Thursday, February 5, 2015

NBA #5-6: Pharisees and Judgey-ness

New Believer Advice #5:  Do not hold unbelievers to Christian standards.
            Unbelievers are not Christians.  And so we cannot hold them to the same standards that we hold Christians to.  What I mean by this is that it’s one thing to tell a Christian what they can do or not do (biblically), but we do not have the right to force unbelievers to agree with us and to force them to live their life the way a Christian is called to do.  They are not Christians . . . yet!
            We should not be passing judgment on unbelievers, wagging our fingers at them, saying, “No, no, no, you shouldn’t be doing this!  You shouldn’t be doing that!” 
            “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.”  (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
            That will only repel them.  And when we do this, we are focusing on their outside and not on their inside.  We are more concerned about their behavior than their heart.  We are scolding them and challenging them to clean up the outside . . . before the Holy Spirit has even gotten a hold of the inside.  And this is backwards.

            “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”  (Matthew 23:25-26)
            Their heart is more important than if they smoke or cuss or listen to music they “shouldn’t” be listening to.  And we need to be more about reaching their heart (and listening to what’s on their heart) than about forcing them to adopt the way we live.  You might never be able to get them to change their ways no matter how much you love them and share the Good News with them, but you will definitely lose them from the very beginning if you make it more about their behavior than their heart.
            The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict them, to change their heart.  Our job is to reflect Christ to them, to draw them to Him.  And when they have recognized their need (with the Holy Spirit’s help) to change their life and their behavior, then we can come alongside them and help them grow in Christ.   

New Believer Advice #6:  Even with other Christians, we still need to be careful how we challenge them.
            Everyone is on their own journey with the Lord, at their own point in the journey and their own pace.  And we cannot judge them for not being at the same point we are or for not learning the same things we have learned or for struggling with something we don’t struggle with or that we have successfully gone through. 
            Yes, we need to gently point out areas of sin and we need to help each other grow in our spiritual life and to mature in the faith.  But we need to do this in love, with a genuine desire to help them.  And passing judgment on them or criticizing them or scolding them for not being “Christian enough” will only backfire.
            And we need to always remember to look at ourselves.  We need to be more concerned with cleaning up our shortcomings and our areas of weakness than we are with cleaning up other people.  If we do this, we will inspire others by our example instead of just by our critical words.  

