Tag Archives: Religion

Some Thoughts on Church Discipline…

Okay, I know I’m a bit late.  The Driscoll hysteria has passed.  But I was asked in a final exam for one of my seminary classes about the concept of Church Discipline.  And having been on the pointy end of that stick myself in the last year or so, I thought I might share my two cents here as well.

There are many varying views of the subject, and, in my opinion, there are many abuses of the idea going around in the contemporary church.  Let us begin with the words most commonly used to describe how we ought to carry out discipline in the church.  Those words are the words of Jesus in Matthew 18.  Jesus says,

“If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

So, what we see here is that Jesus tells us a sort of hierarchy for how to carry out Church Discipline.  We first go individually.  Then we take one or two others.  Then we tell it to the church.  Then we treat them as the pagan or the tax collector.  In contemporary church circles – specifically that of the neo-reformed movement exemplified by Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle – this has come to mean that we ought to call people out harshly.  If that doesn’t work, we send in the church’s elders in to beat them up a bit tag-team style.  If that doesn’t work we kick them out of the church and tell anyone who is a member that they ought not talk to them anymore.

Instead of this scenario, I think we ought to approach this subject by taking these verses in their context.  Prior to Jesus speaking these words he had been talking about who will be first in the Kingdom.  He says that children will be first.  He says that whoever wants to be first in the Kingdom ought to become like a child.  And he then continues to say that anyone who causes one of these children to stumble, it would be better for that one if they had never been born.  Then he further gives a parable that illustrates God’s love for those children.  He shows God pursuing the lost child like a shepherd pursues the one lost sheep while leaving behind the 99 to do so.

Then he gives the statement of “church discipline” as a way of preventing abuse by religious leaders.  He lays out a way of dealing with those who “offend” by doing it in a loving and kind way.  After laying out the loving way to deal with “one who sins against you” Peter – apparently looking for a loophole – asks, “how many times do I have to forgive one who sins against me?”  And Jesus answers by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant.  In this parable a servant of the King is forgiven an unpayable debt.  The servant then goes out and demands payment by one of his fellow servants for a minor debt.  The unmerciful servant is then punished because he would not forgive little when he had been forgiven much.

So, the idea of Church Discipline, in this light, consists of lovingly and privately calling out the offense.  Then taking a few people as witnesses if that doesn’t work.  If that doesn’t work, we then involve the church community.  If that doesn’t work we treat them as tax collectors and pagans.  However, this doesn’t mean we kick them out and avoid all contact.  Instead we treat them the way Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans.  We leave the 99 and pursue the 1 who is astray.  We love them and love them and love them no matter what.  We have dinner at their house.  We ask them to change their ways.  But we also never stop inviting them into community.  In no way do we shun them until they get on board with our way.  It is not our job to convict of sin.  That is the job of the Spirit.  It is our job to show love and forgiveness.  And if we must call out sin, then we do so in a loving and forgiving and understanding way.

So, instead of kicking people out who disagree or offend, we love them back into the group.  One of the greatest offenses that Christianity has committed against a dying and lost world is that we have systematically removed ourselves from society by segregating ourselves, and by kicking out anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.  If we follow the model of Jesus then we will draw people to us.  Without compromising Truth, we can at the same time not compromise Love.  Our witness to the world consists in our being the type of Christians who the watching world will see and say, “Wow…look at how they love…I need some of that!”  Instead I’m afraid that they know us by who and what we oppose.  When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us one final legacy.  He said that the world would know we are his and that he was sent by God if we love one another.  At one time the Roman historian Tertullian said, “See how these Christians love one another!”  When you ask someone today what they think of when they think of Christians, that is not the first answer you will get!

So, the challenge I issue today to you and to myself is to make an intentional effort to love someone you disagree with.  Find someone who has harmed you and make an effort to forgive them.  Make every effort to reconcile with them.  And even if you can’t, make every effort to let go of the hate.  Make every effort to be the sort of person who others will look at and say, “Wow!  Look how that person loves!”

Love is the Word,

Believe,

-a


let your light shine…

I wrote a while back about my entertainment center.  In that post I discussed the difficulty we have in defining reality.  The entertainment center idea is like this:

Sitting in my living room is an entertainment armoire.  It is golden pine.  It takes up a certain amount of space.  But wait.  It’s partially pine, but a lot of it is particle board.  On top of that, it has quite a bit of plastic, and metal screws.  On top of that, at the atomic level, it is mostly empty space.  At second thought, it’s a cabinet, so it is mostly empty space anyway.  And really, it’s not so much golden, as it is multiple shades of yellow.  There are also reds and browns.  And when you get right down to it, it’s only an entertainment armoire because I put a TV in it.  If I put it in my basement and filled it with junk it’d just be a storage cabinet.  And while we’re at it, this room is only my living room because it’s where I hang out and watch TV.  It could just as easily be a bedroom.   And it’s “my” because I signed some papers and send the bank some money every month.  It’s more like the bank owns it, and I’m renting to own.

What it boils down to is that we can all agree that there is something there.  It takes up a certain amount of space.  It has certain properties.  But when we really start to discuss exactly what is there, things get a little bit wonky.

Now, we all have a worldview.  Each of us live our life with certain presuppositions about what life is about, why we are here, and what we should do with ourselves.  Much like the entertainment center, we all seem to agree that there is something there, but we have a very difficult time discussing what exactly that thing is.  Some hold to the view that since we each have our own perspective, none of them is any more accurate than the next.  Others hold to the idea that their own perspective is the only possible solution to the question and that there is no truth at all in anything anyone else has to say.  And often the folks who say that no one’s perspective is any better than any other miss out on the fact that that in itself is a statement about reality that they think is more true than the view of those who disagree.

