Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment!

This is a followup to this post in which I discuss the Problem with Guilt.

I want us to talk about why using guilt on others is wrong, and what we should be doing instead.

So, why DO we use guilt on others?

Guilt

The act of using guilt to control others is based on judgment.  I have judged that someone is not acting the way I think they should, and I seek to get them back in line with what I think.

Two problems with this:

  1. This assumes that we can and should control others.
  2. As humans we are not ideally placed to make such judgments.

These are both kind of a problem bc they don’t seem to fit with what Jesus thinks our lives should be about…

In the midst of talking about how important it is to love everyone, especially those who don’t love us back, Jesus says this, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.’ Luke 6:36-38

What part of that sounds like judging others and trying to control them is something God is cool with?

I can almost hear some of you saying, ‘Yes, but! in other places we are told to judge!’  how can such thoughts be reconciled?  That kinda feels like another post…but I promise we’ll get there.  I encourage you to think/pray about this with me until we get there!

 

So, how ARE we meant to treat others?

We just read where Jesus calls us to be merciful to others!  Interestingly, James tells us this, ‘Judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.’

 

How in the world does mercy triumph over judgment?

I think it is easy enough for us to see how this plays out at the Cross.  The grace and mercy extended to all through the sacrifice of Jesus frees us from judgment.   Paul tells us this in Romans 8:1: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

It can be a bit tougher for us to visualize Mercy’s triumph over judgment in our relationships.

In our next post I want to explore some examples of the effects that judgment has on relationships, and how things can be different if mercy is introduced.

I hope you’ll join me…and tell  your friends!

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How Do I Get Out of My Own Way?

Many people cannot get out of their own way.  What do I mean by that?  Well, most folks want to get better; they want to change one or more things in their life.  The problem is that a lot of people sabotage their own efforts to grow and change!  This is a common problem that I have experienced in my own life, and one that I see often encounter with others.

SelfSabotage572x429

A man feels empty inside and overwhelmed by the world around him.  He turns on his computer and loses himself in pornography for a time.  When he emerges, his emptiness has only increased, and his feelings of being inadequate to face the world have not abated. So he retreats into his secret world and the cycle repeats.

A woman is lonely and feels isolated.  Others try to interact with and encourage her.  Unfortunately, the response is often a flood of bitterness, cynicism, and bursts of anger that only serve to drive others away.  So now she feels even more lonely, and her bitterness increases.  She is hurt and furious with the world, because no one understands her or reaches out to help.  Can you see what I’m talking about?

 

So, how do we get out of our own way?

I try to help myself, but ultimately, I am limited in what I can do to change me.

Staring at my navel won’t really get me anywhere.

 

Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yolk upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:28-29

Come to me.

The first step in getting out of MY WAY is to take the focus off of myself.  I have to reach a point where I truly desire help…not MY ideas of the help I need, but the help that Jesus offers me.  I’ve got to set ME aside and come to Jesus for help.  It is exhausting dealing with ME every day!  Maybe I need to give it up and turn to Jesus.

Learn from me.

What’s that old line?  ‘The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result!’  Yeah

Maybe instead of just retrying my own plans/ideas/schemes for happiness over and over again, I should turn to Jesus and learn what He has to teach me.

What does he have to teach me anyway?

 

I am gentle and lowly in heart.

The root of what he has to teach me is Who He Is.

We follow THE ONLY God ever, who puts Himself below His followers!

 

Jesus, God with us, Lord of Hosts,Creator of All, and Commander of the Lord’s Army…………….is gentle and lowly in heart.

Isn’t that amazing?  Could you imagine a more comforting statement that could be said to someone who is sick to death with mess they have made of themselves!?

We don’t just follow a God who has a lot of power.  We follow One who knows how it feels to be us, and more than that, knows what we need most.

 

We start learning how to grow, by following Jesus along the path of grace, mercy, and putting others before ourselves.

If Jesus said, ‘The first will be last.’  Why do I keep trying so hard to be first?

 

You shall find rest for your souls.

Nowadays (yeah, I said that), we love our recreation and holiday time.  We run around and around trying to relax, and all we do is wear ourselves out.

Jesus says that if we want to truly find rest, we must:

Come to Him.

Learn from Him.

Know who He is.

You are not alone in this world.  You were not created to be alone.  But if you spend your life focused on yourself, you will end up alone. Please, get out of your own way!

