Keeping Your Head on Straight — Judging — Not a Fable

Drosophila melanogaster
Drosophila melanogaster – the common fruitfly

Once upon a time… I used to pull the heads off flies.

Excuses:

  • I was only following orders.
  • I did it for the “greater good”.
  • I was swift, steady, gentle, and merciful
  • They were very small flies, (fruitflies, gnats, no-see-ums, the kind of fly we wipe off the back of our necks on a warm summer evening on the porch).

Biology pre-med major… lots of bio lab courses… histology… genetics… experimenting with fruit flies. Breeding them. Then, measuring them. Anesthetizing a tube of dozens, sprinkling a few out, grasping one with forceps and placing it (the size of a gnat… a no-see-um) on my slide, separating the head from the body carefully to preserve the salivary glands intact, applying stain and solvent then a cover slip to the glass slide, and putting it under the microscope (that had a grid, and measurement scales on it), to measure and classify the results.

Jesus had brought these memories back to me with crystal clarity. He focused, minutely, on the diligence, the care I would take, my hands… steady and careful, my eyes… obsessed with getting just the accurate count of hairs (or whatever criterion evaluated)… the care to focus perfectly… to standardize my scales properly… then notate my results without error. He reminded me of my intensity to attain perfection in this! (For I was very dedicated, indeed.)

What had brought this memory about? What was Jesus teaching me at the time?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Saturday afternoon a couple years ago… I was reviewing some notes on The Lord’s Prayer and Sermon on the Mount. Suddenly these verses stopped me, amplified, and would not let go of me…

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you…” [Matthew 7]

(I’m sure you’ve known such moments from time to time.) And the Lord was present, and intense. Not angry… not at all… just… well, “intense” is the only word I can find. It was clear, He was “teaching”… “renewing”… “transforming”… and I just had to hold still and “hear Him… wait Him out… let Him ‘speak’ into my heart in such a way that He accomplished His purpose”. (I wish I had better words for such moments. They happen seldom, and they are “cosmic” in impact, and I’ve never found the right language to wrap around them, because they are “wordless” moments. All I could do was “wait” and “attend”.)

Don’t “judge”… (And I DO this… all the time… so STOP IT!) That simple!

I mean, really… how simple is that? God said.. “Don’t judge, Little Monk. It’s above your pay grade. It’s not your role. It’s not your right. When you do it, you bring judgment upon yourself! Just… just… DON’T!”

How SIMPLE is that?

And yet… and yet… I’ve done it every day of my life, since I was old enough to… probably about 3 years old or so. At LEAST every day, no doubt every HOUR, sometimes for hours on end! Pride is, and has ever been, my besetting sin. I was raised this way. I was raised “proud”, and “elitist”. I was raised constantly to “keep score”… grades, popularity, wealth, intelligence, social standing, uprightness. Later this translated into piety, dedication, holiness, even servanthood. (How ironic is that? To keep a “pride meter” going on how “humble” you are?! Nonetheless, it can be done, trust me on that!)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After ruthlessly showing me my ongoing failure to overcome my sin of judging, Jesus had rolled that “instant replay video” of the “white lab-coated me” before my eyes. Reaching out for my specimens, examining them, measuring them, drawing my conclusions, making my notes.

He likened all of that to “judging”, and said that across my whole life, I had tried to overcome my sin of judging by trying to rid myself of my methodical diligence. I’d tried to learn not to tear apart the bug. Not to stain the glands. Not to mount the slide. Not to measure the outcome. Not to notate the results… I tried to “unlearn diligence”, thinking I was “doing right”. And, He concluded, rather matter-of-factly… I’d failed. My whole life, I had tried to correct this sin this way, and failed. Not utterly… I’d succeeded in muddling the process up to now. He said I’d made some progress… I no longer came up with my “quantitative result”, and I never ever “wrote the results down in my notes” anymore. Good show! But…

But… I had missed His point entirely. “The sin,” Jesus said, “is not in the means you use to measure and evaluate the specimen. The sin, is in believing that you have a ‘specimen to evaluate’ in the first place! Your sin of judgment isn’t in how you treat the fly to measure it. Your sin is in ‘seeing a fly’ and reaching for it at all!

