Offense is a Fence

The lessons this week have been difficult to swallow because they dealt with offensiveness, and that always offends. Offense builds a fence that divides and keeps me from connecting as God desires. Sometimes the offense is a tall fence with razor sharp barbed wire on top, but it can also be the underground variety covered by a beautifully manicured lawn. Those offenses are the most dangerous fences because I don’t recognize the offense until I feel the shock. We love fences and put them everywhere. I need a fence around my property and my heart to keep it safe and secure, don’t I?

Paula Deen and Alec Baldwin have been involved in the lessons this week, but so have I. It’s always good to remember not to throw any rocks. Paula Deen’s actions were deemed more offensive by the media, and I imagine that has to do with the depth of the foundation of the fence when it comes to racial slurs. We can all get on that bandwagon without worry. Whatever the offense and no matter how tiny the fences we build may seem, fences keep us from connecting as God desires. They all hurt, so it’s best not to judge anyone’s offense but simply make it a habit to be mindful so as not to offend. That was the lesson God had for me last week.

My ears, eyes, and heart were battered by the noisy din of discord in the media all week, and it left me wanting to run to the mountaintop and hide! God reminded me that I added a rock to a fence myself last night, and that humbled and sobered me in a powerful way. A friend posted a church billboard addressed to the governor of my state. I’m not a fan of his, so I responded with a smile. The message was, “Gov. Perry, God here. The voice you hear in your head is not me. Take your meds.” Seemed funny at the time, but that was before I read this response to her post from a lady who suffers from mental illness, “Another stupid joke at the expense of the mentally ill. We are such an easy target. This church has its head up its insensitive ass.” Her response left me ashamed of my reaction and showed me that neither my head nor my heart was where it needed to be.

I did a lot of judging about judging last week and was feeling pretty good about myself, but God was faithful to finish me off with the painful truth about the inappropriateness of my response to what seemed to be a very harmless joke. The danger lies in that electric fence I don’t notice until I’m zapped. I deleted my smiley face and replaced it with this response, “Thank you Pamela for the reminder and the lesson I needed. Prejudice is insidious, and our society is very insensitive when it comes to mental health. Easy targets are easy to hit, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to hit them :(“ Lesson learned and humility gained.

Openness and honesty is the only way to tear down or dig up a fence. God simply asks me to tear down my fences and be willing to have relationships with those who are not like me, to hear the life stories of others, and be willing to tell mine honestly with love. Honesty and  learning come with painful zaps, but the humility that results helps me understand and draw nearer to God, my truest self, and those in my path.

Fences in the yard are okay, but my heart doesn’t need one around it anymore.

Fences

Hung Jury

Giving up the need to judge isn’t a noble gesture but rather a natural response to understanding that judging others is taking God’s place. That humbles and sobers in a way that makes me drop my gavel, get on my knees, and beg for mercy. Judgment seems harmless enough and even acts as a guide if I allow myself to listen to Satan who encourages judgment on all levels. Being a non anxious loving presence is impossible with a gavel in my hand. I found myself doing a lot of judging yesterday, and I didn’t like what I heard from my heart.

God’s message this morning is that judgment is a full time job, and jury duty is eternal if I choose to go that route. It’s a life that reflects a bitterness that comes from a lack of control, and there is nothing in this world that quenches God’s Holy Spirit more. Judging is about the need to control, know, or explain everything, and God bids me to wipe the dust off my feet and move away from it. God showed me the frustrations of a hung jury yesterday. It opened my eyes and heart to see the effect such frustrations can have on His work. He made it clear that He prefers for me to leave judgment in His capable loving hands and not get caught up in the futility of eternal jury duty.

There’s nothing worse than being on a jury that cannot come to a consensus, and Christians are the worst when it comes to serving on hung juries. Being right means someone has to be wrong, and Shakespeare would say “therein lies the rub.” It’s a rub that rubs raw and brings past hurts to the surface. It’s a rub that creates friction and pain. The only way to avoid the rub is to let God do the judging and excuse myself from feeling the need or the duty to serve on or fix those hung juries. There’s a place for juries on this earth, and I’ve served on my share. I dread the call because I know it’s going to be a difficult process that takes time I would prefer to use elsewhere. Time is precious and should be used to love instead of judge those in my path.

Walking in God’s kingdom means leaving the judging to God, forgetting the juries, and loving as He desires. It’s a much better use of the time He so graciously gives me to worship Him and love others. My role is one of a witness, and my only concern is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth with love; the rest is up to God. There are no juries in God’s kingdom and only one Judge. Christ’s cross settled all accounts, so I won’t be needing my gavel anymore:)

Judge & Jury

Picking, Pecking, & Pointing!

God’s didn’t give us His Word for picking, pecking, and pointing purposes, and it breaks my heart to see it used that way or as a battering ram. It is designed to bring us together, not tear us apart. I have never understood why some are so determined to use it in ways that show very little love. When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus humbled all of us with an answer that left those who understand His point less willing to peck, pick, and point. Matthew 22:36-40 says,

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the “Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB

Jesus knows that all fall short in following these two commandments. He also knows that we use God’s Word to point at those who have different sins than our own. If asked on a game show the favorite pastime of Christians, I would push the buzzer and yell nit picking! Satan absolutely loves that about us because it keeps us from focusing upon those two important commandments. We point at sins that are “worse” than ours so we will feel better about our own and then back up our hate-filled opinions with God’s Word. I may overeat, but I don’t do drugs. I may do drugs, but I don’t commit adultery. I may commit adultery, but I don’t murder; I may commit murder, but I don’t judge. You get the idea. The bottom line is that none of us love as Jesus asks us to in Matthew 22, so we all fall short of God’s glory and have no right to point any of our fingers at anyone else.