(New stuff for this post)
            Speaking about being more concerned with the outside than the inside (#5) and with being more concerned about other people than ourselves (#6), there’s an experiment that I’ve always wanted to try at church.  Daydream with me a moment about how this would play out:
            Let’s say that I get up in front of a roomful of godly people at church or a Christian retreat or wherever.  And I say, “What’s going on with Christians nowadays?  We are failing to show Christ’s love to others, to extend grace to those who are different than us.  We are gossipy, critical, and judgmental.  We are more concerned with how others are living than with how we are living.  We fail to do the good that we know we should do.  Our marriages and families are falling apart because we are putting ourselves first and have the wrong priorities and cannot keep our vows.  We are compromising the Truth of the Gospel to please people.  We barely even know what the Bible really says because we are failing to abide in it.  We are building up our treasures on earth and seeking our own happiness, just like everyone else.  And in the process, we are growing weak, lazy, comfortable, and sleepy.  And this shit has got to stop!”
            Now, what do you think would be going through most people’s minds at that point?  What do you think would be the topic of conversation later when they all got together to discuss what I said?  Come on, admit it . . . you know exactly what they would think because it’s the same thing you thought:
            “I can’t believe she just said the word ‘shit’ in church!” 
            I think there would be more focus on and indignation about that four-letter word than there would be about the discouraging condition of the average Christian life nowadays. 
            I think many Christians would be more concerned with finger-pointing at me for that one word than with letting their hearts be convicted and challenged about what I said.  After all, if we focus on what others are doing wrong, it’s easy to ignore what we are doing wrong.  If we point out the speck in other people’s eyes, maybe no one will notice the plank in ours. 
            We older Christians are not immune to focusing more on the outside than on the inside, to making it more about proper behavior than a change of heart, to pointing the finger at others instead of ourselves. 
            In fact, we just become more skilled at it over time.  Because we attach the label of “godly” to it.  As long as people act like us, talk like us, dress like us, and walk like us, we define them as “godly.”  And we criticize and judge those who don’t live like us.  Besides, it makes us seem more godly to call out sin in other people, doesn’t it?  To notice all the ways that other people “fail”?  (But does it really?)
            We are more concerned with how others are walking and talking than with how we are.  And we are more concerned with their outside behavior than we are with their heart, with loving the inside person and helping them find healing in Christ.  (Can we say “Pharisee”?) 
            If they polish themselves up on the outside, then we accept them and we will sit by them in church.  But if they are rough around the edges or struggle with sin or are broken inside, we don’t get too close because we don’t want to look like we condone their “fallenness.”  And we don’t want them to get our nice, white “Pharisee robes” dirty.  So we keep our distance, and we wag our fingers, shake our heads, and cluck our tongues at them.  After all, it’s the “godly” thing to do, right?
            I have two somewhat fitting examples of how easy it is to fail to really see the person, how easy it is to fail to have grace for them and a little understanding.  How easy it is to focus instead on the things they are doing “wrong” or the things that annoy us, to wag our fingers at them instead of coming alongside them.
            Years ago, I was leaving the library, loaded down with two bags of books for homeschooling (about 15 or so in each bag).  At the same time, I was carrying a baby and holding the hand of my young son. 
            The library had been doing some repairs on the sidewalk, but everyone had gone home for the day since it was late.  So the only thing left was a “Construction Zone - Do Not Cross” tape to block off that area of the sidewalk. 
            However, my car was directly on the other side of the construction zone.  I knew that I could never carry all those books and the baby around the long way because my arms were about to fall off.  So I carefully led my son and carried my baby and the two bags of books through the construction zone, safely keeping my distance from the dug-up sidewalk.  (There was plenty of safe space to walk.)
            As I struggled my way across to my car, I noticed an older woman standing patiently on the other side of the “Construction Zone” tape, waiting for me to get near her.  I thought maybe she wanted to say, “Here, let me help you.  You are obviously loaded down with stuff.”  Or maybe she wanted to say, “Wow!  What a mom!” 
            But no!  She waited the whole time for me to get near her so that she could stop me - while I still held the books and the baby and my son’s hand - and say, “You shouldn’t be going through that area.  With all the construction going on, it’s not safe.”
            I shifted the baby and the books because my arms were burning in pain, and I turned and looked at the perfectly-safe path we just walked, in case she saw something I had missed.  But there was nothing there.  No construction vehicles.  No workers.  No piles of debris.  No out-of-place rocks or anything.  Just a small section of sidewalk that was missing.  And I turned back to her and said, “Well, I didn’t see any construction going on because no one was there, so I figured it would be safe.”
            “But what if there’s falling glass or something?” she scolded.
            I turned again to look at the safe, empty site.  I looked up to see the clear blue sky, nothing hanging overhead that might fall on us.  And I said, “Well, since there’s no one here and no construction going on right now, I didn’t think there would be any falling glass.” 
            I thanked her for her concern as I tried to maneuver away from her.  (But what I really wanted to do was kick her with my one available limb.  One arm to hold baby and books, other arm to hold books and a child’s hand, one leg to stand on, and one leg to kick her with.  See how nice that works out.) 
            And she continued to scold me while I struggled on to my car, completely oblivious to the fact that I was juggling a lot, that I was in pain, and that I didn’t need her stopping me on the sidewalk to give me a lecture about how I did it wrong. 
            I didn’t need her “helpful scolding.”  I needed a helping hand.  I didn’t need her to remind me of the “rules” that I broke.  I needed some grace and some understanding.  And at the very least, I just needed her to mind her own business.
            Another example happened quite recently at church.  My husband and I sit outside the main sanctuary, on couches by the TV that broadcasts the service going on in the sanctuary.  (We just like it better out there.  It’s quieter and not crowded.  Of course, we expect there to be interruptions and more distractions, but that’s okay.) 
            Anyway, as we sat there, an older man sat down by us to watch the service, too.  He’s sat by us before, and he regularly makes little comments here and there about random things.  And that’s fine.  No big deal. 
            But as I sat there this time, I took out my phone twice to make a note for myself about something that I wanted to add to this blog about Jesus and grace and love and whatnot.  I knew I would forget if I didn’t write it down.
            And as I sat there silently typing the second note, I could hear this “click, click, click, click, click” going on a few feet away.  And out of the corner of my eye, I could see movement.  But I kept typing for a moment so that I could finish my thought. 
            When I decided to look up – because the clicking had gone on way longer than what you would normally expect – I saw that this man was waving his phone around so that it would open and close.  And he was looking at me, waving it at me very deliberately so that I would see him.