“Don’t you see, Little Monk? Your judging isn’t in ‘HOW you answer the question of another’s worth’. You sin by judging when you think you have the right to ASK the question at all! From that point on, you’ve violated their sacredness, and all the rest is just a matter of degree.

“I’m not telling you just to quit measuring and evaluating everything. I’m telling you to stop even asking the question, even framing the thought, or allowing your mind to reach out to anyone or anything else to ‘evaluate’… beyond simply distinguishing or identifying it, him, or her.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It took me a while, Gentle Reader, even to UNDERSTAND what He was saying. Wondrously, He almost seemed to “still time” for me, for a number of hours to grapple with my own “hardness of heart and head”, until I could SEE, I could HEAR, what He was saying here. When at last I did…

When finally I did… I was horrified. I DID see, I DID hear. And it horrified me. I got it. Now, to make a long story short, having now embraced this conviction, I renounced it, and tried to resolve never to do this again.

But you know what? I failed. For hours I tried… until I realized that it was as if there were “gridlines” in my very eyes. For me to THINK about anyone, anything, ideas, positions, opinions, people… was for me REFLEXIVELY to evaluate them… reach out and grasp them, define their “edges”, and then “measure them” according to my own criteria and judge them, good/bad, like/don’t like, right/wrong, want/don’t want… on and on without pause or reflection. I tried, for several hours I tried… and failed dismally. I could not stop myself.

I wondered why? I asked Him why? Where had I learned this? Why was this so deeply a part of how I even LOOK AT things, let alone think about them? Where did I pick this up, that I could learn to “put it down”? How could I “unlearn” this?

The Lord was gracious enough to respond…

“It is in you from the beginning. It is part of Original Sin. It IS the original sin of Eve. The Serpent posed her a proposition, a different view of God’s will, and she BOUGHT IT. That there was some ‘conceivable good’, some good thing, some advantage available to her and Adam, that was outside of and contrary to, the will of God. She conceived the possibility that God’s mind and words held something less than their utter, and absolute, good. She ‘tested this hypothesis’, and ‘measured’… looking upon the fruit and measuring it against three criteria of her choice… that it was a delight to the eyes, good for food, and desirable to make one wise. She MEASURED, then concluded, decided, and acted.

“Your drive to do this, Little Monk, is a part of your very DNA, your legacy from Adam and Eve.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now… I want to do something unusual here.

I am going to stop. I will offer “my” conclusion to this post tomorrow (Lord, willing). But this was a very VERY “experiential” moment of prayer in my life. I want to invite you, Gentle Reader, to experiment on your own.

No, don’t go pulling the heads off fruitflies, or anything else. But take a few minutes, see if you “judge” as regularly as you see me convicted of here, see if after a few minutes you can “Get it”, as I struggled to do…

It’s not… murder, but anger… not adultery, but lust after another…. not measuring, but asking… “Sin”, as Jesus would have us avoid it, is not in “what we DO to others”, but how we “LOOK UPON others”. That was a tough, tough realization for me.

Jesus gave me time. Quiet time. To hear, to ponder, to consider His words, to look at scripture, to see those words… before He concluded this episode and lesson for me.

So, I want to give YOU time as well. Consider all this, “look upon Your Rose” with all this, and let the Holy Spirit speak into your own heart. Then come back, and see whether you and I come to the same, or similar places.

This has a happy ending, I assure you. It may surprise you, or it may not, but it’s nothing to shrink away from… truly. No pain here, no guilt, shame… in fact… how Jesus dealt with THAT may actually make you laugh.

Meet you here tomorrow, Good Lord willin’ an’ the creek don’ rise (as my mother used to say)…

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

How to live “Christian”…

Good Sam GlassIf you have read much of my writing, you know that I have realized that for me, in my conscience, “sin” has acquired a fairly simple definition. “I ‘sin’ when I treat any sacred person or object, as less than sacred.”

Well, while reading through the tale of Paul/Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, God stopped me dead in my tracks at the words, “a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’“ (Acts 22:6b-8)

And I tried to move on, and the Lord stopped me time and again… “No, Little Monk, you missed it… look again.” And so I did, over and over. Until finally the words began to light up for me… “persecuting ME“… I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.”

