Tuesday, March 20, 2018

WTS Sale on Short Studies In Biblical Theology

Okay, so I try my best not to inundate you guys with deals too often, but every once in a while something pops up from WTS that intrigues me enough that I've gotta share it with you all. So if you interested, click on through. If not, I'll try harder next time!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

It's a Slow Slide Away From God

There’s something quite contemporary about the book of Amos, even though it was written 760 years before Christ. God sent Amos to speak to the people of Israel, because they had forgotten the Lord.

The people in the capital city of Samaria had winter houses and summer houses. They had houses of ivory. They had great houses. It seems they believed then what we believe today: real property is a safeguard against future troubles. People talk about how investment in real estate is the way to go because, “They’re not making any more of it.” In Samaria in the 8th century B.C., the economy was booming, and the world was their oyster. They slept on couches or beds while most of Israel slept on the ground. They didn’t lack for a thing. When they got tired of living in their summer house, they moved to their winter house. Life was good. They just had one problem, and it was unavoidable: God. Oh, and Amos, this pesky shepherd-turned-prophet. He says, “You like your houses? Well, God is going to destroy every one of them. Your summer house. Winter house. Great house, ivory house. They will all be laid low.”

Is that because God is against people owning a home? Of course not. Is God against people having possessions? No! Is God mad at wealthy people? No. But the question is not how much you own, but whether what you have owns you. For when accumulation of more wealth becomes the trajectory of our lives, we are in trouble. That’s when we pick up our bags at “Consuming to Live Lane” and move to “Living to Consume Court.” That’s when we find ourselves not satisfied with our lifestyle and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level, the next tax bracket, the next social status. What we live for then, as Francis Schaeffer warned us about in the 1960’s, is “personal peace and affluence.” When that is our goal in life, we are sliding away from God and do not even realize it. What God teaches us through the book of Amos is this: wealth can never be our security. Riches cannot protect our souls.

What happens to people, what happens to a nation, that becomes consumed with possessions, and cares only about accumulating more? God answers that question in the book of Amos, as well. He says, “They do not know how to do right.” It is a growing trend in our nation today, isn’t it? Many people no longer ask, “What is the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “What is the expedient thing to do? What will be easiest? What will be most pleasurable? What will be most profitable?” When we get to that place in education, only the voices that sing along with what is culturally acceptable are allowed to speak. If current conventional ‘wisdom’ is contrary to what the Bible teaches, you don’t have to guess which one is kicked to the curb. When we stop asking what is the right thing to do in a business, we cut corners on quality, or we underpay our employees, or we lie to our customers about performance or warranty or price. When we arrive at the same place as a family, we may decide that our children need things, or comfort, or fun experiences more than anything else, so we sacrifice doing the hard work of training them and building their character, and only give them what they want. When we get to this place in our own spiritual growth, we may choose to do what is easy and convenient in our Bible reading or prayer. We slowly slide away from worship, giving, and serving. It becomes less important for us even to show up on Sunday morning, though we desperately need to be equipped as followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s a slow slide away from God, and the price we pay is not worth it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Welcome Home, Billy Graham

I had breakfast with my mom last Friday, two days after Billy Graham met Jesus face to face. While we were eating, Mom said, “Wouldn’t you loved to have been in heaven on Wednesday morning?” Yes. I am sure that was a sight to see, as it is anytime one who belongs to the Lord crosses over from death to life.

My great-grandma Hauser was a powerful spiritual influence on me when I was a child. She never knew it, and I didn’t recognize it at the time, but she was. I spent a lot of time with her and remember with fondness the normal lunch she fixed for my brothers and me: a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. Campbell’s, of course. I also remember this little lady with her gray hair in a bun and her wire rim glasses perched on her nose, reading intently from her dog-eared Bible with the pages yellowed from years of loving attention. And close to the Bible, there was always a copy of “Decision” magazine. Every now and then I would read that magazine and find Billy Graham’s articles there, news about his preaching campaigns all over the world, and testimonies from people who had heard the Gospel through this native North Carolinian. Maybe that’s why when I was just a little guy of 8 or 9 years old, I told people that one day I would be a preacher. Those who knew me and the rascal that I was scoffed at the idea, but not Grandma Hauser. She saw with eyes of faith, perhaps, that God could use even me, this middle son with the hot temper and the quick tongue. As one pastor told me years ago, “Hey, God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”

Sherwood Wirt, who was editor of “Decision,” said this about Billy Graham: "My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own 'committedness' to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do." That’s the Billy Graham I grew up admiring, the man who was singularly focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel message, and his desire that every person hear the truth about their greatest need: to be saved from sin. He was a counselor to Presidents, he preached to Kings and Queens and Dictators and Prime Ministers. He wrote books and newspaper columns. He encouraged evangelists all over the world and brought them together for training. But mostly, Billy Graham was a preacher. He believed the Bible is truth from God and he spent his life telling millions that truth.