            “I play with my phone all through service,” he said.  “My wife taught me that.  She does it, too.  The whole service.”
            What an odd thing to say, I thought.  I smiled and kept typing my note.  And when I was done, I put my phone away.  A few moments later, I realized that he was scolding me for having my phone out.  And he thought he was being so clever about it. 
            Yet, in reality, he was being callous, rude, condescending, and judgmental. 
            For all he knew, I could have been texting someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.  (I am a licensed counselor, after all.  Although I am not working right now.  But he doesn’t know that.)  I could have been reaching out to someone with a kind word.  I could have been making plans to pick someone up at the airport after church.  I could have been doing a bit of Bible study.  And as it was, I was writing something about Jesus and grace and love so that I could pass it on to others later.  I was not just messing around on my phone, surfing the web, or being distracting in any way.
            Yet here he was, passing judgment on me, scolding me for something he didn’t like, assuming that he knew what was really going on and like he had some right to confront me on some “rule” I was breaking (in his mind). 
            [I hope I don’t become crotchety, rude, and condescending like these two people when I am older, sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong, passing judgment on people for a behavior I don’t like while completely ignoring their hearts and souls and struggles, pointing fingers instead of extending grace.  And I hope that I’m not doing it now, either!
            Well, I guess I get the last laugh on these two people, though.  They just became examples on my blog!  Is that wrong?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s poetic.  Guess it could have been worse.  I could have recorded it on my phone and posted it on the internet.  I warn my kids all the time, “You live in a whole different world from when I was young.  You have to be very careful about everything you do in public because it might end up on-line for everyone to see.”  It still blows my mind.]
            It’s all-too-easy to fail to really see people.  It’s easy to focus on their outside instead of their hearts, to pass judgment on them instead of giving grace, to act as though we really know what we are talking about and what they are going through and like we have some right to scold them.    
            And as we age in our walk with the Lord, it is easy to forget that we are “one of them.”  That we are human - fellow strugglers who are in need of daily grace and forgiveness, just as much as they are. 
            And it’s easy to forget that God looks past all of the outside stuff  and looks into our hearts.  He looks past all the annoying, dirty smudges on the outside and sees the hurting hearts deep inside.  (Oh, how I wish we were better at doing that with other people!)  He doesn’t get easily annoyed by the little things, like we do.  He doesn’t judge a person by what’s on the outside, by their actions.  He sees their hearts.  He reaches out to the person inside, reaching right past – and being forgiving and gracious about - all the irritating, annoying outside stuff.
            And for us “holier-than-thou” types, He looks past the impressive, polished surface and the “Pharisee robe.”  And He sees a heart that is in need of help, grace, mercy, and understanding, too.  He sees our ugly heart attitudes instead of our shiny, glamorous outsides.  He sees the doubts and fears and negative self-thoughts that we try so hard to hide.  The ones that make us work hard polishing up our outside and that make us point fingers at others to make ourselves feel better.  He sees the very unpolished, real, raw inside and the fact that we have no right to point a finger at anyone else. 
            Let’s not  judge others for their messy outsides while acting like we are somehow “better” because we polished up ours. 
            Instead, let’s regularly search our hearts and get ourselves right with God, being concerned with the how we look on the inside – our hearts, our motives, our priorities, our heart attitudes – instead of being concerned with how impressive we think we look on the outside.
            And let’s not judge others for their messy outsides.  Let’s look at their hearts, knowing that we are no better than they are.  Let’s live Christ to them, reaching out to them and loving them with the unconditional love that Christ has so lavishly poured out on all of us.  Let’s have some grace and understanding and compassion, instead of acting like we have some right to condemn and criticize and scold.
            We need to see past the rough exteriors and into their hearts, to see the person that Christ loves so much and died for.  And we need to remember that we are all on level ground at the foot of the cross.  None of us deserves God’s grace or forgiveness, no matter how “high and mighty” we feel or how polished we are on the outside.  We all look alike on the inside.  We all have fears and doubts and pain.  We all need love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, understanding, and a helping hand.
            I remember a lesson that my mom shared once about what happens when we judge someone based on the outside, instead of being more concerned with the inside.
            At the time, she was our youth leader (basically, the youth pastor).  And one day before youth group, one of the new-ish teens was smoking outside the youth building.  And my mom went out to confront him.  She scolded him and told him that he could not be here if he was going to smoke.  She thought she was doing the right thing, the godly thing. 
            And you know what happened? 
            He left.  And he never came back.  And she later told me that she realized what a mistake she had made and that she learned a big lesson.  She made it more about what he did than about who he was and how God saw him.  She made it more about his behavior than his heart.  And as a result, she pushed him away from the very Love and Truth that she wanted him to know.  Because, as it seemed to him, “God couldn’t love or accept me if I smoke.”
            That example has always stuck with me.  It shows just how easy it is to get it backwards.  Just how enticing it is to put on that “Pharisee robe.”  And how careful we have to be to remember that people are people and that God sees into their hearts and loves them all . . . as they are . . . right now . . . in their fallenness and brokenness and humanity.
            “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2:17)
            “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
            Jesus did not come to call to the righteous, to call those who are spiritually-wise in their own eyes.  Because they think they earn their way to heaven with their good deeds and proper living and spiritual wisdom and polished outside. 
            No!  Jesus came to call the sinners, those who are broken and hurting and who know that they need Him and that they could never earn their way to heaven.  And God loves us sinners enough to send Jesus to die for us. 
            And no one needs to polish themselves up to be worthy of that love.  It is there.  It is free.  It is yours for the taking.  As long as you know that you need it but can never earn it. 
            It’s not about being “good enough.”  It’s just about accepting the free gifts of love and forgiveness and grace that God offers to us while we are still sinners, before we clean ourselves up. 
            When you interact with others, remember that it’s love (along with a gentle, firm stand on truth) that will draw people to Him.  If God loves them as they are, we can too.  And when they turn to God, the Holy Spirit will encourage them to clean up their lives.  We don’t have to worry about that yet.  First comes loving them and extending grace to them, then comes their desire to change.  First comes their heart change, then comes their behavior change.  Let’s keep this straight!  Let’s not become Pharisees!