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

it’s a yes from me

A good friend of mine is currently appearing on Britain’s Got Talent. He got through the live auditions and this week it will be decided whether or not he will go through to the Live Semi-Finals. He’s Richard Jones and his audition is here. If you haven’r seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again. And then if you get the chance to vote for him if he gets that far, please do so. He’s a great bloke and a great magician.

I don’t usually watch Britain’s Got Talent but I did watch Richard’s audition. I imagine that when he had completed his audition and the crowd were going wild and the judges were applauding he must have been feeling really good. And when he got four ‘yeses’ from the judges he must have been so excited.

But there were other people who, in the middle of their performance, suddenly heard a claxon sound and a big red X appeared above them as a judge said that they did not want to send them through. That must have been so off-putting, and then for some they would have got a second X and then a third and then a final X that meant that they were out. How must that feel to be publicly voted out? I imagine they felt awful, discouraged and perhaps even hurt.

I applaud the courage of all who have auditioned, whether or not they have got through, because they were willing to have a go. I don’t think I could do it even if I felt I had the talent!

When Jesus warned people against judging others I am pretty sure he did not have TV talent shows in mind. But he said, “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.” (Matthew 7 1-2)

When he spoke about us being judged in the same way that we are judging I don’t think he was just talking about divine judgement. I think he was saying that we can expect to receive the same sort of treatment that we give out to others: an obvious example of this is that in Britain’s Got Talent or similar shows there’s always a nasty, harsh judge and they often receive a harsh reception from the viewing public.

How we make other people feel will reflect back on us.

If we are constantly putting other people down, belittling them and criticising them negatively, then we should not be surprised if people start attributing those characteristics to us. We will gain a reputation as a judgemental, negative person. I think it even extends to gossip (which is a form of judging): if we gossip about others we gain the reputation as a gossip and won’t be trusted.

But I think that the opposite is true. If we look to affirm, encourage, lift up, bless and support others we will gain the reputation of being an affirming, encouraging person. If we refuse to engage in gossip we will gain a reputation that we can be trusted.

I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that when you look at a tree you know what sort of tree it is by looking at its fruit.

The great thing is that it’s never too late to make a fresh start, and God gives us his Spirit to help us. We may need to repair some of the damage we have caused in the past, but that will also have the effect of starting to change our reputation for the good.

It’s a yes from me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS I apologise for the relative scarcity of bloggages recently. This has been due to a lack of time and opportunity to write anything. I see that Mr Grenville-Stubbs has been taking advantage of this by posting a few items. Sorry about that too.

Don’t forget to vote for Richard Jones!

face-planting in the highest

If you are a dog owner you will probably know how dogs like to find the smelliest, muddiest, sludgiest places in which to wallow and roll. And they then come back to you wagging their tails, feeling very proud of themselves.

I have a feeling that they think that they are doing something nice for you, their human. They like how it feels / smells and assume that you will be equally happy with their new odour, texture and colour – especially if they can spread it all over your car, house or clothes.

It’s a bit like cats who bring into the house rodents and birds they have caught. I think they especially like it if they can bring these animals into the house while they are still alive. They bring them as a present for you – after all, cats enjoy playing with mice and birds, so why wouldn’t you, their human, be equally happy?

They just don’t understand.

jesus weptThere’s an occasion in the gospels when Jesus’ followers come to him with a similar approach – look what we’ve done for you, aren’t you proud of us – when in fact I think Jesus would have responded with a face-plant that is hidden behind the text.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

(Luke 9:49-50)

They just didn’t understand.

They thought there were doing something he would approve of, but they got it wrong. They didn’t understand just how wide God’s grace is. They were judging other people who were not ‘in’ and excluding them, whereas Jesus’ approach seems to have been more about including people who were ‘out’.

I am fairly confident that there are plenty of other occasions in the gospels where there is a sub-textual face plant by Jesus when his followers get it wrong.

And I am fairly confident that I have been the cause of quite a few divine face-plants.

And I suspect, when Christians are being judgemental, critical, unpleasant, rude, exclusive, and condemnatory there are plenty of divine face-plants. Have a look at what some Christians are posting every day on social media and tell me I’m wrong because they show that the ‘he is not one of us’ attitude is sadly alive and well.