 

Spend some time in meditation on this passage this week and grow from it.

 

 

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Stop Hurting Yourself!

Posted April 28, 2010

 

As I said before, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about myself and my past lately.  At the same time, I’ve been working to counsel and support various members of our congregation who struggle with this life.  In the process I’ve thought a lot about something that has helped me to deal with negative thoughts and emotions.  The following is going to sound a lot like modern psychology, much of which I have issues with, but I hope to show you that God encouraged us with these thoughts/practices long before a psychologist worked them out.

In my past, as I said last time, I have had some pretty painful things happen to me.  I am not unique in this respect.  To live is to experience pain.  Last week we thought about growing through pain, which was nice, but might not have been that practical. 

 

I’d like for us to get more practical today.

So how can we best deal with negative thoughts and depression?  We are NOT talking about thinking through a problem and coming up with solutions. We are NOT talking about chemical imbalances that cannot be wished away with positive thinking.  We ARE talking about harmful negativity and painful self talk that is not productive.  When you treat yourself this way, you are only making things worse.

How can we break the cycle of negativity in our lives?  Here are a few things that have helped me:

1. You are not alone.  If this is a serious problem, I encourage you to seek help.  Talk to a wise person that you trust; an elder or church worker might be an excellent place to start.  If you want, you can email me and I’ll do what I can.  Sometimes just saying things out loud to another person can be a big help.  Hopefully, your confidant will encourage you and give you some helpful advice.  Also, they can tell you if they feel you need some professional help.  There is no shame in this.  I have had professional counseling in the past and it was extremely helpful to me.

2. Take control of your mind.  God calls us to control ourselves.  That certainly goes for our own thoughts.  When you have negative thoughts and feelings, stop thinking about them!  That sounds ridiculous, but if you do it, it works.  Psychologists call this ‘Cognitive therapy’.  If it helps you feel like you are doing something fancy, then call it that.  This is basically as simple as it sounds.  Every time you find yourself dwelling on something negative, train your mind to think about something else.  Sing a favorite hymn.  Recite a favorite passage of scripture that you have memorized.  Say a quick prayer thanking God for three specific blessings.  This will work for the moment, but the negative thoughts will return.  You didn’t get like this overnight, and it won’t go away in a day.  So each time the negative thoughts return, turn your mind towards whatever good thing you are using.  Over time you will find that your mind stays focused on what you want it to dwell on, and the feelings of negativity will ease. I committed several passages to memory over the years by doing this!

Does this sound idea sound familiar?  God seems to think it’s a good idea….


3. Take control of your actions.  Psychologists call this ‘Behavior therapy’.  Many of us do destructive things when we are feeling bad.  Now you might not punch a wall or scream at people, but maybe you go out and spend money needlessly when you are down.  Or maybe you eat sweets, or smoke cigarettes when you feel bad.  Like above, it’s all about awareness.  When you recognize destructive things that you are doing to yourself or others, stop doing them!  Replace them with a more positive response.  Whenever you feel down about something that consistently bothers you, write two cards to people you know who are having a tough time, pray to God to help you in that moment, read Revelation 5 (that always makes me feel good!).  Doesn’t matter what you do, finish the dishes, play Candy Crush on your iPhone, whatever you need to do to stop hurting yourself.

Again, this will take time, and you will fail.  But the more aware you become of how you work, the more you can do to break the cycle.

4. Remember God loves you.  I am constantly amazed at how many people hate themselves.  Many of us wallow in negativity, because we believe that is what we deserve.  So many terrible things come out of this behavior.  We become depressed and lethargic about dealing with our life.  We become cynical and hateful towards others.  This will only grow worse over time, and every failure and every hurt feeling just reinforces what I’ve been telling myself over and over for years.  This not healthy, and it is NOT what God wants for His children!

Yes, this life is hard, and other people can be cruel.  Yes, you have been treated unfairly at times.  But don’t compound all of that by tearing yourself down.  God wants to give you LIFE!  An eternal life that begins now and never ends!  He offers joy and purpose to combat the pain and meaninglessness of this broken world.

Jesus said, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.’  We serve a God who comes to us!!  How amazing is that!?  Not only that, not only does He run to us like a father does a straying child, but He stays with us!  God lives with you.  Never forget that.

