plank-eye

Some things are so blindingly obvious that we miss them. Jesus had worked in Joseph’s carpenter’s workshop for 20 years. He knew about wood. He knew too how much it hurt when you got a speck of sawdust in your eye. It would have been a regular occurrence as there were no safety glasses in those days. It was highly unlikely that there would have been any mirrors so he would have been reliant on someone else to look in his eye and help him get the speck out.

cutting woodSo he knew what he was talking about when, in the Sermon on the Mount, he said:

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)

It’s comical isn’t it. Someone trying to help another person with a speck of sawdust in their eye whilst ignoring the plank in their own eye! How would the plank-eyed person see to help the other one? Would the plank poke the other one’s eye? I think this is another example of Jesus’ sense of humour. But he was also making a serious point. And it wasn’t about the difficulty of trying to help the person with the speck of sawdust… it was about the hypocrisy of the plank-eyed person.

How could they ignore the glaringly obvious problem in their own life and concentrate on someone else’s smaller problem? That this is the meaning becomes much clearer when you realise that, like this bloggage follows yesterday’s, Jesus’ speck/plank observation comes immediately after he had be talking about the error of judgement in judging others. Here’s a reminder if you don’t want to look back to yesterday’s bloggage:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Ah.

Yes.

Awkward isn’t it?

Not so funny.

It’s up there with “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone” (John 4).

It saddens me immensely when I come across Christians who are judgemental of others. I feel a deep sense of disappointment. Not because I am perfect. Not because I am judging them (or at least I try not to). But because Jesus seems to have been so strongly against people judging one another.

You see I reckon we all suffer from plank-eye. None of us is perfect (we know that too well, don’t we). All of us struggle. All of us have areas of weakness in which we stumble more frequently than others.

Those who are tempted to look for where others fall short of God’s standards should pause and look in a spiritual mirror. And if they think they are perfect they should beware of pride!

Those who feel they have the right to condemn others should feel the weight of the stone in their hands and the weight of Jesus’ words.

That does not mean that we should not speak about God’s standards, but when we do we do so as those who recognise the truth that “all have fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) and that all of us are entirely dependent on his grace and forgiveness.

Be blessed, be a blessing

revelation

In correspondence to a friend earlier this morning I had a moment of revelation that I thought I would share with you:

Is one reason that people think churches are full of hypocrites because Christians are imperfect people trying to follow a perfect Lord and our imperfections show up in greater relief against the life and teaching of the One we seek to follow?

Empty PlinthIt also inspired me to write an ickle pome:

Don’t put your pastor on a pedestal

They’ll only fall off.

Don’t give your minister a medal

It’ll make their spouses scoff.

Don’t make a saint of your shepherd

You’re ignoring the stains.

Don’t romanticise your rector’s record

It’ll only bamboozle their brains.

That doesn’t mean we don’t like or need encouragement, but help us keep a good sense of perspective!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

some assembly required

I have been given two books. The lovely Sally, my wife, went to a charity shop yesterday and came back with a carrier bag of books (they are selling them by the bag now!) and two were for me. One was a book of card tricks, and I won’t be sharing any quotes from that with you. The other is a selection of stories told by after dinner speakers. This one tickled me:

A visiting clergyman went to a small village to take the evening service as the resident parson was ill. As he had not been there before he arrived in good time and had a look around the church. He saw a collecting box with a card over it: ‘For church expenses’ and he put in 10p.

When the service was over the verger came into the vestry with the collecting box. He said, “It has always been our custom to give the contents of this box to any visiting clergyman we may have.”

coin handHe selected a key from a bunch he held and, after opening the box, he said, “My word, sir, you are lucky tonight: there’s 10p in it!” and he handed the money over.

When he reached home the clergyman told his wife and small daughter of his experience. The girl’s answer was, “Well you see, daddy, if you had put more into the box you would have got more out of it.”

[insert your own application here*].

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*That’s where some assembly is required for this bloggage.

wooing and woeing

I think Bibles ought to have a strong warning on them, along the lines of cigarettes:

Warning: reading this book can seriously damage your religion.

I am preparing for Sunday morning today and reading a passage in Luke 11 where Jesus goes a bit ‘woe-crazy’. He ‘woed’ those who were trying to get people back into a right place with God by legalism but were neglecting the things that God thinks are most important: love and justice.

He ‘woed’ the people who believed that if only people would stick to following religious rules and regulations they would be all right, where Jesus’ message was one of grace, repentance and reconciliation with God. It’s the difference between trying to woo and impress someone by precisely following a formula from a book on dating and being in a relationship with someone where you listen to each other and love each other.

