Bleach and Vinegar… These items present a vivid experience for our senses… We can see and smell them. Taste the bitter vinegar on our tongue. Feel the tightening of our drying skin from exposure to bleach.
I have been updating and releasing blog posts I transferred from my previous blogs to this new website today when I ran across this post from 01/16/2014 originally titled: “Faith | Feeling Judged.” But, after a few comments on Facebook yesterday related to a quote I shared my whole message has changed in less than 60 days.
Ironically, this entire message along with the events that originally prompted the title stem from a relationship I have that will remain otherwise unidentified. Instead I will visit the areas of my life where this prevailing message seems so very applicable today.
Here is the quote I shared on Facebook:
This prompted a dialogue between a couple of friends and I about judgmental attitudes and standards within the church versus the world’s standards. This takes me back to a few things I have been weighing over the last few months about forgiveness in the church. A number of years ago a youth leader taught on Micah 6:8 and said, “God is the God of wrath…” With a fierce face and a roar! He will execute judgment and justice. Or at least that is what the kids picked up on. It challenged me as I read the Scripture myself.
I remember being concerned that these young impressionable kids were not thinking that God will bring them back in line if they move toward rebellion
and disobedience – which is the heart of this passage and consistent with the message Jesus preached in the Gospels. “Do justice in your own heart…” Judge yourself, so God won’t have to judge you. If we confess our sins, where we step away from God in our own hearts and lives, He is faithful and just to have ALREADY COMPLETED THE ACT of forgiving our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Doing justice isn’t about taking a stand against sin around us – it is about taking a stand about sin in our lives and hearts.
“Do justice and love mercy…” The students who made me aware of this teaching said nothing of God’s mercy or how this verse reflects the heart of God in mercy. Mercy is that tender nurturing affection of a mother who believes the best about her child, and withholds the deserved consequence in favor of grace.
Have we as a church failed to do justice in our own hearts and equally failed to love mercy toward others. This is how we walk humbly with our God. Not puffed up, pompously demanding our rights or cowering in fear hoping no one makes it illegal to own a Bible. Christian leaders and the church should be about the business of doing justice and loving mercy – no winking at sin but also not demanding our secular governments make laws that protect us to the exclusion of others nor should we desire to suppress the rights of others in favor of our own beliefs. This is not consistent with the message of Jesus and the Gospels which tell the account of His story.
If I sit at the table with someone who is a vegetarian and devour meat in front of them – serve only meat – I offend them and have no opportunity to build a relationship with them to discover why they are a vegetarian or gain opportunity to speak to that area of their life. But if I sit at the table with a vegetarian conscious of their will and the choices they are making, and do not allow my behavior or actions to become a distraction in our relationship then I have the opportunity to speak to areas of their life through relationship that I otherwise would not have.
Now replace that word vegetarian and the associated behaviors with any other word: homosexual, murderer, liar, cheat, prostitute, unwed mother, prodigal, rebellious child, sinner, evangelical, hindu, muslim, buddhist, atheist, catholic, protestant, baptist, presbyterian, charismatic, democrat, republican, libertarian and so on…
If all I do is talk about my own beliefs and standards but never give them the opportunity to present theirs – I can have no relationship with people who are not like us if we are always dividing them from me by the judgments we make about them.
In the Old Testament the Bible gives very specific instructions for the way a person is to address the defilement of the house with mold. The reason for this is that if the mold goes unaddressed it will spread quietly until it not only contaminates the entire house, but also will negatively effect every person and activity within the household. It defiles the household.
This is why we need to be vigilant as leaders in making sure there is not a speck of unaddressed sin in our own lives. That we don’t even give the impression of evil in our daily walk. But when it comes to correcting others – our role is to speak the truth in love, to address these issues in the context of relationship with more concern for the person than the standard violated or the behavior needing correction. We are to address people not sin. We are to love people not justice. Do justice and love mercy…
As I weighed all of this out yesterday I found myself expressing this…
In response to thoughts about the World holding Christians to a high standards I found myself reflecting something so contrary to my normal thoughts on the subject… “I think we set ourselves up with judgmental attitudes expressed within the church – when we express judgment we open ourselves up to judgment.”