It struck me how very strange… how wrong… this seemed. Wait… Jesus was already ascended. Saul never saw Him. Never spoke with Him. Never persecuted Him. Saul was persecuting FOLLOWERS, BELIEVERS… Saul was persecuting what we like to think of as “The Church”, an institution… a corporate entity…

No,” Jesus replied. “He WASN’T… He was persecuting PEOPLE. He THOUGHT he was attacking an institution, a corporation, a movement… he called it ‘The Way’… but he was helping arrest, try, convict, condemn, and execute PEOPLE. He killed them, trying time and time again, to kill ME.”

That was the breathtaking, heart stopping, realization here. “Me”… Jesus… King… Lord… not THEM… not Church… not movement… not follower… not even “precious child”… but “Me”.

If that were true…

If that’s what Jesus really meant in His cry to Saul…

If Jesus meant… JESUS… in Saul’s attacks…

Then… then…

Did that mean that when I offend another… when I attack them… when I injure them… when I belittle, or demean, or judge them… that it is not only THEM I hurt, but JESUS?

This was not a happy thought. I did not like this thought. I sought to push away this thought… and rather than help me with this, Jesus instead just “piled on,” reminding me of Matthew 25:31-46… that whole “Sheep-Goats-Judgment” thing, reminding me, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Do you see it? Do you see it too?

Now, Jesus never EVER whines to or at me. But sometimes, not often, but sometimes from time to rare time, His voice will tend rather to ‘yodel’ with excitement or frustration, when He says something like, “WHY, Little Monk! Why don’t they see, why won’t they hear? I am PERFECTLY clear here… but even YOU are only now starting to see My words, that are and were perfectly clear for centuries. I am NOT being ‘figurative’ or ‘poetic’! I am not exaggerating… I am THERE… IN THEM… and yes, when you hurt or wound any, with your actions, attitudes, silence, or words… yes, you wound ME! Any questions?”

“Nossir. No questions. I need to process this for a bit, though, if that’s ok.”

“Sure thing, Little Monk. You process away!”

Not Just the Hands and Feet — It’s the Eyes!

earth beautifulHere we are in Lent. That’s a different thing for everyone. “Seasons”, Liturgical Seasons, are wondrous times, opportunities for the Holy Spirit to focus our interior eyes on a particular aspect of grace and our relationship with God. Such seasons as Lent, or Easter, or Advent, or Christmas, or the Pentecost… all allow us to concentrate our gaze on some facet of this “Crystal Rose” in our Garden of Prayer, the King of Kings. Generally speaking, the Lenten Season is somber, reserved, reflective, looking forward through the great trials and sufferings of Christ approaching the Crucifixion, as He draws to His climax in Jerusalem and the Cross.

What should Lent be like? Well, if the rhythm of this season resonates, the experience should be whatever the Holy Spirit calls for it to be for you in your own unique journey with Christ. For some, it is a time of recollection of our own need for grace; reminder of our frailty and fallenness, sense of responsibility for our wrong decisions, and awesome wonder at all the pain heaped upon our dear Lord in our place, in payment for our own regrettable actions and decisions. For others, it may be an intense awareness of Jesus’ passion, of His strength, courage, determination to do the will of the Father no matter the personal cost. Lent may generate the intense response of admiration and worship for so noble a Lord who struggled and overcame so much to honor the will of God.

There is no “right” way to experience Lent, and no “wrong” way, as long as the Holy Spirit is given free rein to prepare straight paths for the renewal of the Truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Jesus’ triumph over Death itself on Easter. Traditions, customs, denominations, cultures, and eras are incredibly diverse in their observation of the Lenten Season. Across my own life, the experience has been tremendously different from one year to the next, one decade to the next.

So let me invite you, let me encourage you, to make way for the Holy Spirit to use this season to bless you. Let me invite you to enter into the Scriptural experience of these days approaching Easter, making straight paths for the Holy Spirit to show you whatever nurtures your relationship and awareness of the immediate and intimate presence of Christ in your life and spirit. Your experience doesn’t have to “look like” that of anyone else, as long as the focus is on Jesus the Christ, and the scriptural elements that so richly fill these days and these pages.