The hypocrisy Jesus was condemning is like some of the tabloid newspapers who are gleefully (and rightly) campaigning against pornography and endorsing the government plans to put filters in place while at the same time showing scantily clad men and women because it boosts sales? Have a look at these banners copied from a well known tabloid today and you will see what I mean:

sun 1 sun 2It is very easy to get carried away with the ‘woeing’ and cheer Jesus on from the sidelines: “Yes, you tell them. Point out their hypocrisy! Show them up for their religiosity! Give them the old ‘left-right’ combination: you neglect justice and you don’t love God!”

And as we join in the cheerleading we fail to notice that we can be guilty of the same things. Are we more concerned about religion than faith? Are we more concerned about the lifestyles of others than about what is going on inside ourselves? Are we hypocritical?

One of the traditional accusations against churches is that they are full of hypocrites. Well there is a difference between being a hypocrite and someone who is striving to follow Jesus and sometimes fails. One will think they are doing fine, the other is dissatisfied with sin and seeks God’s help to change. One is keen to point out the faults in others, the other knows that they need God’s grace and forgiveness. 

Please God keep me in the second group.

And to close I think there should be a second warning on Bibles:

Warning: God can transform your life if you read this book.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

context

Context is everything.

“I never want to see you again” can be devastating if spoken to a person but fully understandable if spoken to a grey hair that has just been plucked from your head.

It is entirely appropriate to greet someone and say, “How are you?” when you meet them in the street but sitting in a doctor’s waiting room the same question can seem overly nosy and perhaps even unnecessary.

Thumping someone on their chest is entirely appropriate if you are attempting to give cardiac massage but can lead to a night in the police cells if that other person Is perfectly healthy.

Steaua Fans“Who are you?” is a very different question when chanted by a football crowd in the direction of the opposing fans to when you say it to a stranger in your house.

It’s also very true for the way we read the Bible. If you take a verse out of its context you can almost make it mean anything, and can certainly distort its meaning. I can still remember the adage from my days in the vicar factory: “a text without a context is a pretext.” it’s important to ask ourselves what is happening in the surrounding passages in order that we can more fully understand the passage we are considering.

In all of the above circumstances if we fail to take account of the context we may well get the wrong end of the stick. We can jump to conclusions, make assumptions and fill in any blanks in the background story in such a way that we completely misunderstand what is happening.

Hopefully you are all agreeing with me at this point because they think I’ve said anything particularly radical. So why is it that we often fail to take account of our own context? We can fail to recognise that we are too busy and wonder why our family seem a bit distant. We can ignore sin in our own life and happily dispense judgement about others (Jesus said something about planks and specks of dust didn’t he?). We can feel hurt and wronged by others and fail to recognise that we may well have caused hurt by our own failure.

At its worst this tendency has a hideous name which Jesus used for the religious leaders of his day: hypocrisy.

Have people ever said to you that they won’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites? it’s a sobering thought. But following on from yesterday’s bloggage I think (or at least hope) but the reality is that the churches are full of people who fall short of God standards but are aware of that and are asking God to help them as they wrestle with that reality. We are people who are acutely aware of our need of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Please God always help me to be aware of my own context so that I never end up being hypocritical.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A driver is pulled over by a policeman. The police man approaches the driver’s door.

“Is there a problem Officer?”, the driver asked.

The policeman says, “Sir, you were speeding. Can I see your licence please?”

The driver responds, “I’d give it to you but I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one?”

The man responds, “I lost it four times for drink driving.”

The policeman is shocked. “I see. Can I see your vehicle registration papers please?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

The policeman says, “Why not?”

“I stole this car.”

The officer says, “Stole it?”

The man says, “Yes, and I killed the owner.”

At this point the officer is getting irate. “You what!?”

“She’s in the boot if you want to see.”

The Officer looks at the man and slowly backs away to his car and calls for back up. Within minutes, five police cars show up, surrounding the car. A senior officer slowly approaches the car, clasping his half drawn gun.

The senior officer says “Sir, could you step out of your vehicle please!”

The man steps out of his vehicle. “Is there a problem sir?”

“One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.”

“Murdered the owner?”

The officer responds, “Yes, could you please open the boot of your car please?”

The man opens the boot, revealing nothing but an empty boot.

The officer says, “Is this your car sir?”

The man says “Yes,” and hands over the registration papers.

The officer, understandably, is quite stunned. “One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving licence.”

The man digs in his pocket revealing a wallet and hands it to the officer. The officer opens the wallet and examines the licence. He looks quite puzzled. “Thank you sir, one of my officers told me you didn’t have a licence, stole this car, and murdered the owner.”

The man replies, “I bet you he told you I was speeding, too!”

cliché time once again

money - coinsI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: change is inevitable… except from a vending machine.

