rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

when who judge others we condemn themselves

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

“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

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

loving each other

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 13

Philadephia is the literal pronunciation of this word in the Greek text, meaning love of the brethren, which certainly includes brothers and sisters. Phileo is the word for love here, and can mean affectionate love for a friend. Agape is another word for love, which refers more to a self-sacrificial kind of love, both ascribed to God, as well as human beings.

It’s interesting, the injunction or directive here that the Christians addressed are to “let love of the brethren continue.” I have found that it’s certainly not automatic, and this text bears that out, because it’s something we’re responsible for. What I have struggled with is either people disliking me, or a few intensely disliking me, probably something we all more or less struggle with. I have wanted to simply give up, knowing that for some reason I don’t measure up to their criteria or standard, or somehow fail their test. And if you’re around such people and no matter what you do and what friendly exchanges occur, this time and again comes to the surface, I am coming to the place where I’m not sure that I have to work at helping someone to like me. That can be exhausting. Of course I have to be careful not to be offensive, to be aware of what might be rubbing them the wrong way concerning myself, but if they don’t like me simply because of who I am, or with reference to my normal activities, I’m not sure what can be done. Or if I really have to worry about it, except to pray and be open to anything I might be able to do which might help.

Back to the text: I wonder what holds us back from continuing this kind of love. It’s not like it’s an option to us in the text, either. We either so love, or we are disobedient, one of the two. It’s a given that we will love imperfectly, and the need for forgiveness will occur over and over again.

Judging others along with grumbling about each others’ faults can contribute to the default all too common among us. Being too busy, or occupied with other things, so that one doesn’t have to bother with the messiness of relationships can be another, I myself can be all too guilty of. I was raised to work, work, and keep working, to get the job done, so that I’m much more at home with a job, than with another human being, as a rule. That’s a weakness on my part, since actually it should be the opposite. Not to say that getting the job done and done as well as we can isn’t important. But more important still is to hold on to the love that is to characterize our life with others in Jesus. The latter should have priority, without neglecting the former.

If we love God, if we love Christ, then we will love each other who are in Christ. But again, it’s not something that’s automatic, even though it’s given to us by the Spirit. It is something we must practice, or essentially lose. It can’t be on the back burner, but it must always be present in the main dish, and in every fixing.

Something I’m aware of and concerned about lately, what the writer to the Hebrews addresses, as well, which can all too easily be seriously lacking.

follow on; just keep following

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said,“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

John 21

The context is rich and well worth the time to read it, including this being the end of John’s gospel account. Peter was being wisely and lovingly reinstated by the Lord, after Peter had denied the Lord three times. John is called the one who Jesus loved, and why, we’re not told. Except it may be that John simply had that revelation which others did not have, but which actually applies to us all, at least to every believer in a special, covenantal relationship with God through Christ. Or they may have had a special bond. Perhaps something of both. Jesus was human, and surely felt closer to some than to others. I prefer the former, but it is likely something of both.

Peter was reinstated and given a primary role in feeding and taking care of Christ’s lambs and sheep. He was to be a pastor, an undershepherd under the good Shepherd. But like we all do, Peter looked at John and evidently was comparing himself with John. Jesus made it clear that John’s own following of the Lord was not Peter’s business, but instead that he simply needed to follow the Lord, himself.

This for me is a rather life-giving word. Both in terms of how I look at others, and also in terms of how I might think others look at me. I have to continue on, even if I am misjudged, or considered of no account. My call is to simply follow. And to look at others the same way. Of course we’re not islands, or simply individuals, but our relationship to God through Christ means we’re in special relationship with all others in Christ. There is accountability. But within that, there is also respect for the fact that not only are we different, but that it is God in Jesus who is the God of us all, the one each of us is to follow, the one who directs our steps, as well as the steps of each and everyone around us in and through Jesus our Lord.

not judging others by how they vote, or the politics of the world which they hold

An annoyance of mine is when people, and in my world, specifically Christians, judge others concerning how they vote, or their political preference. Where I came from you never consider voting Democrat. It was always about finding the best Republican, supporting them, and in the end voting for whoever is the Republican nominee since it’s certain they’re better than the Democratic one.

The church either right (conservative) or left (progressive) can be heavy handed in this, either explicitly or implicitly. And it can be a form of legalism where people are expected to tow the line or else. There are a number of problems with this.