This one thing I would note in addition.

That there is no meaning to Lent, no meaning to the suffering, no meaning to even the “forgiveness of sin”, or the “payment for sin”, or the “satisfaction of God’s justice”, or even the “extension of grace and mercy to man”… if those are seen as merely “functions”. If those are seen as “things God did” or “things God does”… When we see these things as simple “extensions of God’s methodology”, we miss the point entirely.

All these things… ALL that we see of grace, of God’s workings…. is direct expression of His Infinite Love and nothing less.

Embrace the awareness, the sorrow, the contrition of knowing He took our own just punishment for our own willful and willing sin… yes. Don’t reject or resist that, if that is what the Spirit leads. Embrace the awareness of His suffering, His pain, His humility and obedience, His submissiveness to His destiny and the Father’s will, in the blood and the nails… yes. Don’t reject or resist that movement of your heart into His on the Cross, if that is what the Spirit leads. But in all of that, just don’t get so fixated on the blood, the scourge, the thorns, and the nails… that we neglect to look at His face, His eyes. They radiate with the reason for it all… His Infinite Love, Our Father’s Infinite Love, the Spirit’s Infinite love… for you, personally, individually… and every other child He has fashioned as well.

Let us not gaze upon the mysteries of Lent, these incredible 40 days, or Passion Week with its horrors, spectating like onlookers at the scene of a great train wreck. If we fixate, fascinated on the scourge, the thorns, the nails, and the blood, and we miss the wondrous theme playing just below that surface… we simply witness a deep drama of horror and cruelty.

Even in grief, we want to remember that undergirding all this… is unspeakable Infinite Love. That’s what all of this is about. This is the act, prepared before the foundations of the cosmos, that embraces all of creation in the arms of Infinite Love… by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amazing, isn’t it? Amen.

Have you Fully Repented?

I’m not sure how widespread this Lenten hymn is beyond the churches of Rus, but for us it is the entrance hymn sung throughout Great Lent, and it comes with a strong message.

Boh predvicnyj
NOTE: The original source has a typo: in the third verse, near the end, it should read “Be my strength to repent”.

It’s called Beneath Your Cross, and the tone is dark, almost like a funeral song. It’s from a Christian, exhausted from the battle with evil, seeking the strength to continue the fight, asking the Lord for help. At the end of the hymn he asks the Lord for the strength to repent, but that is not the part I want to focus on today, rather it is the endgame.

I want to key in on an aspect of repentance that is rarely spoken about, yet is so vital to the process, for without this piece of the puzzle we will never fully experience what it means to repent from our sins – remorse.

In order to fully repent you need to first recognize that what you have done is a sin. In today’s world, with ever changing society morals, that can be confusing. Things considered immoral just a few decades ago (ex: abortion, homosexuality, fornication) are considered acceptable behaviors now, flouted in television and movies as normal activities. Even liberal churches are accepting these as proper activities, not only for the laity, but for their clergy as well.

You must then ask for forgiveness. Whether that, in your denomination, requires involvement of a confessor or not. Simply wanting forgiveness is not enough, you must ask for it, not just assume that you have been forgiven because you are a Christian.

In between there something is missing, and rarely even mentioned from the pulpit these days- you must feel remorse. If you are not deeply sorry for your sins, if you do not really feel sorry for having committed them, then how can you be forgiven? In the television series MASH Fr. Mulchay interacts with a scared soldier who has stolen the identity of one of his dead comrades so he can take his rotation out and go back to the states. Once there he will continue to live under the assumed identity. He asks Fr. Mulchay for absolution from this sin, but the good father tells the soldier that he cannot grant absolution for a sin he has no intention of stopping…he lacks true remorse. If we are truly remorseful for our sins, and intend to do our best to stop them, then God can grant his forgiveness. But, if we merely confess our sins, with no intent of stopping doing them, we lack true remorse, how can God forgive an offense we plan on repeating?

