for who we are, not what we have done.  The actions may have consequences to be sure, but consequences administered by those who love you is always easier to take than those whom you think only wish to condemn the person with the action.

By sharing our problems early, we also have the opportunity to heal a relationship before the damage done is impossible to fix.

This isn't to be confused with gossip that just blurts out any and all information to everyone and is destructive to the very relationships in jeopardy.  This is a deliberate sharing with mature believers in Christ who will seek a Godly type of restoration for relationships that have been damaged.  (Gal. 6:1-10; James 5:16-20).

3.  We have to love Jesus more than we love ourselves.

In the end, all of this is just obedience to what Jesus said we should do when conflict arises.  Conflict, no matter the cause, is a distraction to the mission of making disciples and growing in our faith in Christ.  It's hard to want to tell others about Christ when you are constantly worried about your marriage, children or some wrong that has been done either by you or to you. 

Over and over again, Jesus says that when conflict and wrongs have been committed, we should deal with them right away (Matthew 5:21-26; Luke 17:1-4; Matthew 18:15-17). 

There may be some who would say this final point is over the top.  Of course, I love Jesus more than myself.  Just because I have fallen in this one area doesn't mean that I don't love Jesus.  But it was Jesus Himself who said that "if you love Me, you will obey my commands" and "he who doesn't love Me will not obey My commands" (John 14:15-24).  What is tragic is that many Christians are being silent about the most important relationships in their lives at the expense of obedience to Christ!

Are we going to trust Jesus enough to trust Him with every aspect of our lives...even that which isn't so pretty and exposes the fact that we actually need Him?

Remember, it was the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the people who had all the problems, who came to Christ with their exposed baggage and were healed (Matthew 21:28-32).  The Pharisees, who believed they had it all together, chose instead to crucify Christ.

We may just find that if we were a little more shameless with our dirty laundry, we not only would have a lot less of it to deal with, but we might find the only true solution to get rid of it altogether.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sacrificing the Eternal for the Temporal

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Do you ever wonder if you are doing good enough for your kids?

As a parent of three, I worry about how well I am raising my kids.  Like you, pressure mounts all around me for all the things that I ought to be doing for my children.  The opinions that come from friends, family and just the cultural expectations of what make a good parent constantly berate my efforts and seem to tell me that no matter how much I am doing for them, I can always be doing more.  And worse, that little bit more, my fears whisper, is the essential ingredient that I am missing.

Right now, my fear has been fixated on my kids teeth.  My children have inherited my teeth.  (To give an idea of what kind of nightmare that is, in and of itself, just imagine four years of braces with a jaw operation thrown in just to correct the overbite that came with the teeth.)  What convicts me is how little has been done with them over the years they have grown up, especially when one of my children mentions that they would love to have it fixed.  During those moments, it's like a dagger to the heart and lays waste any good I may have ever done in behalf of my children, branding me with a scarlet letter scarred just beneath the whitewashed exterior I try to hide behind.

Even writing this entry on the blog evokes fears of others reading this blog and the judgment, only in my imagination, of how horrible a father I am for allowing their teeth to get this way.

While my current bane happens to be my kids teeth, I'm willing to bet that if you have kids, you too struggle with that little something that brands you a "bad" parent too.

Maybe you've divorced and you don't get to see your children as much as you would like?
Maybe your work schedule just keeps you away from your kids all the time?
Maybe you can't afford ________, and you have been told that it is really needed?

So what is our reaction when we feel that we don't measure up to the standards that have been set around us?  Often times, we buy them things that they want, but don't necessarily need.  Or we get our kids involved in everything, hoping that the extra activity will convey to our children how much we love them.  We can be tricked to hand our kids everything on a silver platter in hopes that placating this temporal need will somehow cover the stain we perceive is on our imperfect parenthood.

But are our perceived failures really the problem and is all the well-intentioned advice we receive from those around us really the answer?

In the midst of one of my flipping out sessions over how awful a parent I was, my wonderful wife reminded me of how people are getting braces as grown ups today and pointed to many of our friends who fell into that category.  Her words calmed me as she reminded me that even if my kids never got their teeth straightened, that alone cannot make me a good or bad parent.  

Biblically, it doesn't even register on God's top 100.  On the day that I meet Christ face-to-face, He will not stand in disapproval of me saying, "Jeremy, Jeremy...why didn't you get your kids' teeth straightened?"  

But there is an expectation around us that places a great deal of focus on the temporal, be it braces or sports/activities or things you can give your kids, combined with the knowledge that there isn't one of us that is a perfect parent that agitates this fear that launches us into even more temporal situations at the expense of the eternal.  We lose the perspective of God on these very issues that we are struggling with and often accept without a critical eye a solution which is neither biblical nor quells our fears that we are now doing any better at this parenting thing than we were before...we are just busier, poorer and more tired and weary.  Our busier lives have robbed us of the eternal and the enemy has done a great job of putting our faith on the backburner, evidenced by the lack of knowledge of the Word of God by those called by His name.

Now don't get the idea that this post only exists to show further proof of how we as parents fall short.  This is where my mind went when Shannon told me that it didn't matter in the eyes of God.  I started thinking about what did matter in His eyes and immediately thought, "Wow, I've fallen short here too.  My kids aren't reading the Bible like they used to.  We don't pray as much as we used to.  We don't outreach as a family as much as we used to."  

All of those things were true, to be sure.  But in His presence is also where the answer to our everyday dilemma of not measuring up is ultimately found.  By not spending our time with Him or building that foundation with our kids, we are left defenseless against the enemy's attacks on our faith or the world's pressure to be the kind of parent they want us to be at the expense of being the kind of parent God wants us to be.   

Through the Word, we are reminded that in God's economy, it isn't that we are ever going to be the perfect parent, but that God has provided a perfect sacrifice to cover our imperfections.  He wants to give us peace, not as the world gives, some sort of false pretense that we can never measure up to, but His peace that surpasses all understanding and every circumstance we will face in life.  We really don't have to do more things...just learn to rest in Him.

The only way we truly fail in our parenting isn't if we fall short of the world's standards around us, but if we fail to convey this peace, joy and knowledge of Christ to our children so they may follow Him and know that peace for themselves.  Maybe, just maybe, by building this foundation, we will save our children of the same insecurities that we face as parents and gain the confidence that through Christ all things are possible...even parenting.

Click here to gain God's perspective on our dilemma and His solution. 


Don't Believe Everything You Read...(not even this)

I'm about to get into trouble.  Maybe with a lot of you.  But for sure with some of you. However, I can't stay silent anymore.  I ...