“I find myself recognizing that as a church our responsibility is to model grace, love and truth – mercy and not judgment. To live authentic before the world. I feel like we hold the world to the same standard that Scripture calls us to live by when the world may very well be ignorant of that standard. And because we express intolerance and judgment in that way – we suffer judgment because their standards are not as ours. The higher standard is ours to bear and not the world.”
And that is when it happened… My heart broke for all the times I have lambasted another with judgmental gossip or worse in the heat of the moment dressed them down in my woefully deficient and hypocritical judgment. Throwing acid on their wounds, and dowsing their mouth with vinegar leaving them throbbing and aching from the effect with a bad taste in their mouth. All of this in the name of being a Christian.
I bristle against it when I see others do it. Like many years ago with the woman ministering to an unwed mother who had failed to come to Bible study because she had reconciled with her baby’s father only to have him assault her physically in a violent episode that morning. When she showed up at the center she was taken in a room and “gently” dressed down in condescending judgment about not being married to the man and therefore not being “right” to want to reconcile with him if they were not going to marry. I FELT THE JUDGMENT IN THAT MOMENT…
Haven’t you been listening in Bible study?
What were you thinking?
What does God’s Word say about that?
And then the opportunity presented when I was alone with her… I asked her the question burning in my mind.
“Is this really the life you want for you and your child?”
She sat for a moment, and looked down at her hands. There were tears in her eyes. A tremble in her entire being as the confusion of not knowing what the right thing to do settled in deeper and stronger than before.
“I don’t know. I just want my baby to have a father.”
Yes. I knew that was the answer. I offered her the not so church answer resounding in my heart. “You are not married yet… If he is violent and aggressive with you now how do you think he will respond or react if you are married?”
She shrugged. The defeat she felt in her heart and mind showed in her weary frame. “Probably the same.’
So I shifted the focus. “If you could do anything right now, if money were no object and you could do ANYTHING… What would you do?”
Her shoulders straightened. She sat up and looked at me a long minute before she answered with confidence. “I’d go to school and be a nurse. Make a life for me and my baby.”
“Why don’t you do that?” I lobbed the ball back in her court. “What would it take for you to do that?”
She paused. “I can’t go back to my parents. They won’t let me because of him (her boyfriend).”
I asked another question. “Could you ask to talk to them? Perhaps you could apologize for your mistake and let them know you want to change your life and do things differently for you and your baby.”
She looked to her hands again nodding her head. Her voice a barely audible whisper. “I could try.”
I then encouraged her to seek the assistance of the state of Texas in establishing paternity, custody and a child support order for her child with his father. I advised her that the state does a pretty good job of helping mothers take care of their children with that regard and that she could not take responsibility for the decisions he makes good or bad. Before long hope seemed to bubble up in her, the women in the center had her call the police and helped her connect with her parents. I don’t know what happened in her life after that day, but as I left the center something happened between God and I.
The half hour drive gave me time to think and tears broke free as the intensity of the afternoon’s experience fell on me. I allowed the events and conversation replay in my mind…
I heard my young voice crying out to God when I found myself alone and pregnant at 17… Why?
I heard my young voice crying out to God when my marriage turned abusive and I felt ashamed, trapped and alone at 19… Why?
I heard my young voice crying out to God a struggling divorcee & single mother of three at 22…Why?
And that is when I heard it… That still small voice echoing in my heart:
All of that was preparing you for today?
She is why – she needed to hear what you had to say.
She needed to hear from someone who had struggled with the same decisions
and painful circumstances she found herself in
and you were the person that could do that for her today.
She is your Why.
As hurt as I had been… As hard as it had been… As much as it had taken to draw me out of that self-destructive and self-hating life… She was worth it. That moment made it all worth it. I hope that the love of God weighed in more and that the seeds of change took root and helped her that day. I hope so… Only God knows.
These are the things stirring in my heart today. #preachingtomyself
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” ~Micah 6:8 (NKJV)