Now, God understands that we are weak, fallible, creatures. That despite our best efforts we will probably fall again (part of the work fall-ible), and He is ready to forgive us again. But we have to be ready to make a sincere effort to stop out sin. We have to feel truly remorseful and repent. And, when we are weary from the battle, as in the hymn, we have to be ready to admit our frailty and ask Jesus for His help.

The Candidate Meeting – A Fable

Good Sam GlassOnce upon a a Sunday morning…

“I’d like to thank you all for coming,” the friendly Pastor entoned. “Last Sunday, Mr. Josephson asked to join our church, and we’ve discussed this among our church leadership and Membership Committee this week. I’d like to ask Mr. Michaels to present their findings and recommendations now.”

“Thank you, Pastor,” Jerry Michaels began, as he addressed the half dozen or so church leaders gathered around the small conference table drinking coffee during the Sunday School hour before Worship. “As you know, here at First Godly Church in the Community, we try to take a leadership role in presenting the Gospel and godly civic and family values for and to our town.

“We did some ‘due diligence’ research, Mr. Josephson, regarding your membership here. You have shown remarkable Biblical knowledge, and have volunteered to teach Bible Study for the church. You’ve already impressed a number of our members and young people, and we wanted to consider you for a position of leadership in the church, beyond simple membership.

“So, it was a bit of a disappointment, on all of our parts,” as Jerry looked sadly around the table, to nods of some of his committee colleagues, “when we looked into your activities in the community, to find that you have a very questionable reputation. You’ve been seen to drink, and provide drinks for others. You keep very unsavory company. You are unmarried, but have been seen in the company of women of… well, let’s just say, very colorful reputation.”

Tom Didimus, another committee member broke in with, “you must understand, its not just our concern about yourself, your own morality, or whether we trust you and your actions…” as  fellow members shook their heads mournfully. “It’s a matter of your witness, your identification with our church, and what the community will think of this church, and us as members.” as the committee bobble-headed with nods of agreement.

Jerry went on, mildly glaring at the interruption, “I’m very sorry, Pastor… Mr. Josephson… but at this point it is the recommendation of our committee that you NOT be accepted as a candidate for membership, although you are welcome to continue to worship with us. You go to unacceptable places, consort with unacceptable people, and engage in unacceptable activities, such as drinking, dancing or partying, that give you a reputation for disreputable living and deeply compromise your witness both within this church and in the community.

“At some future date, should you repent of your sins and these activities, we would be happy to reconsider your request for membership. But for the moment, I’m afraid that’s not possible. Is there anything you would like to add, Pastor?” Jerry asked.

“No, not really,” the Pastor said, sadly, “except to invite Mr. Josephson,” he interrupted himself to look kindly at the candidate with his most charming and heartfelt smile, “is it all right if I call you by your first name, Josh?” Seeing the young man nod, he went on, “I really want to invite you to come join us in our service this morning, let us pray for you, and encourage you to repent your sins and your lifestyle whenever you are ready. We truly care for you here at the First Godly Church.”

All eyes turned to the candidate, Joshua Josephson, as he smiled gently and nodded. Everyone waited for him to say a few words in response. Finally, he spoke.

“Well, Pastor… Gentlemen… I’d like to thank you for your courtesy and consideration this morning, and your warm fellowship in this time. I think I’ll be moving on now. Please don’t think I’m upset or angry at your words, I have been through meetings like this more times than I can count. I come to serve, and right now I am seeking a church home that will hear and receive Me just as I Am. Ministry is sort of a family business for Me, and this is how we’ve done it for ages.

“You’ve been very gracious, and I know you guard your reputation very diligently. At the moment, I have come to seek a church a bit less concerned for reputation, as concerned for grace and faith. I’ve nothing to repent, I’m afraid. But I shall move on down the road to seek a church. I’ve come back here, wondering if when I came I would find faith.

“I am still seeking, but I always hope. I’ll look forward to seeing you around town from time to time. For now, I’ll just take My leave and move on.

“By the way, feel free to just call me Josh. Somewhere, I’m sure there’s a church for Me. Have a great Worship Service. Goodbye, for now.”

And, quietly wiping His feet at their door, gently He closed it behind Him as He left.

