Was Jesus Judgmental?

“Jesus wouldn’t judge someone, why should we?!” This is something we’ve all heard, and something we may have even said. But is it true?

In Matthew 7:1-6 when Jesus says, “Do not Judge” is he really saying we should be completely accepting of everyone? On another occasion (John 8:1-11), the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, and instead of condemning her he replied, “If anyone is without sin let him cast the first stone.”

Since these are the two most strongest and most popular examples, these will be the two we’ll look at below.

“Do Not Judge” (Matthew 7:1-6)
Jesus was constantly battling the Pharisees, who were known for their righteousness and strict study of God’s Word. They were also known for adding extra burdens on people, just to make sure they don’t fall into sin. They were so focused on preventing sin, it seemed that sin was always on their minds.

Instead of focusing on other people’s sin, Jesus told them to look at themselves first. “Take the plank out of your own eye.” Sometimes we point out other people’s sin because it’s so much more comfortable than paying attention to the sin in our own lives. Ironically, we even notice the very sin we are blind to in ourselves as what is most repulsive and off-putting when we see it in others. Jesus’ reminder to look in the mirror is something everyone needs to follow.

It is important, however, to notice that Jesus says, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Jesus does not say, “Only worry about yourself, accept others just as they are.” Instead, he reminds us that if we’re going to do surgery, we need to make sure we can see clearly. If we are going to help others walk faithfully with God then we should be faithful too!

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus is talking about helping a “brother.” Christian, you cannot expect nonChristians to follow God’s Word. We are to encourage and rebuke others to claim to be Christians, to direct them towards godliness. Those who are not Christians need the Gospel more than they need the Law, they need to know who God is and how to get right before a holy God before they can be expected to live rightly.

Jesus and the Adulterous Woman (John 8:1-11)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. Leviticus 20:10 says that both the woman and the man should be stoned to death. Curiously, the man is absent from court before Jesus, further showing that the Pharisees aren’t truly interested in justice but only in trapping Jesus between Scripture and popularity. Will Jesus choose to condemn the woman who is obviously guilty of adultery, or will let her free and show that he values the people’s opinion over what the Bible says?

Instead, Jesus turns the tables. He tells them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw the stone at her.” Everyone slowly walks away… except for Jesus. The sinless judge remains. But instead of throwing a stone, he acknowledges her sin while showing grace. “Go, and sin no more.” That simple statement is Jesus telling her, “Yes, you sinned. You are guilty. But I will show you grace. Go, and let that grace change you so that you aren’t found guilty again.”

Jesus is THE Judge
Jesus wasn’t only judgmental, he is THE Judge (John 5:22John 9:39, Acts 10:42, Romans 2:16, Revelation 19:11-21). Jesus will be the one who separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13:24-20, 36-43), the good fish and the bad fish (Matthew 13:47-50). Not only would Jesus judge someone… one day he will judge everyone. Judgement is real, and God’s judgment is eternal. It is not pleasant to talk about. If you truly believe in any kind of judgment before God, warning others would be the kind and merciful thing to do. We are not the judge, but shouldn’t we warn others if we are persuaded they would be found guilty?

Bring us to the Cross
Unfortunately, Christians today are known by the way they have judged others and shown themselves to still be sinners in need of grace. Yes, we have judged others in ways we should not. But some of that “judging” is right. For we are called to call sin “sin” and bad “bad.” When we accept with is sinful and say that it is fine and good, then we have lost our saltiness and we our light has been snuffed out (Matthew 5:13-16).

Jesus frequently issued warnings about judgment and the wrath of God, and he called people to repentance so that they would stop sinning and start doing what is right. He did so with love and mercy, because he never wrote anyone off as “too far gone.” As we follow Jesus’ example, let’s be sure to remember the two examples above.

In the midst of trying to discern how to show love and grace and humility while acknowledging the reality of sin in our own lives and in the lives of others, may we continually point people to the love of God poured out for us on the cross. For it is on the cross where the wrath of God was poured out against all sin, even while the love of God was fully displayed, because he took that wrath upon himself so that we could “go, and sin no more.”

What is the Truth Worth?

Deflategate. You’ve heard about it unless you live under a rock. I don’t want to talk about it too much. This isn’t a post to defend or accuse the Patriots. Instead, I want to use it as an example about what the truth is worth in our culture today.