Woody Allen interviewed Billy years ago and introduced him by saying with a smile that there’s a lot that he doesn’t agree with Graham about. The first thing Billy said with a big smile was, “It’s very nice to be with you, Woody, and I would like to say that there are a lot of things I don’t agree with you on.” After the laughter, Woody asked Billy what his favorite commandment was. He replied, “Well, right now, with a lot of teenagers, it’s to honor thy father and thy mother.” Woody said that was his least favorite commandment, and that he was saving his money so when he got a little older, he could put his parents in a home. After the laughter died down, Billy said, “That’s very good; I hope it will be in a home with you.”

The world will miss Billy Graham. But he is finally home.

Monday, February 26, 2018

No Discipline is Pleasant

I heard about a man who put himself through veterinary school by doing taxidermy, you know, stuffing dead animals so people could mount them on the wall. When he finished school he decided to open a business where he could do both, a combination vet hospital and taxidermy shop. The sign outside said, “Either way, you get your dog back!”

One of the younger men in our church spoke at our men’s breakfast last Sunday and shared that he didn’t remember a time growing up when he turned around and thanked his father for the spanking he had just administered. He laughed and said, “But looking back on it, I know that what he was doing for me was good, and God used it to build my character. ‘For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’” He was quoting from the book of Hebrews, which explains that God disciplines us because he loves us, and because we are his sons and daughters. So, we are not to take it lightly, nor are we to be discouraged by his corrections. The end result, as we are trained by the discipline of the Lord, is well worth the momentary pain. What does that have to do with the taxiderm-a-vet? Nothing, really, I just liked the story. No, I believe we can take courage as followers of Christ that he will change us and grow us up, but not always in the ways we would prefer. That’s why the Scripture says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure.”

Joseph went through several years of discipline as he sat in a prison cell for a crime he didn’t commit. He believed that this was part of God’s plan for him, just as being sold into slavery had been, and he trusted the Lord to work through his trial for his good and for the benefit of others. Instead of sitting in the cell for years complaining, or feeling sorry for himself, or growing bitter and hardened, Joseph served. The keeper of the prison, seeing Joseph’s character, put him in charge of all the prisoners.

Peter went through the hardest trial of his life when he denied Jesus three times, just as the Lord had told him he would. The rough and tumble fisherman trusted in himself, even proudly crowing just hours earlier, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Hey, Jesus, I know these other guys are weak, but not this guy. I’ve got your back; you just turn around, and I will be right behind you.

The crushing weight of Peter’s failure did not destroy him. Just the opposite. It broke his pride and prepared his heart for that day on the beach, a few days later, when Jesus would ask him three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” For each time Peter denied Jesus, he was able to look his Savior in the eye and tell him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus did the unthinkable: he restored Peter to a place of ministry. He told him three times, “Feed my sheep.”

Does the need for discipline disqualify you to be useful to the Lord? No, it proves that you are his. Does failure put you on the sidelines? No, it puts you in a place to be restored to usefulness. Does undeserved punishment mean that God has forgotten you? No, it makes you a recipient of an even greater measure of his grace.

So, welcome the discipline God brings, and take your life, every part of it, to him.

But don’t take your dog to a vet who is also a taxidermist.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Don’t Trust Yourself with This

We got a call from one of our sons this week, just wanting to check in and tell us how things are going for him in college. He is a senior, majoring in theater, and having the time of his life. He is getting ready to go with the theater students to France and Belgium during spring break, where they will present three different plays. Some will be done on the street, and at least one is for people connected with NATO. Part of the preparation for the students includes working on their testimonies: how they came to meet Christ and what He is doing in their lives. My son shared openly in his testimony about some struggles he had several years ago with internet pornography, and how he had finally gotten the courage to confess it to me. We talked and prayed together that night, and then I helped him set up a system of accountability through an internet program called “Covenant Eyes.”

