Not Judging Others Part 1: Our Opinions Often Cause Misjudgment

I’m starting a (probably short) series dealing with how people tend to view and judge others negatively.  I’ve observed that this can be a very dangerous habit, and unfortunately it is a habit among Christians as well.

I’d like to begin this series by highlighting something that I have found true in my own life: jumping to conclusions based on my opinions (not facts) causes me to misjudge people and situations.

One of the best books I have read on the art of communication is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.  In the book is a chapter titled Observing Without Evaluating which demonstrates the importance of separating what we see (or have direct evidence of) with what our opinion of that thing is.

Here is an excerpt of a poem written by one of Rosenberg’s colleagues, Ruth Bebermeyer, that illustrates this point:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

Rosenberg explains:

Observations are an important element in nonviolent communication, where we wish to clearly and honestly express how we are to another person.  When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message.  Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.

Here’s a couple of examples from the same chapter to make this really practical:

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Doug procrastinates.
Observation without Evaluation:  Doug only studies for exams the night before.

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.
Observation without Evaluation:  Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.

It was very eye opening for me to realize how impulsively and maybe even subconsciously I tend to jump from observation to conclusion or judgment!

Imagine finding that the trash has not been taken out and asking your spouse, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, or “Why don’t you appreciate me?”  Obviously these are assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking.  As Rosenberg points out (and you might guess yourself), this kind of communication makes us sound critical of others.

Instead of saying, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, perhaps one could say, “I noticed that the trash hasn’t been emptied, and you usually take care of it.  Have you had a rough day?”  The latter approach is clearly less judgmental and more loving and invites the other person into expressive communication.  This allows the other person to express themselves without feeling the weight of judgment or criticism, and it keeps us from jumping ahead to faulty conclusions.

As Christians, I think it is clear in the Scriptures and through the Spirit that we are not intended to judge each other in this way.

I’ve found that a good place to start evaluating if you do this yourself is to observe your own attitude and language towards others.  You might even ask those closest to you if you have a habit of doing this.

Can you share an experience or example where this has been true for you?

In part 2, I’ll suggest some potential alternatives to this behavior.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivers Paul’s Letter to American Christians

The link below is to a sermon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presented in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4th, 1956. I found this a few years ago and have been reading it every year on MLKJ Day. I think there are some profound insights here for Christians of his time and for Christians today.

What are your thoughts?

Paul’s Letter to American Christians

Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday

If you are wondering about the strange title, and maybe feeling like correcting the clearly poor grammar, please view the video below before hurling any virtual stones. 😉

On a serious note, I would like to pass on something I read recently that I have found to be all too true in my own experience of marriage and the experience of many couples that I know.

I’ve been reading Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. First off, I have to say that if I were going to right a book of marriage advice based on my experience, this would be it. Much of what is in this book is rings true to me. I wish I had read this book years ago. Not only do I agree with much of this book (I don’t agree with everything, but these are minor points in the scope of this book), but I believe it also points us to Christ’s desire for marriage and other relationships.

The premise of the book is that to have a loving marriage that displays Christ, one should keep in view the many opportunities to be built up in Christ that marriage affords. The tag line of the book reads, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” The author’s point (I’m paraphrasing) is that marriage isn’t supposed to be easy work, because it is not “easy” work to crucify our flesh and to live by the self-sacrificing life of Christ that indwells us. But marriage certainly gives us many opportunities to do just that, and through those experiences we are made into Christ’s image. Personally, I have found the most freedom, peace, joy, and fulfillment when I have loved my wife as Christ loved the church: sacrificially and unconditionally.

I would like to share a short passage from the book that I think hits the nail on the head in regard to living the marriage life and living by Christ’s life.

“Contempt is born when we fixate on our spouse’s weaknesses. Every spouse has these sore points. If you want to find them, without a doubt you will. If you want to obsess about them, they’ll grow – but you won’t!

Jesus provides a remedy that is stunning in its simplicity yet foreboding in its difficulty. He tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye (see Matthew 7:3-5).

If you’re thinking “but my spouse is the one who has the plank,” allow me to let you in on a little secret: You’re exactly the type of person Jesus is talking to. You’re the one he wanted to challenge with these words. Jesus isn’t helping us resolve legal matters here; he’s urging us to adopt humble spirits. He wants us to cast off the contempt – to have contempt for contempt – and learn the spiritual secret of respect.