It may be well-meaning, with the intention of pleasing Jesus, but we might as well roll in some stinky, slimy mud or bring him some rodents or birds we have caught if we think that attitude pleases him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I have never been so offended (well, perhaps I have)

If you shop in Sainsbury’s* you may have a Nectar card, through which you accumulate Nectar Points that ultimately can be redeemed in different ways. We think it is a special loyalty bonus scheme that they give us out of the kindness of their hearts but in reality it is a way of them tracking our spending patterns and tailoring offers and marketing accordingly.

So, bearing in mind that the offers are supposed to reflect spending patterns, imagine my surprise when I received this voucher:

nectar voucher0005

If you can’t make it out, it’s offering me bonus points when I spend £6 or more on haircare. If you are wondering why that surprised me, have a look at my photo on the ‘heart of the matter’ section of this blog.

I have not spend any money on haircare products for a long time. And, barring a miracle, I don’t think I will need any for a long time either – particularly one of the products on the voucher: ‘Frizz Ease’. Are they extracting the archangel?** Do they have any idea about who I am?

Actually I think what happened was that someone else recently has been using my nectar card in order to get another offer (that enabled me to buy discounted diesel) and bought some shampoo, so the system has now got in mind that I buy haircare products. The system is not clever enough to know that someone else used my card, nor that I am not going to be buying many haircare products for myself.

How often are we like that? We assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a situation because it is easier that way, rather than approaching each situation as a unique set of circumstances. And do we ever make assumptions about people based on a limited number of facts rather than taking the time to get to know someone properly?

We might be more sophisticated than the Nectar computer system, but we sometimes assume that because someone is smiling on the outside that everything is fine on the inside. Or we assume guilt or innocence of someone based on hearsay rather than talking with that person directly. Or churches assume that because someone turns up regularly on a Sunday they have a vibrant faith while those who are irregular attenders have no faith.

You know the sort of thing I am blogging about here… we all make assumptions, we all fill in the gaps, we all make judgements about others based on limited knowledge rather than taking the time and trouble to find out the truth direct from that person.

That’s one of the amazing things about God – for him there are no gaps to fill in about us: he does not need to make assumptions about us. And yet even though he knows the real ‘us’ he loves us unconditionally and wants us to know him personally too. He knows the faults and the strengths, the joys and the sorrows, the friendships and the betrayals… and he wants to help change us so that the negatives are diminished and the positives are polished (even more than my head!)

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Other supermarkets are available, none is endorsed over and above the others here!

**taking the Mickey (Michael)

a rubbish bloggage

This morning I visited the emporium of a well-known retailer of stationery products (they were also stationary due to the effects of inertia, friction and gravity). I am not endorsing them over any other retailers, but their name is a type of paper-fastening device.

(The fact that it was a stationery retailer is incidental to the incident. But I thought I would tell you for atmospherics.)

Back to the narrative. There were several cars in the car park outside the emporium of this well-known retailer of stationery products when I arrived so I parked in an available space. (Of course it would have been much more difficult to park in an occupied space!) I went inside, made my purchases of stationery products that I required, and came back outside.

Kittens
Wrong sort of litter, but there are not enough photos of cats on the internet!

Several of the cars that had occupied spaces had gone and in the space that had been occupied by one of them was a pile of paper and packaging that seemed to have been discarded from whatever items the driver / occupants of that car had purchased. They were just dumped there.

I was indignant. It was not as if there were no rubbish bins nearby. It was not as if the packaging was so toxic that the occupants of that car had to jettison it urgently and would have needed specialist handling equipment and protective clothing in order to deal with it.

It was sheer laziness on their part.

I felt righteously indignant.

I had my hands full of stationery purchases from said emporium so I could not pick up the litter and put it in the bin until I had deposited my goods in my own car. I opened a door, put my purchases on the back seat, closed the door, opened the door to the driver’s seat, got in and drove off.

So much for righteous indignation. It lasted as long as it took me to get to my car to forget about the litter and move on. It was only when I got home, put my purchases in the study and sat down to write this bloggage that I remembered the rubbish and how I had failed to deal with it myself.

It is easy for us to be (righteously) indignant about the behaviour of others but before we start judging and pointing fingers we need to be careful in how we examine ourselves.

I hope nobody noticed the plank in my eye!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It’s a no from me

gavelIt will not surprise those of you who know me that I am not a fan of the plethora of ‘talent shows’ that seem to be filling prime time television at the moment. I do wonder where we are heading as we have shows for singing, dancing, ice skating, diving, gymnastics, and even baking. I have lots of silly and facetious ideas that I had better not share here in case they are already in production!