A couple of days after my son shared this testimony with the other theater students, a young man called him to see if they could get together for lunch. They did, had a great time, and at the very end of their time together, the student told my son that he was looking at internet porn every day, and wanted to be free. “Your testimony gave me hope that I can get out of this, but I don’t know what to do,” he said. My son asked him about his relationship with his father, and encouraged him to call him and tell him what was going on. “Do it now,” he said. The young man did, right there in the dining hall, and his father, a pastor who lived about an hour away, left everything and drove to campus. They met and talked, and prayed together, and the father gave his son the encouragement and help he needed at that moment. I know it could have gone badly, and often does. The father could have scolded his son, told him how disappointed he was, shamed him, and made him regret that he had ever asked for help. He didn’t, thank God. We fathers need to learn to give grace to our children when they fail, just as we have been given grace in our struggles and defeats. Mostly, our sons especially need to know that they do not have to fight this battle of the flesh alone, and that we will help them.

When I was in Moldova in January, and my oldest son and I were teaching men about how to lead their families, we talked about this issue of porn. I said in every meeting, “Internet pornography is the fastest growing addiction in the world. And though I am 60 years old, I do not trust my own heart. That is why every Monday morning, one of the elders in the church gets an email from Covenant Eyes. I have it installed on each of my devices, and it monitors my internet usage. If I were to go to a site that I shouldn’t, he would get that report the following Monday. I do this for accountability. I do this because I love my wife and want to be faithful to her in every way, including with my eyes and my heart. I do this because I love my family, and I do not want to damage them through moral failure. I do this because I love the church, and I do not want to bring shame to the Gospel, and harm to the people I shepherd every week. They say it takes a lifetime to build your character, and only five minutes to destroy it. Mostly, I do this because I love the Lord, and do not want to dishonor the one who bought me with his own blood.”

I am proud of my son, and the way God used him to connect a father and son and bring help where it was desperately needed. I was reminded again of how dangerous this particular addiction is, and how deceptively enticing. So, I say to myself, and to anyone reading this column: don’t trust yourself with this.

You absolutely cannot handle it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

This is God’s Plan for Social Justice

Is God concerned about social justice? You can count on it. He rebuked people in the book of Amos who “turn justice to wormwood,” who “abhor him who speaks the truth,” who “trample on the poor,” who “afflict the righteous,” and who “take a bribe.” God tells his people that judgment is coming, and calls on them to seek the Lord and turn from evil, that justice may be established in the land. Or, as Martin Luther King famously quoted the prophet, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Whom did God raise up to speak this truth to power in Israel more than 700 years before Christ? A simple man of labor named Amos. We know very little about him. Amos tells us in the very beginning of his book that he was “among the shepherds of Tekoa.” This was a village of no reputation, about 10 miles south of Jerusalem. Amos was just one of the shepherds in an insignificant little town. Nothing special. We know from later in the book that he was also a “dresser of sycamore figs.” Amos was a simple man who worked with his hands. If he had a business card, it just said, “Shepherd.” His number was 549-BAAA. He wasn’t invited to speak at conferences. He was not a board member for an important corporation. He did not hobnob with the rich and powerful. He didn’t have any honorary degrees from the “best universities.” He was Amos, the shepherd. Jeff Niehas writes, “It is significant that Amos chose to remain largely faceless, because this attitude reflects what should be the true spirit of a prophet, epitomized by the last of the prophets of the old covenant, who said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

Here’s the thing. He who was insignificant to men was significant to God. The same is true for each of us. Later in the book, a priest in the northern kingdom tells Amos, get out of town, go back home, and take your message from God with you! I love Amos’ response. He basically says to the priest, “The Lord took me. The Lord sent me. The Lord told me what to say.” Then the little shepherd turns to Amaziah the priest and says, “Now therefore, hear the word of the Lord.”

Don’t give in to those who would intimidate you into silence. Serve God where you are. He may call you to leave the sheep and go speak truth to power. But most likely, he will simply say, “Tell the truth about God right where you work, and where you live.” God is not a respecter of persons. He uses all of his own who are willing to be used, all who are yielded to him. Are you a schoolteacher? Teach with the authority that God gives you. Are you a truck driver? Drive with the certainty of God’s calling on your life, reaching people that the teacher and the preacher may never even see. Are you a judge? Judge righteously, as one who is called by God to do so in every case. Are you a businessman or woman? A homemaker? A student? Serve God where you are. It is the power of God in your life that makes whatever you do make a difference in the Kingdom of God.

