Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Centerpiece of Our Faith - Is 'Judging' A Bad Word?

Most of you know that my mother lives in Branson, Missouri. We travel there a couple of times a year to see her and to take in all that is Branson; Table Rock Lake, outlet malls and music shows. I’ve been going to those music shows in Branson since I was a small child and for the most part, I’ve learned what to expect. Every show has music, most shows have a comedian of some sort, most of them emphasize God & Country, I am rarely surprised by anything new at a Branson show.

But I was surprised a couple of years ago. Because my mother is resident of Branson, and because she works part-time at one of the shows, she gets us really good tickets. We have watched many shows from the front row or close to it. On this particular afternoon, our entire family strolled down to our front row seats at the Hughes Brothers Show. The show is a family show. The main stars of the show are 4-5 brothers. Their spouses and children are also regular cast members. They sing and dance and make you laugh.

Well, on this particular day, right in front of our front row seats, they made me laugh out loud! On one particular song, the brothers were really getting into the song. It was a high-energy song, they were running back and forth on the stage, they were interacting with the audience and because we were on the front row, they were right in front of us, bending over next to our seats. And that is when I saw it. One of the Hughes brothers missed a step the last time he visited the restroom. His zipper was down. Not just half way down, but all the way down. He was dancing and running back and forth across the stage, completely unaware that the reason people were laughing and pointing had nothing to do with high-energy performance, and I thought to myself, “One of his brothers should really pull him aside and tell him his zipper is down!” But who has the guts to tell him…

You know, telling someone they’ve made a mistake is not easy. Especially when our mistakes are a little more serious than a wardrobe malfunction. You see a husband and father neglecting his family, you catch a co-worker in dishonesty, or you notice how her pride is blinding her view of reality. Who wants to be the person to say, “You are making a big mistake.” Confrontation is not for the light-hearted. But without confrontation, those we love the most will continue in their sin.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.  All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.  For all must carry their own loads.  Galatians 6:1-5 (NRSV)

I just have to say it: This doesn’t even sound like the same letter. Do you remember the tone with which Paul has written for 5 chapters? Remember, this is the only letter in the New Testament in which Paul fails to include a Thanksgiving for his recipients! Remember, this is the same letter where Paul wrote, “I’m afraid my work with you may have been wasted. You foolish Galatians…I wish the offenders among you would castrate themselves…”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is filled with indictment and righteous anger, but here in chapter 6, there is a dramatic shift. “My friends…” Paul has had his say! He took the position of their spiritual father and offered difficult to hear correction, and now, as a parent often does in times of correction, Paul softens his voice, comes closer, places a hand on their shoulder, and He shows his love and concern for the Galatians, his children in the faith.

Let me ask you this: Why do you think Paul changed his tone just before he challenged them to confront one another in their sin? You know, Paul had spent the better part of 5 chapters confronting them. His tone was obviously harsh and direct and emphatic. I believe before Paul put down his pen, he wanted to remind his spiritual children, his dear friends, why he took the time to confront them. Paul not only writes it; he models it—We confront because we love. Correction may not feel like love at the time, but how many of us can attest to the truth of that statement? There was a moment in each our lives when we simply didn’t want to hear it. But they told us anyway, and we were mad. But had they not said anything, had they just watched from a distance, where would you be today?

Joe Beam is a friend of mine. Some of you know about Joe. He was a long-time preacher in Churches of Christ, an excellent preacher! He was “on the preaching circuit” as they say. But these days he works as President of Beam Research Center, an internationally recognized group that helps married couples stay married. One of the reasons Joe is so good at what he does is because, well, he’s been there. There was a season in Joe’s life when he left God. He was preaching all over the country, invited to speak at lectureships, conferences, and meetings. He is an incredible speaker. But at the height of his notoriety, Joe fell into serious sin. He left his family, he left the ministry, and he left God.

Joe told me once about the moment he finally hit bottom. He was literally wasting away in a jail cell. He was at the bottom! He had lost everything! Suddenly from the other side of the bars was a friend he had known for a long time. Rubel Shelley looked Joe in the eye and said, “Come on, let’s go, it’s time to put this back together.”

Today Joe’s family is restored. He is ministering to couples all over the world. He is standing up again…only because someone picked him up after he fell. Picking people up after they fall—haven’t I heard that somewhere before? Brothers and sisters, that is not only our mission statement, it is the essence of the gospel! If you don’t believe me, take it from Paul. Look again at Galatians 6:2:

Bear one another’s burden, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Remember all of that discussion about law and grace? Paul says…fulfilling the law is not about circumcision. Fulfilling the law is not about getting all of the rituals right. You want to fulfill the law? Help your brother or sister stand up again! Or, as Paul says in Galatians 5:14:

The whole law is summed up in a single commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Law is about helping your neighbor, your children, your spouse, and your friend. Whoever your neighbor may be, it’s about helping your neighbor stand up again.

But, let’s be honest, very few of us feel we have the “gift” of confrontation. And there are all sorts of reasons for that. Some of us are shy about confrontation because we fear that Christian stereo-type that says we are all just a bunch of hypocrites. We know we are not perfect, and we don’t want to be considered a hypocrite who judges everyone else but can’t even get their own life straight. Others of us are simply scared of rejection. What if I confront them and then they hate me? Is it really worth losing a friendship over?

Another factor that I think plays a significant role in our society is freedom. We live in a free society and people have a right to make their own choices. Who am I to tell someone their choice is better than mine?  There are even those who choose not to confront their brother or sister because they believe they are being faithful to scripture. After all, you know the texts, “Judge not, lest you be judged. Before you take the speck out of your brothers eye, take the plank out of your own eye…”

Can we just get something out of the way? You are not perfect, you will never be perfect, and if only perfect people are given license to confront sin then Paul’s words here in Galatians make no sense whatsoever! Over in I Timothy 1:15, Paul calls himself the “foremost of all sinners…” Yet, here he is in Galatians confronting sinners. We confront not because we think we are better than anyone else. We confront because we love, and so many times, because we confront, we allow others to see clearly again.

The Jewish poet and storyteller Noah ben Shea tells a parable…After a meal, some children turned to their father, Jacob, and asked if he would tell them a story. "A story about what?" asked Jacob. "About a giant," squealed the children. Jacob smiled, leaned against the warm stones at the side of the fireplace, and his voice turned softly inward. Once there was a boy who asked his father to take him to see the great parade that passed through the village. The father, remembering the parade from when he was a boy, quickly agreed, and the next morning the boy and his father set out together. As they approached the parade route, people started to push in from all sides, and the crowd grew thick. When the people along the way became almost a wall; the father lifted his son and placed him on his shoulders. Soon the parade began and as it passed, the boy kept telling his father how wonderful it was and how spectacular were the colors and images. The boy, in fact, grew so prideful of what he saw that he mocked those who saw less, saying, even to his father, 'If only you could see what I see.' “But," said Jacob staring straight in the faces of the children, "what the boy did not look at was why he could see.” Then, as if he had finished the story, Jacob stopped speaking. "Is that it?" said a disappointed girl. "We thought you were going to tell us a story about a giant." "But I did," said Jacob. "I told you a story about a father who lifted his son so high he could see more clearly.” “Anyone who does that is certainly a giant.”

As strange as it may sound, I pray God will bring giants into my life so that I may be helped up, and so that I may see more clearly. And I pray that God will give all of us the strength to put a few people on our shoulders as well.

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