I have a lot of problems with these shows. But perhaps the biggest is the judges. These people criticise and evaluate the performances of those who are performing and give them marks (or kick them out). I think there are several different categories of judge and we are given a combination of them in a panel:

The pantomime villain. This is the person who always highlights the negative aspects of a performance. They rarely have anything good to say and the audience often boos them (or cheer when they are criticised or have eggs thrown at them).

The comedian. This person makes comments for laughs. They may overact or overreact to a performance and try to project a larger than life persona to gain popularity.

The professional. They have been there and done that when it comes to the type of ‘talent’ that is on display. We are supposed to respect their opinions and they are often portrayed as the voice of reason.

The other one. This person will be there to complete the set. They may bring a counterbalance for someone else on the panel, their presence may ensure that the panel is representative of a cross section of society, or they may be there because nobody else was available.

I dislike the idea that these people are put in the position of judging other people. I dislike the idea that by virtue of being on the panel of judges some of them have the opportunity to be cruel or brutal and this is seen as entertainment. I dislike the idea that I am being invited to judge people too (including the judges, as I have just done above).

Jesus suggested that we should be very careful if we place ourselves (or others place us) in the position of judging. He said that we should be prepared to be judged by the same standards that we judge others, and that we should demand a higher standard of ethical behaviour from those who judge others. He suggested that before we exalt ourselves to point out the problem in someone else’s life we ought to sort out the problems in our own (optical plank removal anyone?).

Of course he was not talking about talent shows. He was not talking about light entertainment. He was talking about everyday life. He was talking about you and I.

Hmmm.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

you say tomarto…

I had a giggle this morning when an interview went a bit wrong. Chris Evans (BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show) was interviewing the American author of a Txt Dictionary and decided to ask her what something meant. I will transliterate so it makes sense. The phrase he asked about began ‘two bee zed…’ (2BZ)

This rather flummoxed the poor lady on the other end of the phone and on the other side of the Atlantic. It was only after an uncomfortable pause while she tried to work out what was being said that one of the team on the Breakfast Show realised the problem. What Chris should have said was ‘two bee zee…’ ie ‘too busy’.

The confusion was comical.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Washington DC and a friend had taken me out for brunch after church (what a wonderful idea!). I was amazed at the range of breakfast / lunch items available in the restaurant and decided to sample lots of them. There were breakfast cereals, different types of bread, cold meat, hot buffet, and a counter where they were making fresh omelettes.

Red Ripe TomatoesI went up to the counter and the young lady behind the counter politely asked me what I would like in my omelette. I replied, “Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.” The young lady looked at me quizzically.

“Pardon me?”

“Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.”

She still looked blank. At that moment I realised that there was a problem with my pronunciation. I was saying ‘tomarto’ not ‘tomayto’. I tried ‘tomayto’ and she smiled knowingly. Then she said, “Say it again.”

“Tomarto.”

She called her colleagues over. “Say it again.”

“Tomarto.”

Eventually it felt like the whole restaurant was listening to me saying ‘tomarto’.

My friend remarked that if an average English preacher* came to the USA as a pastor they would fill their church each week because people would come just to listen to the accent!

The problem was that I didn’t think I had an English accent. I spoke normally. I was used to the way I spoke and did not think it to be out of the ordinary at all.

How often do we do that in other ways? We become comfortable with and used to our own mannerisms, language, attitudes and so on and consider them to be normal. But to someone else we might appear to be abrasive, flippant, unpleasant, rude or uncaring.

It is important for us to try to be aware of how we come across to others and how what we feel is ‘normal’ might be received differently by others. And we also need to be cautious about the way we receive communication from others. We might receive something far more negatively or of little importance to that person when they have communicated in a way that they consider to be normal. When I was at school I was constantly told not to worry – but that was just my face: apparently I looked worried when I wasn’t.

When we read the Bible I think we need to be aware of those issues too. We have words to read, but we read them through our own cultural lenses and experiences. In our mind we might make Jesus look and sound like us. We might apply 21st Century concepts to 1st Century culture and misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the things I think we miss if we do that is Jesus’ sense of humour. That’s one of my passions, but that’s for another time.

For now, be blessed and be a blessing!

*I might one day be good enough to be average!