That is how justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. That is how families and cities and nations are reformed, and the oppressed are set free, and the weak are welcomed and cared for, and the lost are found. It happens when the people of God live and love as we are directed to do so by the Lord.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Meet Me at the Sauna

I know some guys who get together once a week to play golf. Or to watch sports on TV. I know some guys, myself included, who meet with other men once a week for coffee and conversation, in an effort to help each other grow in the Lord and be faithful to our wives and families. Until two weeks ago, I didn’t know there were guys who met at the sauna every week. If you go to Moldova, a little country in eastern Europe, you can find these guys. You may even be fortunate enough, as my oldest son and I were, to be invited to join them. It will be for you as it was for us, one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. It would have been even more unforgettable had the men experienced sauna like they normally do, without clothing. I thank God that they chose instead to wear at least a speedo, for our sake. As Micah said to me later, “Dad, there’s some things you just can’t un-see.”

Words cannot describe the experience; you have to be there. We baked in the dry sauna, in temperatures that continued to climb through the evening until they maxed out at 110 Celsius. Do the conversion. After 15 minutes in the oven — my mind flooded with praise to God that I will never experience hell — we leaped into a pool where the water temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I asked the men before I jumped if my heart would survive the shock, and they all shrugged and said, “Probably.”

We went from sauna to pool over and over, and then we sat in a room and sipped bitter tea. “This will cleanse your liver,” they told us as we made a face with the first sip. I told them I felt like my liver was pretty clean, and they offered another tea I could drink if I didn’t want the bitter libation. “This is women’s tea,” they said, and smiled as they pointed to a much milder drink. I screwed up my courage and proceeded to cleanse my vital organs, helped by a teaspoon of honey with each sip.

The three hours of male bonding ended with the most muscular of the men taking turns beating each of us with an oak branch. I am not making this up. The branch had been soaked in a bucket over night, so the leaves were hydrated. He methodically struck us on our chest, back, legs, and the bottoms of our feet. The idea, they said, is that the moisture and the heat is pressed into the deep tissue and even into your organs by the hot, wet branch. Umm, OK, I’ll have to take their word for it. I just know that my whole body was on fire for that final plunge into the pool, a leap that I had grown to look forward to.

Lest you think we lounged around in our bathing suits all week, let me explain. Antioch Community Church sent us to Moldova to meet with men, and to teach them how to be spiritual leaders in their homes, and how to love their wives and children. Everywhere we went, we met men who were hungry to hear what the Bible says about this. We spoke in one village where the power had been out for two days, and it was 45 degrees in the church building. Sixty men sat in their winter coats and gloves and listened for two hours, and then stayed longer to ask questions and to fellowship together. They thanked us and asked us to come back and teach them more. Micah and I were humbled by the response everywhere we taught. We heard older men say, “We wish we had heard this 30 years ago.” We heard younger men say, “We have not been leading and loving our families the way we should; may God help us to change.”

We came back with encouraged spirits, full hearts, and tired bodies. I probably need to go to the sauna. Meet me there; I’ll bring the oak branch.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Simplest Truths Are Most Profound

I remember many years ago hearing one of my relatives talk about an associate pastor at his church in another city who was getting ready to leave and take a church somewhere else. “He’s the smartest man I have ever heard, when it comes to the Bible,” the man said. “He speaks Hebrew, Greek, even Latin.” There was a slight pause and one of my young children asked, “Does he speak English?”

It’s a valid question. In this case, the answer was “yes,” but the truth is, there are many who teach in churches and universities who, for all their degrees, have never learned to communicate the simple truth of their discipline. They can throw some Greek at you, but you have no idea what they are talking about most of the time. They can tell you all about the Hebrew verbs in a passage, but then they wander down a rabbit trail that has nothing to do with the text, and you are lost. Some speak about their subjects in a way that sends their audience into a deep sleep. I even heard about one professor who fell asleep himself while he was lecturing. Standing at the chalkboard, talking to his college class, the man actually nodded off while leaning against the wall.

David Garrick, the great 18th century actor, was asked why he could so mightily move men by fiction, while preachers, speaking such awful and momentous truths, left them unmoved. He replied, “They speak truth as though it were fiction, while I speak fiction as though it were truth.” If a man speaks the truths of the Word of God as though they were fiction, then he may as well be speaking in another language to his audience, without an interpreter. It will have the same effect.

Some have passion for what they speak about, but they are so impressed with themselves … and that is what is communicated most clearly. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “He who makes much of himself makes very little of God.”