I was talking with my sister yesterday, who studied journalism in college and has written for a number of newspapers. She’s also worked in a niche area of the publishing industry for over a decade. As we were talking about the latest “anonymous reports” regarding Deflategate, she shared how frustrated she is about all the irresponsible journalism over the last few weeks. She said something along the lines of, “Gone are the days when giving a false report will cost you your job. It’s not a big deal anymore.”

It’s true. What is the truth worth today? Apparently, being right and accurate isn’t worth as much as being first to report something. The truth isn’t as valuable as attention. Creating a buzz is what matters.

Continue reading

Where Faith & Mental Illness Connect

How Should Churches Respond to Mental Illness
Because of recent events in the news, discussions of mental illness (depression, in particular) are beginning to take place.  CNN ran an article by Ed Stetzer entitled “How Churches Can Respond to Mental Illness.”  It’s a great read and very important.  His advice in the article should be obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked his counsel more often than I should.

Stetzer says churches need to:

  1. Stop hiding mental illnesses.
  2. Be a safe place for those who struggle.
  3. Don’t be afraid of medicine.
  4. End the shame.

Don’t Ignore Teen Depression
I wrote a post a few years ago about Teen Depression: how to spot it and how it’s different from depression in adults.  It’s a post I really think would be worth rereading, I know I’ve needed to refer back to it quite a number of times since writing it!

How Do Faith & Mental Illness Connect?
I don’t usually read comments on CNN’s Belief articles, it’s just too frustrating.  But I read some of the comments the other day and a few people seemed genuinely confused about how Christians understand mental illness (like depression and anxiety).  Here’s my short explanation:

Understanding mental illness comes back to understanding Creation and the Fall.  God made us, and He made us whole and perfect.  In God’s sovereignty, He allowed us to sin (this is often referred to as “the Fall“), and because sin has now entered God’s perfect Creation there is brokenness and corruption.  This is how Christian theology understands natural disasters, handicaps of all kinds, diseases, mental illness, and all other kinds of corruptions in our world and in human nature (this is also also where Christian theology could account for the “born this way” argument for homosexuality, but I’d rather not get into that today).

We still bear the Image of God, but it’s broken and corrupted.  Some people are born with a disposition to fits of anger and violence, some with a propensity to sexual sin, others are naturally proud and arrogant… others are born prone to depression and anxiety.  Because someone is “born this way” (in the broad sense, not in the way this phrase has been used as a justification for homosexuality), that doesn’t mean it’s right or good or whole.  We all want to be whole people… but we’re all broken in our own different ways.

Faith Doesn’t Remove All Struggle
God is faithful.  He is making us new.  That doesn’t mean if you pray enough you won’t struggle with depression anymore.  I hope that’s obvious.  It’s not always a matter of “having too little faith.”  Depression isn’t something I personally struggle with, so when I feel depressed it might be because I haven’t been seeking God enough.  But for someone who really struggles with depression or anxiety or any number of other mental illnesses, prayerfulness and spiritual discipline WILL help, but it will not remove the struggle completely.

Faith simply doesn’t remove all our struggles.  Through faith, God gives us strength in the midst of our struggles.  Battles are serious and dangerous, and it’s both unhelpful and unfaithful to simply say “Let go and let God.”  The effects of sin and the Fall are greater and more complicated than that.  God gives us strength, but that doesn’t mean

Helping Struggling Christians
There are no easy answers.  I hope I’ve made that clear by now.  Here are a few suggestions for Christians who struggle with mental illness (and for the people who care about them):