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The Pearl of Great Price

Originally written in April 2010

I’ve been thinking a bit introspectively lately.  For those of you who like to keep things simple, I mean that I’ve been thinking about myself lately.  This hasn’t been out of selfishness, though I struggle with that aplenty; no, these thoughts have been centered on looking at myself to learn some things about where I’ve been and where I need to improve.

Now unless you are my mother, I think we can all agree that I need to improve….ah, who am I kidding?  Even my mom would say that I could use some improving!! 

But before we go down that path, I’ve been looking backwards some as well, and I’d like to share something I was meditating on recently.  My life has had it’s share of pain.  Now you are thinking, ‘Get in line, Ed!’, and that’s fair enough.  We all have our personal struggles.  I’d like to think about something that has come out of my pain.

You see I’ve grown a lot through pain.  Something terrible happens, either something I’ve done or something that happened to me, and I begin to react.  Hopefully, I grow and develop new ______ . (you can fill in the blank with any number of things; humility, coping skills, empathy, awareness, faith…the list is endless)  We don’t always grow through pain, sometimes we let the pain consume us.  Sometimes we try to bury the pain and pretend it’s not there.  But I was pleased to realize that much of the pain in my life has spurred growth that was badly needed.  That got me thinking about oysters….

Yeah….I know….I don’t understand how my mind works either…

An oyster has to open it’s shell to feed.  It’s shell is the only thing that protects it from the wider world of the ocean floor.  Lots of things can happen to the tender flesh of the oyster when it’s exposed, but one thing that happens every so often is that some parasite or perhaps a piece of grit drifts in.  It responds by encasing the intruder in calcium carbonate, which is the same stuff that it’s shell is made of.  It’s funny bc oyster shells are ugly and not collected for anything.  Yet after layer upon layer of calcium carbonate on that source of pain, the oyster makes a beautiful, glossy pearl that people value greatly.  I’ll leave you to connect the dots on why that is.

Now back to each of us and our pain.  I believe as we grow and develop through our pain, it’s like layers on that pearl.  One day we look back on the terrible things that have happened and realize that something beautiful has formed out of the pain!

Jesus referred to the pearl of great price in one of his shortest parables.  He said that when a person finds one, they would give all that they have to get it.  It’s interesting, bc if you did that, you would be no better off for having it, bc it cost you everything.  The idea is that it is so beautiful, and so important to you, that it is priceless.

If we grow through our pains, we create of lifetime of pearls.  Pearls made beautiful by Christ working through us and in us.  Pearls that are worth everything we are!  Life is pain.  Love is pain.  Don’t run from it, bury it, or wallow in it.  Grow through it.

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The Problem with Guilt

Guilt is such a strange thing.  It is something that we make ourselves feel as well as something we often seek to produce in others.  We use guilt to punish ourselves for not meeting certain standards and it comes in handy to keep the people around acting the way we think they should. 

                Tragically it can infect our church culture.  Guilt is a devastating weapon when used from the pulpit.  Whether in sermons or in personal conversations guilt is a common tool in our religious arsenal.

                The problem with guilt is; it doesn’t work.  Worse than that, it is counterproductive to a life with Jesus where His Spirit is working within us as we grow and change.  Another problem with guilt is that it is not from God.  Guilt is a product of a world broken by sin.

                So why do we use it?  Because it works

wait…didn’t you just say it doesn’t work!?  well, yeah, I did, and it doesn’t…hold on, let me explain.  We use guilt bc it does accomplish what we want it to… in the short term.  We get immediate gratification from it, which, as humans, is one of our favourites!  But unfortunately, over time it doesn’t work.

                For example, if I ditch worship services for a few weeks bc I’m losing touch with the church, somebody might be able to guilt me into coming back, but what have they accomplished?  They have gotten immediate results, but guilt won’t keep me there for long.  Likewise, a parent can send a child on a guilt trip to get them to do what the parent wants, but in the long term this does not achieve what the parent really desires, does it?

Why is guilt so systemic in our society? Why doesn’t it work?  What WOULD work instead?  We’ll answer all these questions in our next post….or two.

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What is My Standard?

I spent a fair amount of my time counselling people through a variety of difficulties.  It is a wonderful privilege to serve people in this way.  What a blessing to see someone freed from a burden that has plagued them!  Of course, it is very difficult to work with someone who can’t break free from things that trouble them.

 

I often encounter one particular problem that challenges many people.    This is the problem of false standards.  The use of incorrect standards manifests itself in many damaging ways.  We hurt ourselves and others when we set standards that don’t match up with God’s.