Others have a passion for their subject but they refuse to “put the cookies on the lower shelf.” Their vocabulary is impressive but a stumbling block. For example, how many of you would know what is meant by this quote? “Avian bipeds whose plumage can be demonstrated to have reasonable similitude display a tendency to congregate in groupings of some magnitude.” Huh? I don’t think they had avian bipeds where I grew up. Actually, they did, and the quote simply put means, “Birds of a feather flock together.” How about this? “Male cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony.” Maybe you can wade through that one and come up with the answer: “Dead men tell no tales.” But I bet you never heard your Mama say this to you when you were growing up: “Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude.” Not if she was from around these here parts, anyway. But she might have said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Or, if she was from my neck of the woods she might have said, “Boy, git yourself warshd on the outside, and maybe yur hart will be purdy, too.” My personal favorite, however, is this one: “Scintillate, scintillate, asteroid minifid!”

Ponder on it for a minute. But in the meantime, let me remind you that it was Jesus who said, just as plain as could be, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” That’s a truth as simple to understand as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

Everything You’ve Heard About Hospice is True

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of the dying on multiple occasions. And I have heard from many over the years how much they appreciate the work that Hospice does to bring comfort and care in a person’s final days and hours. So, I have always known that to be true, based on others’ testimony. Now I know it is true from personal experience. My younger brother died recently at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home in Winston-Salem, the city where our mom lives. Eric lived most of his life in Myrtle Beach, and when it was clear that his days were nearly gone, the only desire my mother had was to be by his side until the end. I will always be grateful that the good folks at Reynolds made that possible.

From the moment Eric arrived, until his last breath one week later, he was loved and cared for by the staff at Hospice. The morning after Eric was transported in an ice storm from South Carolina, we got a visit from the chaplain, Rennie Adcock. I don’t know if it is a requirement for hospice chaplains to be able to sing, but this one sure can. Rennie came in and greeted my mom, my wife, and me, and then turned his full attention to Eric. Though Eric could not open his eyes to acknowledge this man, I know he heard as Rennie sang “In the Garden” in a beautiful tenor voice. The chorus goes, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” I had to wipe away a tear or two as this dear man lifted his head and sang so sweetly of the care Jesus has for his children. Rennie then prayed for Eric, and as he left, he told us that if we needed anything at all, he would be there for us.

The nurses who came in around the clock to check on Eric, to give him medicine, to keep him clean and comfortable, treated my brother as though he were the only patient in the place. They loved him to the end, though he was a stranger to them.

But nobody loved Eric like Mom did. Mom spent nearly every night by his side, sleeping in the roll-away bed that they set up for her in the room. When I came in to take her place on the day before Eric died, I found her sitting by his side, her head in her hands, her elbows propped on the bed. She was praying for her youngest, as she had his whole life. But she was also grieving that for the second time, one of her three sons was about to leave.

I spent that last night with Eric, not knowing he would die the next morning. He was laboring to breathe, and the nurses were doing whatever they could to comfort him. Though Eric couldn’t respond anymore, I prayed for him to be ready to move from this world to the next. I rubbed his head and held his hand, and told him that I loved him. When it was time for the UNC basketball game, I turned on the TV. “Hey, Eric,” I said. “The Tar Heels are playing! You don’t want to miss it.” If he had been able, he wouldn’t have missed it. He was a Fox, and the Foxes love Carolina basketball.

I left the next morning at 6:30 in order to beat the work traffic and get back to Burlington for a class. I told my students that my brother could die at any time, and that’s why I had to have my cell phone with me. Ten minutes after I said that, the call came. The nurse I had given my number to that morning told me, with tears, that Eric had just died.

To all the staff at Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home: thank you for the way you loved my brother. Jesus is glorified in the care you give to the dying and to their families.

Monday, January 15, 2018

He is the Seeker, We Are the Lost

When our daughter Hannah was 18 months old or so, she wandered off down the beach one day. I had heard horror stories about children wandering off like that and being abducted, or walking into the water and being pulled under by the current. We heard about a family who arrived at the beach for their vacation. The beach house had an in-ground pool and as they were unpacking the car, their toddler found it, fell in and drowned. Their car engine was still warm and they were dealing with the tragic loss of a child. So, with that weighing on our minds, Cindy and I did not look at each other and say, “Aw, she’ll come back. Let’s give her 15 minutes and see what happens.” I didn’t say, “Look, I will go looking for Hannah in a minute, but I am right at the good part of this book I am reading, and I can’t put it down.” Nor did I say, “Hey, you go look for her if you want, but I am tired. I have worked hard and have looked forward to this vacation for months; the last thing I want to do is to go sprinting down the beach when the waves are splashing, the gentle breezes are blowing, and the beach chair is calling.”