The group sat sadly for a moment just sipping their coffee. Finally, Jerry said, “Well, that was a doggone shame. But… well… He just wasn’t our sort, was He?”

“No,” the Pastor agreed, shaking His head, “He really just didn’t get it. Not our sort at all.”

The End

Discipleship, Master, Servant, Ministry

This is a first for me.

I am uploading a “Podcast”.

I wish I could say it were mine, but it’s not.

I wish I could even tell you whose it is, but I’ll not.

He would not wish it so. Rather, he would have you focus on the words alone, without any distractions of himself, his career, accomplishments, or credentials. Therefore, simply judge the “words”, not the biography of the speaker.

There is a great deal of really healthy lively discussion around two topics these days among committed brethren in Christ, that I’ve been “pondering heavy”. This sermon just resonated deeply in my heart when I heard this, that I simply had to share this here in this way… without trying to edit, synthesize, or re-speak what was said.

The two topics in my mind/heart were/are:

“Discipleship: What is that and how do we promote it?”

and

“How do we rightly deal with differences of view, among committed servants and brethren in the Lord?”

When ministers start to think, “I am ‘more right’ than that other minister, and it is important for me to ‘fix’ him/her…” are we not re-stating, in 21st Century theology, “Lord, please set me…” [and those who believe just like *I* do]… “at Your left and right hands when You sit on Your throne!”?

Let these words from an old friend, resonate for you… [33 minutes, I think. Great investment of heartbeats.]

Grace to you! — The Little Monk

The Room of Righteous Indignation

Another wonderful excerpt from Tales of a  Magic Monastery, by Theophane the Monk.

Magic Monastery Righteous Indignation

The Guestmaster looked at me carefully and lead me to a room marked Righteous Indignation.

“Good,” I thought, “back home some people don’t understand me. They think I’m judgmental. But this man understands.”

There wasn’t much in the room besides the four walls, and that was all right with me. I sat down and meditated a while. Then I read my Bible. I found myself looking at those walls. I read some more, then meditated, then looked at the walls again. Late in the evening, as I was staring at one of the walls, it became transparent, and I found myself looking at my own monastery. Fascinating. What’s more, as I watched, I found I could see right through its walls and into its church and cloisters.

After a while I could even see inside the cell of each monk. I saw everything. I saw what each monk had in his room and what he was doing. I saw some praying, some sleeping, some reading. I could even see what each one was reading. Brother! Do you see what that one is reading? And look at the private property! Soon I could hear their voices. I could hear everything that was said—the complaints, the backbiting. My own name was mentioned. Huh—that one to be complaining of me!

I began to take notes. I filled page after page. I thought the place was bad before, but here were the facts—what they said, what they did, what they had. Nothing subjective—just cold facts. As I kept writing, I began to see right into their heads, to see their very thoughts. These also I wrote down.

Once, when I was resting my eyes, the thought came to me, “I wonder what I would see if the other wall were transparent?” Perhaps if I kept looking at it long enough… Well it did open up and through it I saw the Magic Monastery, every bit of it. What an eyeful! I thought my own place was bad. Talk about individualism. I began to write that down too.

I rang for the Brother and asked him to bring me some more notebooks. There was so much to get down. From time to time a further question would come to me, “I wonder what’s behind these other two walls?” I became uncomfortable. “Who is there? What are the walls hiding? Why don’t they let me see? It’s probably dreadful.” I took to staring at these walls. The Brother said that behind the one wall were the deceased members of the Magic Monastery, and behind the other were the deceased members of my own monastery.

“Ah,” I said, “but why can’t I see them? I want to see them.”

“You won’t like it,” he said.

“Truth, that’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I call a spade a spade. Show me!”

“You’ll only get angry.”

“Show me. Bring me some more notebooks, and show me.”

But he refused and hurried away. I was determined that when he returned the next day I would get the truth out of him.

I did. I took him by the throat and demanded to know what was going on behind those walls. “Behind this one,” he gasped, “are the deceased members of your own community. They are all looking in at you. They are weeping and praying for you.

“Behind this other wall are all the deceased members of the Magic Monastery. They are all looking at you and laughing.”