I wonder what the world would look like if Christians took those two great commandments to heart and lived them out in our own families, neighborhoods, and countries. It would be a very different world. I know we’ll continue to argue over technicalities until Jesus comes again just as the Pharisees argued over the law before He came the first time, but I also know that we will not be arguing over them once He returns. He will not be taking questions because He has already answered them all, and He will not be zapping the list of folks we have for Him to zap. He will love, and the whole world will see Him in His Father’s glory. No trials or explanations will be necessary. If we allowed Him to have His way with our hearts now, the same would be true. I have a long way to go before I love as Christ loves, and I am humbled by His mercy, grace, and patience with me. So glad He doesn’t love the way we do or we would be in big trouble!

To Be Honest?

When I see “tbh” in my newsfeed on facebook, I have to smile. On Thursday morning, a friend described “to be honest” as fishing for compliments. I agree and think “tmwiwth” might be more appropriate. “Tell me what I want to hear” is at the heart of my shout out to others, and it is also at the heart of my cries to God. This morning, God’s lesson was about coming into His presence with a true “tbh” heart. The lesson was sobering, to say the least. My heart is never ready for God’s honesty or the honesty of loving friends when I have a “tell me what I want to hear” attitude.

The noisiness in my heart comes from Satan telling me what I want to hear and me chiming in and chattering right along. It’s very similar to those conversations I have when someone hits a raw nerve, and we both start telling each other what we want to hear. Seeking validation is easier than searching for the truth, and the resulting conversation is cacophony at it’s very best. I leave those noisy conversations having much more faith in myself as the truth fades into the background; but just as junk food leaves me hungry, so do conversations filled with what I want to hear.

A true “to be honest” is the most difficult of all conversations, and it takes my praying life to a whole new level. The truth is beautiful and will set me free, but it is a two-edged sword that cuts to the very center of my heart. La La Land is anywhere truth is avoided, and I’ve lived in many versions of it for too much of my life. Avoiding the truth keeps me from hearing, and faith is forfeited in the process. My faith depends upon hearing, and walking in God’s kingdom depends upon heeding. I cannot get to the truth unless I begin my prayers and conversations with a sincere “tbh.”

Honesty isn’t about judging, and I’m not saying that it’s up to me to tell others the truth. I do need to be honest, but God is more concerned with my hearing His truth than with my straightening out the world. Some folks feel it’s their calling to make sure they tell others what they should and should not be doing. God forbid that I do that. I’m guilty of judging far too often, and I have come to realize it’s a great indication that I’m avoiding the truth in my own life. When I find myself in those negative conversations or judging, I know it is time for a “tbh” with God.

It is vital that I say and hear the truth with love. Without love, the truth is a battering ram that knocks the breath out of me and breaks my heart. Satan uses that battering ram very well and even disguises himself as God the Smiter! I felt that smiting this morning, but God’s voice was there when the din subsided. He gently asked if those were terms I thought He would use to describe me. I knew they were not. He went on to tell me the beautiful truth that I am His daughter and He loves me. After my heart settled down, He told me the truth I needed to hear with love. Satan takes a tiny bit of truth and runs with it in his direction hoping to get me to follow along. God speaks the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, with love. Then, He picks me up, dusts me off, gives me a sweet embrace, and points me in His direction:)

The Company One Keeps

“Judged by the Company One Keeps” has been a favorite poem since a friend shared it with me decades ago. I would recite it to my middle school classes because they could relate, not to the drinking but to the fact that all is not as it appears to be. I agree, and the poem always reminds me to be cautious when judging. Here’s the poem:

Judged by the Company One Keeps
by Unknown
Frequently attributed to Benjamin Hapgood Burt.
  

One night in late October,
When I was far from sober,
Returning with my load with manly pride,
My poor feet began to stutter,
So I lay down in the gutter,
And a pig came near and lay down by my side;
Then we sang “It’s all fair weather when good fellows get together”,

Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
“You can tell a man who boozes,
By the company he chooses”,
And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

My students loved the poem for the same reason I do; there is a ring of truth to the simple, silly lines. So often, the one who seems so good and innocent isn’t who they appear to be. That’s true in middle school, and it’s true as long as we live. God placed the poem in my path this morning to teach a lesson and bring a smile because He knew I needed both after a frustrating evening.

Judging isn’t my job, and God makes that very clear on many occasions as He lays out His plans throughout His beautiful word. It’s the only sin that comes with a disclaimer. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1 NASB The ten commandments do not carry such warnings, and I believe it is because judging falls into a special category when it comes to sin. Ranking sins involves judgment that hurts God’s work. Judging is playing God, and that is best not done.

I justify judging by saying things like, “They’ve hurt me before, so I know they’ll do it again.” That sounds reasonable and gives solid ground to my claim to pass judgment. If I am to love my enemies and those who hurt me, I must also give up the right to judge them along with the right to retaliate. Judgment and retaliation go together, and that was made clear to me as God taught a tough lesson in love, forgiveness, and the importance of non judgment when it comes to living peacefully, walking in His kingdom, and being the loving witness He so desires for me to be. Fear is at the heart of judgment and will keep me from doing His will if I become its victim. Sometimes, I need to slowly walk away and not worry if others do not understand.

Some lessons pull the rug out from under me, but they leave me flat on my face, humble, and ready to pray. There are advantages to being a slow learner:) Being still and being quiet are two skills I have yet to master, but God knows how to get and hold my attention in a way that helps me see things from His prospective. I see His point much better when face down, and it’s also much easier to be still and quiet in that position.

So far, the sixties have been a challenge. I’m hoping that, like March, they will go out like a lamb as they’ve certainly come in like a lion!!