No, I didn’t say any of that. In fact we didn’t speak at all; we looked at each other like people who have lived and loved together for a long time and took off in opposite directions down the beach.

As I was walking and half-running, I did not stop to look at shells. I don’t perfectly remember the occasion, since it was more than 27 years ago, but I am quite certain that had I even seen a perfect shark’s tooth lying in full view, I would not have taken the second away from my search to pick it up. I also did not look out at the porpoises playing in the water or the college kids playing Frisbee or volleyball on the beach. As much as I love to just walk lazily down the beach and feel the sand in my toes, I did not think about that at all. I had one thing on my mind. I was consumed by it. My daughter was gone and I had to find her.

The single-mindedness of my search was in direct proportion to the value I placed in that for which I was searching. That’s why I really don’t believe that anyone who is half-heartedly “seeking” is going to find anything. The one who has been set upon a quest to find the truth will be focused, intentional, and doggedly determined to find it. He will not be sidetracked and he will not give up until his journey leads to a relationship with the Lord. God said it himself: “And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”

When our daughter wandered off down the beach, she never found what she was looking for. She didn’t even know what it was. Hannah also had no idea about the dangers all around her as she wandered aimlessly. She was found and brought back home by parents who loved her and went looking for her. If you are seeking truth with all your heart, you will find it. Rather, he will find you. Jesus Christ said, I have “come to seek and to save that which was lost.” When it comes right down to it, he is the seeker. We are the lost.

Monday, January 8, 2018

We Are Supposed to Judge

When I played football on our undefeated junior high school team, the coach liked to run us through a drill called the “meat grinder.” He would lay two blocking dummies on the ground about three feet apart. Then he would call out two names. Those two boys would stand on either end of the dummies, about 10 feet from each other. Then he would throw the ball to one of them. On his whistle, the boy with the ball would start running between the blocking dummies, toward the boy without the ball, who would try to tackle him before he got all the way through the dummies. Meat grinder. It was a good name. It many a little 13-year-old shiver with fear, including yours truly. I will never forget the time he called out, “Osborne and Fox.” CD Osborne was 14 years old and had to shave every day. Thomas Jefferson Junior High’s star running back and linebacker, Osborne was big and tough and loved to just run over people. When the coach called our names, I knew then that I was going to die. The coach tossed CD the ball, blew the whistle, and I entered the meat grinder with my arms open and my eyes shut. He hit me like a freight train and kept right on going. Meanwhile, I was lying on the ground, checking body parts. Meat grinder.

That’s what Jesus’ words often feel like when I read them and take an honest look at my own heart. Like a meat grinder. He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Sometimes when I read that passage, I am right there in the meat grinder again, and like CD Osborne, that text is smashing me flat. “Listen up,” the Lord seems to say, “This one is for you, Mark. You cannot give in to the desire to judge people and to be critical.” His word rolls on, knocking the judge right out of me. The Lord is dealing in this text with those who have a critical spirit, who enjoy finding fault in others, who even mourn others’ successes and cheer their losses. Many people have these tendencies simply because of a deficit in their own souls. Somewhere down the line they have believed the lie that in order to make themselves look bigger in their own eyes, they need to make someone else look smaller. Thus a judge is born.

But let’s not misunderstand this passage. Jesus is not commanding us to set aside our critical thinking and go through life “judging no one or no thing,” simply giving peace a chance, allowing our dogma to get run over by someone’s karma, or any other nonsensical spin you might have heard. This verse is the favorite among those who reject the truth claims of Jesus. Most of the world can quote it, and loves to: “Judge not, lest you be judged!” If they would only read the rest of the passage: Jesus quickly tells a story about helping take a speck out of a brother’s eye after you have removed the plank from your own. Clearly, Jesus is asking us to make judgments, but without hypocrisy. He tells us to know false prophets by the fruit of their lives. He commands us to beware the leaven (dangerous philosophies) of the Pharisees. He tells us to make sure the foundation of our lives is solid rock, because those who reject the truth of Jesus’ teachings are in fact building their lives on shifting sand.

The truth is, we are supposed to judge, being careful that we first deal with our own heart and sin before we try to help someone else with their sin. We are supposed to judge, being careful that every judgment we make is in keeping with the Lord. After all, He is the final word.

And CD, wherever you are, thanks for helping to knock the judge right out of me, at least that day. We probably should get together about once a week.