Consider the type of people Jesus loved in the days he walked on earth – Judas (the betrayer); the woman at the well (a sexual libertine); Zacchaeus (the conniving financial cheat); and many others like them. In spite of the fact that Jesus was without sin and these people were very much steeped in sin, Jesus still honored them. He washed Judas’s feet; he spent time talking respectfully with the woman at the well; he went to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Jesus, the only perfect human being to live on this earth, moved toward sinful people; he asks us to do the same, beginning with the one closest to us – our spouse.

Begin to find contempt for contempt. Give honor to those who deserve it – beginning with your spouse.”

Sacred Marriage, pages 70-71

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not have contempt for each other, whether it is in marriage or otherwise, but may we have contempt for our own flesh when it causes us to resent, demean, or take advantage of someone else. The life of Christ chooses the way of love because He is love; often this is a very difficult way for our flesh, but Jesus tells us that if we come to Him with our burdens, His way is light.

To try to do this in our own power is foolishness. But to trust Christ, listening to and following the still, small voice within, is to find peace and joy on this difficult path.

I pray that this brief insight is helpful to you if you are struggling in your marriage or other relationships.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

(2 Thessalonians 3:5)

The Sweetest Perfume

12 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.  (John 12:1-3)

The story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet  with costly perfume brings to mind the worthiness of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive our love and affection.  It brings to mind the need for us to be broken so that our lives may be poured out in honor of Christ, just as the perfume was poured out to bring forth the sweet smell.  This act of sacrifice filled the house with a sweet aroma, just as God’s spiritual temple, the ekklesia, is filled with a sweet aroma when we sacrifice for Christ and each other.

Certainly, this was a very sweet perfume!

But was it the sweetest?

Remember later that Jesus disrobed in an upstairs room and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet, a very lowly task for Israel’s Messiah.  In fact, it was so far below what Peter thought was respectable for the Messiah that he initially refused the gesture.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

And Jesus did just that, although He did not do it in that upper room.  Jesus went on and suffered the vile, tortuous, inhumane Roman crucifixion.  And as Jesus became sin itself and declared, “it is finished”, His side was pierced and His blood flowed.

Behold, the sweetest perfume to ever anoint anyone!

Behold, the crimson flow from the true Spotless Lamb, who has washed us from head to toe, just as Peter requested.

Behold, the eternal, perfect, blood of Jesus Christ that washes away our sin, guilt, and shame, and ushers us into new life.

Just as the woman sacrificed her most costly possession to pour out on Jesus, our Lord sacrificed His own life-flowing blood to be poured out for our sake.  Has there ever been a more costly ointment than the infinite life of God?

We, whose righteousness is like filthy rags, have been washed clean and clothed in true Righteousness.

The Myth of Wealth

This seemed like a good follow up to my post last week on cleaning out the garage…

While listening to the audiobook Celebration of Discipline, by Richard J. Foster, I was astounded at the amount of Scripture that was quoted in the chapter on simplicity related to money, possessions, and wealth. I’m sure I’ve heard and read all of these verses before, but I’m not sure I have ever heard so many of them put together at once.

As a disclaimer, I want to say up front that I am not against owning things, having money, a house, car, and so on. I have these things, and while I don’t consider myself wealthy at all, there are always those less fortunate who would disagree with me.

The point here is not a poverty versus wealth debate, as if one or the other is absolutely right for everyone. That is certainly not my belief. But the power of money often leads to greed and selfishness, and both of those qualities are anti-Christ; they have no part in Him. Christ is generous and selfless, and so I believe there is benefit for reflection and continuous transformation in this area.

Neither is the point to condemn anyone into changing their lifestyle out of guilt, shame or fear. I don’t believe God works in that way, and I certainly don’t desire to either. I am suggesting that there is an opportunity here for internal reflection, and that internal reflection may result in external actions.

To denounce all material possession is to become legalistic, as Foster points out. God certainly blesses us with things in this world, either for our pleasure or to advance his kingdom, or both. At the same time, we live in a materialistic, consumer culture. Many people are driven to anxiety for the latest gadget or trendy item. There is an obsession with owning things (when it is often wiser to rent, borrow, or do without).

The solution to balancing the budget (at least in many cases) is not to make more to get more, but to be content with what you have already. If you want to add joy to your contentment, give away whatever you don’t need. Don’t be worried about your earthly net worth; you are infinitely valuable because you are a part of Christ!