  1. God knows you completely, and He still chose the cross!  Your deepest and darkest secrets are not hidden from God.  He knows them completely… that is exactly why He sacrificed himself on the cross!  He gave himself to reverse the punishment, the brokenness, and the death that resulted from our sin.  He came to restore creation… and that includes you!  
  2. Because God knows you completely, you don’t need to hide in shame.  Don’t air your dirty laundry to everyone, that’s not going to be helpful.  Get connected in a local church and find a few Christian men or women (who are the same gender as you) who will pray for you and check in on you.
  3. Battle depression & anxiety by caring for others.  But don’t let your friendships be all about you, otherwise you’re still focusing on your issues in ways that only feed them.  I know that sounds easy for me to say, and these struggles you face seem completely overwhelming.  Again, I’m not saying you should hide your struggles.  But make sure you’re listening to your friends and caring for them in their struggles too.  Just because their struggles are different and maybe not as overwhelming as yours, that doesn’t mean their struggles don’t matter.  When you serve, God begins to make your heart more like his.  That’s always a good thing.
  4. Walk in hope, because you know God’s promise.  The journey will be long, and there will be dark days when you may consider ending it all.  Don’t.  Cling to God’s promise that He is with you and He hears you and He cares for you.  God does have a purpose for you, and He will work it out… even when you don’t see it at all.  Remember what faith is: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
  5. Joyfully receive professional help.  Find a good Christian counselor.  Take your medication.  Write in a journal.  If you wouldn’t reject a lifejacket when your drowning, why reject medicine when you’re battling significant and prolonged mental illness?   God has given us mental health professionals and medicine – you don’t need to be ashamed to joyfully receive their help.  Don’t run to medicine as your savior, that’s Christ’s role for you… but don’t reject what He has made available to help in your time of need.

Pure Evil…

Is there any way to describe the tragedy that took place in Connecticut yesterday morning? 28 dead, 20 of them children between 5-10 years old. You can call it senseless if you want, you could call it a massacre… I’ll call it pure evil.

I’m not interested in getting into the details of it, and I’m writing this post as much for myself to process what happened as I’m writing it for you who are reading. A lot of people are saying this isn’t the time to discuss the peripheral issues, it’s a time to mourn and grieve and pray. I agree, it’s time to do those things first, but it’s also time to do some serious soul-searching: individually, and as a nation.

I’m reminded of GK Chesterton’s response to the journalist who asked him and other philosophers to write their explanation for evil in the world: Chesterton’s response… “I am.” If this sounds irrelevant or insensitive to the victims then here’s my point: Don’t talk about evil as if it only resides in others. Those who carry out these acts of pure evil are relatively few, but we all are guilty of evil and sinful acts on a far more frequent basis than we care to admit. It may not be murder, but it may be destroying a child’s heart by filling it with hurt or abuse or bitterness or abandonment.

I have two young children whom I love and would go to nearly any length to protect. I want them to be safe. But I need to ask myself what “safety” really means and how safe I really am able to keep them. There’s stupidity which leads to harm, and there’s mere ignorance that leads to harm. But I can do everything in my ability to keep my kids safe and they could still fall in harm’s way because of other people’s stupid, foolish, or evil actions. Keep your kids safe, be wise, but recognize that true security and safety are ultimately and only found from God.

This is why Jesus came… to give hope to the desperate, love to the unloved and the unlovable, joy to the sorrowful, and peace to those who have no rest. Christmas is coming. Let us not forget, in the midst of our many tears and deep grief, that this is exactly why God became a baby boy. To save us from ourselves…

Father in Heaven,
I pray for the families who have been directly affected by this act of pure evil. Be their Comforter, be their strength, be their hope. In the midst of everything they are still only beginning to feel, make your presence very much known to them, so that they would look to you as their strength in this time of weakness. Surround these families with loved ones and others who can lend shoulders to cry on and warm meals to eat.

Our hearts are completely broken over the lives lost, the Christmas presents that are wrapped and will stay unopened. Father, you know what it is like to watch your Son die. Sympathize with these parents. I can’t even imagine… words fail.

I pray that you would turn our hearts to hate sin and evil, not to hate you. Somehow, someway, make beauty come out of this. Make life to spring forth from death, light from the darkness.

Our nation, our families, our schools are broken – purify our hearts by the work of Christ Jesus.

AMEN

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong–
body and soul,
in life and in death–
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

(The Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 1)

Thinking Critically About “The Mindset List: 2016”

Every year Beloit University releases “The Mindset List,” which is intended to give a quick snapshot of the typical incoming Freshman.  This is meant to give the professors an idea about who their students are in order that they might be better equipped to effectively communicate with their students.  The parallel between Beloit’s intention to equip its professors and why this is a useful tool for us in ministry is so clear I don’t really feel the need to point it out any more than I just have…

Every year I see different blogs pointing to this list because it’s interesting, provokative, and very very helpful for us in the Church.  However, this year I took a few minutes out of curiosity to look at what “The Mindset List” said about me when I was an incoming Freshman – here’s what it said about me (and others who graduated college in 2002 – assuming you took four years to graduate):