I know that’s not very original, but it still makes me chuckle.

None of us like change, but it is a fact of life: we are all getting older and that brings about change (male pattern baldness for example – see my picture in about me); society and organisations evolve and adapt which necessitates change; seasons come and go bringing different weather patterns.

I think one of the things that we fear most about change is when the change is sudden and unexpected (take the reaction to Pope Benedict’s unexpected resignation, for example). sudden and unexpected change is much more difficult to adapt to than gradual change because the latter enables us to acclimatise whereas we have to react instantly to the former. The often used analogy is that if you were to drop a frog into a pan of boiling water it would jump out immediately but if you put it into cold water and gradually raise the temperature it will not notice the change until it is too late. That analogy does seem rather unfair on hypothetical frogs and also suggests that the outcome of change is negative. That is not always the case.

Regular bloggists here will know that back in November I had an operation to renew an occipital nerve stimulator that I have installed within my body in order to moderate a chronic migraine. The effect of the stimulator is very gradual and I have been impatient to be able to say that it is definitely working whilst not being able to say for sure if that is the case given that the change is so gradual. I’m pleased to be able to say that it is definitely making a difference and that the likelihood is that (as with the previous ONS) the migraine should soon be a thing of the past and at the moment is running at a much diminished level. Thank you for your prayers and support.

The change that God brings about within each one of us, because his Spirit is within us, is often (and perhaps usually) gradual too. Occasionally God makes dramatic and sudden changes within us that my experience is that for the most part change is almost imperceptible. It is only as we look back that we realise how much God has changed this. We find that his Spirit is bearing fruit in our lives and changing us to become more like the people he has created us to be. Even the image of fruit bearing should remind us that it will be a gradual process: fruit does not grow overnight!

I think we should all have badges that say, “Please be patient with me, I am a work in progress.” God is at work in each one of us in different ways doing different things changing different aspects of our life and personality as is best for each one of us. We need to be very careful that we do not tell other people what changes God should be bringing about in their life – that’s his job. We need to be very careful to that we do not impose what God is doing with us as the standard for everybody else.

God’s new community, a.k.a. church, should be a place of grace not of rules. It should be a place where we recognise that we are all works in progress and nobody has the right to judge anybody else about the rate of progress or the aspects of their life that God is currently working on. Jesus reserved his harshest words for religious people who were confident of their own righteousness and pointed fingers, excluded and condemned others. Please God don’t let us be like that. Let us be free samples of Jesus the gracious, welcoming, blessing, joyful, incarnate one who is God’s “yes”.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

sand art

I will try to tread carefully today. That’s because the subject of this bloggage is still an active court case and I do not want to be guilty of contempt of court.

Yesterday, shortly before his trial for perverting the course of justice was due to begin, Chris Huhne changed his plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘guilty’. At first I was indignant. Why didn’t he ‘put his hands up to it’ when he was first confronted with the allegation? Then I was annoyed. Why has he wasted so much time and money (his own and that of us taxpayers) in protesting his innocence and having a trial set up only to change his plea at the last minute?

I found myself clambering onto a high horse and clothing myself in self-righteousness. He should have known better. If he knew he was guilty why has he thrown so much away over 3 points on his driving licence and a fine? I could feel myself getting quite ‘harumphy’ about it. And it didn’t help when other politicians were interviewed on TV and said that he had done the right thing by resigning as an MP. I was thinking that he should have done the right thing long before rather than playing this brinkmanship game of ‘chicken’ with the Crown Prosecution Service to see who would give in first.

true loveAnd then, to make matters even worse, an image of a man drawing in the sand came into my mind. He had been presented with someone who was clearly guilty and asked what to do. The Jewish Law said that the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (and yes, where was the man?) should be stoned to death. But the accusers knew that Jesus would want to show compassion. They thought they had him. He either had to break the Law or condemn a woman to death.

The sand-drawing stopped. The man stood up and gently said, “The one who is without sin can throw the first stone.” Then he crouched back down and started drawing.

The baying mob went silent and slowly, one by one, they melted away until it was just the sand artist and the woman left. There was nobody to accuse, condemn, convict. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Where did she go? Did she go back home? Did she join the other women who were part of Jesus’ nomadic group?

As I watched the doodling in the sand I thought of Chris Huhne – desperately trying to cover up a mistake with lies. I thought of how I have tried to avoid blame, how I have lied to cover my back, how I have tried to cover up my own sinfulness and present a perfect image (see yesterday’s bloggage).

I did not have a stone in my hand but I gently climbed down off my high horse, went and stood next to the man in the sand and asked him for forgiveness – and to say the same to me as he had said to the woman.

He did.

He does.

He will.

Be blessed, be a blessing.