 

People often say things along the lines of, ‘I should be coping better than I am with ______.’  Often the thing they are referencing is linked to a trauma that would take anyone years to get over, but they believe they should have it sorted by the end of the week.  If they don’t ‘fix themselves’ in the time frame that they have falsely set, they are abject failures and the self abuse begins.

 

The problem with acting like this is that not only is it unfruitful, it is actually blocking true healing and progress.  As we beat ourselves, or others, up for repeated failure, we are reinforcing the myth that we can fix ourselves and sort everything out so we won’t have any more problems.  So we get up and try again and shock….dismay!…we fail again.

 

Consider the story of the Bible.  I am often asked why we have the Old Testament (OT).  Besides making our Bibles heavy and impressive looking, what is the purpose?  I use the following illustration:  Imagine God sets out a huge barbell and starts loading weights on both sides.  He then says to everyone, ‘If you can lift this, you can be in relationship with me.’  Person after person in the OT gave it a shot and they all failed.  God set the standard with the Law of Moses and everyone failed.  Now Jesus bursts on the scene and it should be obvious to everyone at this point that no one is good enough to meet God’s standard (FYI, THIS is the point of the OT).  But then, against all odds, this carpenter from Galilee lifts the weight!  And not only that, but in lifting it, he makes it so that no one ever has to try and lift it again!

 

Now back to me and you…

When we say things like, ‘I should be…’  or ‘Why can’t things just…’ or ‘SoandSo doesn’t give me….’, we are setting false standards.  The truth from God is that you aren’t good enough, so don’t say, ‘I should be able to…’.  The truth from God is that this world is broken and imperfect, so don’t expect everything to always go the way you want them to.  The truth from God is that everyone else is as broken as you are, so don’t expect others to give you everything you need.

 

The TRUTH is that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and we are ALL LOST without Him.  The TRUTH from God is this:   Jesus + your best= good enough.

 

So don’t set false standards for yourself or others.  If you are 30ish and single, don’t let a false standard rule your life.  Jesus seemed to make a difference in that circumstance…so can you!  If you are getting older and your physical body is limiting you, don’t let a false standard rule your life.  There are things we can all do in the service of our God.  If you have been brought up by parents who chained you with these false standards, know that you have an older brother who wants to set you free!

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Peace Through Humility

This post was first published in January 2009.

 

Last night during our evening devotion, one of our elders led us in a discussion on the Bible’s concept of ‘peace’.  We talked about this from many angles, but I’d like to focus on one we didn’t discuss here.

Romans 12 has quite a bit to say about peace and we looked at this passage in our discussion.   I would like for us to particularly consider the second phrase in vs. 10, ‘Outdo one another in showing honor.’

Now what does this have to do with peace?  I think quite a bit.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that prides itself on cynicism.  It is consider good to be cynical and fill all your thoughts and comments with sarcastic cut downs of those around you.  We praise such people for being clever with a ‘razor whit’.  This mentality not only tears down those around you, but also makes it nearly impossible for you to ever believe a sincere compliment directed towards you.

To me the ultimate shame is when Christians allow cynicism to rule in their relationships.  Paul implores us here to see the good in others, and actually compete to see who can be best at honoring others!  This is basically the exact opposite of what we do.  How many times have you heard other Christians bash the worship leader for singing to slow or too low?  How often do we spend our time finding fault in those around us and pointing out their failings to anyone who will listen?

Does that qualify as ‘outdoing one another in showing honor’?  Why did Christ die?  Wasn’t it because He sees value in each and every person and wanted to give us all a chance to be our best?  But no! I’m clever and have seen every episode of Seinfeld, so I have the right to tease and shame everyone around me!

Maybe we should consider that it is our negativity towards those around us that causes strife in our relationships.  Perhaps Paul is on to something here…if we each did our very best to honor those around us instead of tearing them down, maybe that would promote peace.  The idea of honoring another person is that I….shock…horror!…actually take the spotlight off of myself and shine it on another!  I must have the humility to remember that I am not the center of the universe. Why would I want to boost my own ego if I have to hurt others to do it?

In vs 18, Paul sums this passage about how Christians should treat other people by saying, ‘If possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.’  That doesn’t seem to leave alot of room for me to hurt others to make myself feel better.

Find ways to honor those that you live, work and play with, and see if it doesn’t bring some peace into your relationships!

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