  • They have no meaningful recollection of the Reagan era, and did not know he had ever been shot.
  • There has only been one Pope. They can only remember one other president.
  • They were 11 when the Soviet Union broke apart, and do not remember the Cold War.
  • They have never feared a nuclear war. “The Day After” is a pill to them—not a movie.
  • They are too young to remember the Space Shuttle Challenger blowing up.
  • They never had a polio shot, and likely, do not know what it is.
  • Atari pre-dates them, as do vinyl albums.
  • The expression “you sound like a broken record” means nothing to them.
  • They have never owned a record player.
  • They have likely never played Pac Man, and have never heard of “Pong.”
  • Star Wars looks very fake to them, and the special effects are pathetic.
  • They may never have heard of an 8-track, and chances are they’ve never heard or seen one.
  • The compact disc was introduced when they were one year old.
  • They have always had an answering machine.
  • Most have never seen a TV set with only 13 channels, nor have they seen a black & white TV.
  • They have never seen Larry Bird play, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a football player.
  • They never took a swim and thought about Jaws.
  • The Vietnam War is as ancient history to them as WWI and WWII or even the Civil War.
  • They don’t know who Mork was, or where he was from.
  • They never heard the terms “Where’s the Beef?”, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” or “De plane, de plane!”

Let me tell you, every single one of the above wouldn’t be true for me when I was entering college, and I don’t think I’m too unique.  While I could understand why someone (probably someone multiple decades older than me!) could imagine these things were true of me, they just weren’t.

This brings me to my point today – Read through Beloit’s Mindset List: 2016 in order to get a general snapshot of who the incoming college students are… but please remember that this is only a very general snapshot and is NOT going to be an authoritative description of every student.  If the list that was supposed to “describe” me is any indication, we should assume that half the mindsets listed are accurate, and half aren’t.

However, even the parts of the Mindset List about which students could say “That’s not true!” do give insight into the students’ lives and background.  It’s important for us to remember that culture changes, and that means each generation has a different set of influences and experiences in their history that are worth considering.

As you look through The Mindset List: 2016 may you better understand the generation it’s meant to describe in order that you could better communicate the outstanding love of God through Jesus Christ to them.

Here are some of the “mindsets” I find most interesting from this year’s list:

  • If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
  • On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.
  • Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
  • Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
  • A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
  • They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  • Along with online viewbooks, parents have always been able to check the crime stats for the colleges their kids have selected.
  • They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future.
  • Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.
  • Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
  • Mr. Burns has replaced J.R.Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
  • Thousands have always been gathering for “million-man” demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
  • Television and film dramas have always risked being pulled because the story line was too close to the headlines from which they were ”ripped.”
  • They watch television everywhere but on a television.
  • Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.
  • The Sistine Chapel ceiling has always been brighter and cleaner.

Although these are the students who have now left my youth ministry, let me ask for your input: How should this snapshot influence how I communicate biblical truth to the emerging generations of students?

Time for Tebow: What I Love & What I’m Concerned About

This is my first post on Tim Tebow.  Honestly, I simply haven’t known what to say!  Personally, I’m torn about him as a quarterback (although he’s starting to make me look foolish when I say things like, “Don’t you need to be consistently accurate to be a good quarterback in the NFL?”), I don’t know many who could even attempt to question his character.

Especially after his latest come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Bears, bringing the Bronco’s to a 7-1 record as their starting QB, it seems that Tebow-mania is in full swing.  I’ve been holding off on writing about Tebow until now, but since he seems all the rage I figured it was time to put some thoughts to writing.

So far, Tebow is a living example of Titus 2:7-8

“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.”

Here’s what I love about Tebow:

  • He seems so genuine.  I don’t know him personally, but I haven’t yet heard of anyone who does know him from college coming out from the woodwork saying that he’s a phony.  If he’s a phony or a hypocrite, surely someone would’ve surfaced by now to let us know.
  • He’s not ashamed to give Jesus the glory.  Sure, you can debate whether or not he should “tone things down” about his faith, but everyone knows what he believes.  I frequently cringe when musicians give Jesus the glory for their Grammy (often, for a song that glorifies violence, sex, or drug-use), but when Tebow does it he seems totally genuine and humble.
  • He’s a great role model to look up to.  When we look around at people who are frequently named in magazines and the news, Tebow stands out among the rest.  In the midst of our fascination of all things “Rich and Famous,” Tebow stands out for being so drastically different and mysterious.  He keeps on winning, even though he shouldn’t.  He doesn’t fit the mold for anything.  He doesn’t really fit into any box that anyone tries to squeeze him into.
  • He wins, and he inspires those around him to win.  It’s not always pretty, but he wins even when the odds are stacked against him and people are hoping that he fails.  I’m not so certain that he’s “God’s Quarterback,” but he doesn’t give up when others would.  People point to the Bronco’s defense as the reason why they’ve started winning, but they have the same defense they had when they were losing all those games before Tebow started as QB.  Not only does Tebow win, he makes those around him winners too!