Remember that everything has a price, but everything also has a cost. As Christians we must count both the cost and the price in light of Christ’s life in us. If you don’t think you can do this, just spend some time getting in touch with the Christ who indwells you, for He is Contentment and Joy, and He will lead you in His way.

I’m doing some soul searching on this topic after listening to and reading this chapter on simplicity. I highly recommend it to you, especially if you are struggling to “keep up with the Jones'”. 😉

I have listed below the Scriptures cited from the simplicity chapter in the order they appeared. I have expanded some to add context, and I have used some different translations. The book gives much narrative on this topic and these verses.

23 “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. (Leviticus 25:23 NLT)

10 Do not trust in oppression, Nor vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them. (Psalm 62:10 NKJV)

28 He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage. (Proverbs 11:28 NKJV)

13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NLT)

20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” (Luke 6:20 NLT)

24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now.” (Luke 6:24 NLT)

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT)

21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Matthew 19:21-24 NLT)

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:21 NLT)

30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. (Luke 6:30 NLT)

9 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT)

3 He [one aspiring to be an elder] must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. (1 Timothy 3:3 NLT)

8 In the same way, servants in the church should be dignified, not two-faced, heavy drinkers, or greedy for money. (1 Timothy 3:8 CEB)

5 Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NLT)

4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NIV)

5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Ephesians 5:5 NLT)

11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ,who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT)

Making Room

I’ve seen a lot of online chatter the last few days about being willing to decrease in order for Christ in us to increase (John 3:30).

This brought to my mind the thought of making room in ourselves and in the ekklesia for Christ to be enlarged.  If I have not emptied myself, how can I be filled with Someone else?

Which begs the question: is my life about what I want or is it about what Christ wants?

It’s a lot like when I clean out my garage.  As I have learned to make room for Christ in me, I’ve been able to toss some things out in the garbage.  And that is liberating.

I’ve thrown away man-made religion, trusting in my efforts to make me right with God, thinking poorly of others, being “puffed-up” with knowledge, worrying, fear, defending my reputation, focusing on right doctrine above right relationships, treating others without respect, gossiping, and the list goes on.  These things left me no space to store the new things that Christ was waiting to give me.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

And of course, this is an ongoing process… that garage never seems to clean itself.  Almost every time I go in my garage I realize there are things that I don’t need.  It is the same when I look at myself in the light of Christ.

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.  (Philippians 3:7-11 MSG)

2013

Wow.  It is really 2013.  Time seems to keep moving faster and faster…

I’ve thought about what I want to accomplish in 2013, and one big thing I would like to improve is discipline.  As time continues to accelerate, I’m finding I have to be pretty intentional with mine.  I’ve also found that I don’t have much discipline these days.  A lot of that comes from raising a family, which doesn’t leave much time left anyway.  But my kids are little older now and I’m finding that I have a little more free time, enough to actually think about managing it.

So, I’m hoping to develop some discipline this year, especially in the area of pursuing Christ, and I’m hoping to share more through the blog.  Which was my intention last year, but, well, I didn’t have any… yep you guessed it, discipline.

My goal is to post more consistently through the year.  And I’ve given the blog a slight makeover to help encourage me.

I’m working on a series of interviews with various saints around the country who are meeting and living in first century style churches (hopefully that will be coming soon).  And I have several ideas and articles already started.

We’ll see how it goes!

 

A Servant’s Heart

The things in life that drive us crazy, especially when committed by the people in our lives, are most often opportunities for our own growth in developing the humble heart of a servant.

This is where the living presence of Christ in us leads.

As Paul said, “You must have the same attitude as Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:5)

It is easy to become consumed with frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness without this attitude towards our circumstances.

This is a very important topic for the church to contemplate and struggle through. My sister-in-Christ, Bridget, has summed it up superbly and shared some outstanding resources to help us think through the issue of oppressing women in/by/through the church today. Is this really what Christ established? What did Christ establish? I added some of my thoughts in the comments on Bridget’s blog.

Renewing Christmas Music Part 3: Folk Angel

Continuing the Christmas music theme…

A few years ago I stumbled upon a few Christmas hymns performed by a quartet called Folk Angel.  Obviously, the songs had a folk-style sound, which I love.  This group only makes Christmas music, so I always look forward to listening to their songs this time of year.  The next year, they released a few more Christmas songs, and they have released full length albums the last two years, incorporating a variety of styles.

This video, God With Us, is probably my favorite song that they do, although they are all great.

And some more…