I’ll start with the least important. First of all, when you weigh and compare the agendas of the two main parties, along with agendas from other parties, there are inevitably always pros and cons. For me it’s no clear cut choice at all. Even on the abortion issue there are significant pros and cons between the two parties. And even the so-called pro-life party, the Republicans, which I don’t view as any more pro-life than the Democrats, really has done precious little to reduce the number of abortions. They’ve used it as an issue to get votes, I’m afraid, sad to say. With some relatively minor exceptions. What is needed in this nation is a change of heart which makes abortion less and less desirable toward the day when it will be a thing of the past. There are so many other issues: helping the poor, the environment, the broken down criminal justice system, and I’m sure the list could go on and on.

But now to the most important point by far. We in Jesus as God’s church are the body politic in the world which shows the world the new way through God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. Our political allegiance is to God’s kingdom come in Jesus. Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Caesar has some authority, and we’re to obey every ordinance of Caesar insofar as we can, for the Lord’s sake. But we must beware of giving to Caesar what belongs only to God. And I’m afraid both the religious left (which if anything is worse) and the religious right too often fail to see where our political allegiance should fully lie.

We can live with our differences, and vote on either side, regardless of what two candidates are representing the major two parties (or maybe some other candidate) on the November presidential ballot and for other government positions, or not vote at all. What we have to be united in is the gospel which itself is both implicitly and explicitly political in that we show how people are to live together with all that means under the authority of King Jesus, yes, in the church, through the sacramental and common life given to us from God in Jesus.

So let’s be careful not to judge each other in regard to how we think on the politics of this world, even while we may try to persuade others about this or that in it. Let’s be those whose politics are unmistakable, grounded solely in King Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. While perhaps just happening to be a Democrat, a Republican, something else, or like me, an Independent (ha). As we look to the one politic which will remain when all others have seen their day, and which is destined to take over the world when King Jesus returns.

judging others

There seems to be a strong tendency among Christians to not take seriously the calling of God to be holy and to resist sin. I’m not talking about Christians who regularly complain about their sins, but are repentant. Perhaps in some ways we should all fit into that category, even if we must be careful, since excusing our sin may be the near fatal next step and comes all too easily. I am referring to those who simply do excuse their sin. “I am a sinner.” “Everyone does it.”

Judging others and grumbling seem among the pet sins of Christians. Thankfully I’m not talking across the board, as many do not seem taken up with these vices. And yet in some ways these vices can afflict us all, not only as recipients, but also, alas, as those who fall prey to them. It is all too easy to grumble and even easier to judge others. I am not talking about seeing the wrong in others, but seeing them as outcasts because of that wrong. We indeed are all sinners in need of the grace available in and through Jesus.

In love we need to learn to look past the judgment another might have of us and pray for them. Also realizing that to some degree we’re inflicted with the same sickness in sometimes judging others. Remembering that Jesus indeed was condemned for both them and ourselves. So that our goal can never be the judgment of those who have judged us, but through the cross, the reconciliation in the love of God of us all, even of the entire world in and through Jesus.

attitude check

We say so and so has an attitude. That can mean all sorts of things, but it’s often like the elephant in the room which everyone ignores and pretends doesn’t exist. But all too often we can be drawn in and end up having an attitude ourselves. Jesus warned against the attitude of rolling one’s eyes, speaking lightly of another or in the grip of anger cursing someone in one of the worst possible ways of one’s culture, or maybe even in a “Christian” manner, cutting them down.

There are times when I need an attitude check. I may well be right in the limited way we humans can be, but all too often I am not entirely right myself in reaction to the person or issue that seems off. It is hard to know when to speak up and hopefully gently challenge something or someone, and when to be silent. Most of the time I think we do well to err on the side of silence and grace, resorting to prayer. And most of all, we do well to avoid an attitude in which we often descend to the same level of that which we are reacting to.

I may need a time apart, even if brief (if possible) and certainly prayer lifted up to God to confess my sin, what is wrong in my attitude, and maybe even to the person, if need be. Perhaps at least taking something back, or moderating what I said earlier.

Interestingly when this is done, we then see much more clearly. All too often a judgmental attitude colors what we see, so that we don’t see clearly enough. We need to judge ourselves first before we can see well enough to possibly help another with their problem. Always in much grace and love, along with the wisdom we need in this from God.

And so we need the Lord’s help, his light on ourselves as together in Jesus we seek to live out his love and truth with each other and for the world.