Here are a few things I’m concerned about:

  • Idolatry.  I’m not concerned that Tebow would become an idolater as much as I’m concerned that he’d become an idol.  Criticizing Tebow’s form or game-performance is fair, but there are some Christians out there who refuse to hear it.  Tebow points to Jesus, not himself – let’s follow his lead.
  • Persecution & Tebow.  I’ve heard people say that Tebow is being persecuted for being so vocal about his faith.  Persecution is intentional harm done to someone because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  Gossip and slander isn’t persecution unless they bring about actual harm to the person.  So far, I simply don’t see any cause for making Tebow a martyr.
  • Failure.  If Tebow fails, will my faith in Christ be shaken?  No… but I fear that many people could be placing faith in Tebow that doesn’t belong there.  If he fails as a NFL Quarterback or if he fails morally, we will be disappointed, but we should be  careful to not place our faith in Tebow but in Christ.

I’m not convinced that God is making Tebow win.  If you watch the games and know a bit about football you can see a lot of things seem to happen for Tebow late in the fourth quarter that he’s capitalized on.  He’s a good, smart football player.  Do I think it’s possible that God has chosen to give Tebow success so that Christ would receive the glory?  It’s possible.  The Gospel Coalition posted a fantastic article written by Owen Strachan today on this very issue, please take a few minutes to read it (yes, it’s very theological, so it’s not really “casual reading,” but it’s a great article to chew on):  “Tebow, Calvin, and the Hand of God in Sports”

If you haven’t watched the video embedded above, do yourself a favor and take two minutes to watch it.  Bob Costas did an excellent job highlighting Tebow in a very honoring and fair way.  The script to what he wrote can be found here.

The most clever article I’ve read on Tebow comes from Jason Gay in the Wall Street Journal, “What Tim Tebow Can’t Do.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Despite all of these issues, people still like Tim Tebow, which is mystifying. It’s as if they can’t recognize his flaws. They’re blinded by hype. They’re willfully ignorant. They want to believe in a myth.

One day they will see all of Tim Tebow’s shortcomings. How he’s never once sang O Canada at a Vancouver Canucks game. How he’s never captured a live dinosaur. How he’s too chicken to run for President.

Tim Tebow never, ever makes everybody happy. He can’t really do anything besides win football games. Since when did anyone care about that?

Here are two more good Tebow posts I’ve come across:

Steve Jobs: What Would Life Look Like Without Him?

I’m struck by the irony of Steve Jobs’ death the day after Apple’s most recent unveiling of its newest products (among them, the largely disappointing iPhone 4s).  Honestly, I’m a bit conflicted about how Jobs has changed our world.

What could life have looked like without Steve Jobs… and how could that help us be more intentional in living well today with the technology he’s given us?

On one hand, I love my iPhone 4 and am sold-out to my Macbook.  The technology Jobs developed is simply unmatched, in my very non-professional opinion.  He was probably the most visionary leader of my generation, only possibly matched by Bill Gates (sorry Zuckerberg).  The personal computer, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and even Pixar… his fingerprints seem to be all over our American culture.

On the other hand, people are so disconnected today I wonder how that would be different if we didn’t have so much technology to pull us in so many directions all at once.  I remember a chapel speaker in college pointing out how we’re never fully present anywhere because we’re so distracted… and that was in 2001 when AOL was mainstream!

I’m not getting rid of my iPhone or my iPod or my Macbook and I’m probably not getting rid of Facebook either.  But hearing about Steve Jobs’ passing has caused me to think more carefully about what life might look like had he not given us so much wonderful technology.  May we be good and faithful stewards of what we’ve received.

May we use technology to build relationships and to grow in wisdom rather than using them as a crutch from doing the hard work of really listening to the people we’re with and simply Googling answers to questions rather than actually learning those answers.