I know, right?  It’s all very confusing…

To the first group, the group who says no-one’s perspective is any truer than the next, I have to disagree.  When we talk about the entertainment center, we each offer certain unique perspectives.  However, some observations about the thing are closer to the reality (or the is-ness) of the thing than others.  If I called it a “storage cabinet” and put it in the basement and filled it with junk, then I would fail to notice the things that make it uniquely designed to be an entertainment center.  I would have to ignore the pocket doors, the pull-out swivel, the shelves for components, and the built-in power strip.  I would not be completely wrong to say that it is a cabinet made to hold stuff.  But I would have missed out on a fuller reality of what it was made to do.

I also have to part ways with the group who thinks there is no truth to be found outside of their own worldview.  We are all somewhere along a continuum with our interaction with reality.  All of us have some ways in which our view is distorted.  What we are to do is to claim truth when we find it.  All truth is God’s truth.  This is not to say that we get to pick and choose what we claim as truth, however.    2+2=4 no matter how we feel about it.  To put it into logic terms; A is A.  A is not non-A.  If there is a thesis, there is an antithesis.  If there is a yin, there is a yang.  But to claim that we understand the entire truth is also to miss the bigger picture.  If I refuse to acknowledge that the entertainment center can also be used as a storage chest, then I miss the fuller reality because I am dead-set on what I define the object to be.

The same goes for life.  Some perspectives on life are closer to the “is-ness” of what life is about than others.  Certain worldviews necessitate a leap of faith in order to not end in despair.  Some worldviews necessitate a closed mind and a barren heart in order to allow us to maintain our status quo (also a sort of leap of faith).

If life is the result of chance plus time, and all that is real is existential experience, then this worldview logically leads somewhere.  Is there any difference between cruelty and mercy?  Is there any reason, other than social norms, to love instead of hate?  Is there any objective reality to love or hate?  I would argue that to follow the logic of a “chance plus time” source of life leads directly to a meaningless existence.  This does not mean that anyone who holds this view is leading a meaningless life.  This is not to imply that the atheist is any more “evil” than the Christian.  I do say this to say that there is a break-down in the logic of this worldview if at any point the one who holds to it begins to hold certain values above others.  If at any point this person begins to love, fights for justice, or values mercy, then they have taken a leap of blind faith.  The actions are good, and I believe they are based on an intuitive knowledge that there is an objective “right and wrong”, but the actions constitute a break down of the logic of the worldview.

So, how about my own worldview?  How does this apply to me as a Christian?  Obviously I believe that it is in Jesus that we find the ultimate truth of all of reality.  As Christians we can debate about how God created the world, but we agree that God did it.  We can debate how God created humanity, but we agree that God did it.  We can debate what it means to be made in the image of God, but we agree that we are made in God’s image.

The story of Christianity is one of Love overflowing into Love.  The Christian worldview states that God is three-in-one.  There was a relationship of Love from all eternity that exploded into the Universe we see here as an outpouring of that Love.  For love to be love it must be free to take it or leave it.  So we have the choice.  Every one of us in one way or another reject it every chance we get.  So God had a plan in place from the beginning to offer the solution.  And the solution is to offer us a part in a new-perfected heavens and earth.  And we still have the choice to keep on living in the self-centered way we so often choose (a way whose trajectory into eternity is damnation).

So, if we believe that we are created in God’s image.  If we believe that love is better than hate.  If we believe that mercy is better than condemnation.  If we believe that helping is better than hurting.  Where does our logic break down?  See, I believe that these things are true.  I believe that it is closer to the reality of the “is-ness” of life to say that we should love each other.  But often I take a backward leap of faith and I don’t do it.  I act in small selfish ways.  I take the resources I’ve been blessed with and I squander them and refuse to share with people around me who are hurting.  I believe that it is my job to help bring heaven to earth, but then I ignore all the hells on earth (and all too often I help create them).

So I encourage anyone who believes in the chance plus time version of life to continue to look at the logic of the position, but to continue to make that leap of faith to work towards love and justice.  Even if you don’t believe in God, when you work for love, you are working for God.  And I encourage Christians to follow the logic of your faith.  If we believe what we claim to believe then it will change the way we act towards those around us.  Christianity can’t just be a social club for people who “get it.”  If the Gospel is good news, then it has to be good news for everyone.  It should be good news to the person you’ve been hateful to that you are being changed by the Spirit.  It should be good news to the downtrodden, the poor, the orphans, the immigrants, that you are being made new.

If Christianity is just about you getting right with God, then you are missing the point.  Re-birth is the starting line, not the finish  line.  Let your light shine.


Prodigal Christianity…

I’ve been co-leading a class on Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God.  He explained something I had never considered before.  When we hear the word “prodigal” we think of it as “wayward.”  The word has the connotation of wild and reckless behavior.  And in a sense that is true.  But what Keller points out is that the actual definition of the word is “recklessly spendthrift.”  The sense here is of pursuing your goal with reckless abandon.

So, in the story of the Prodigal Son we are not looking at a wayward son who runs off and then is welcomed back.  I mean we are, but that isn’t all we see.  We actually see three examples of a prodigal nature.  All three of the main characters of Jesus’ story are prodigal in their own way.  Prodigality is, like most things, not a matter of being the wrong way to be.  It’s a matter of being prodigal in the proper way.  The issue is not even that their ultimate goal is wrong.  What is wrong with both sons is that their prodigal nature leads them to miss out on their goal.

If we take all sin and suffering out of the Bible we are left with four chapters.  We have the first two chapters of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation.  We are left with a book that starts with a garden with no suffering, and ends with a city filled with God’s light.  This is ultimately what every one of us is after.  We may not really know it, but every time we work to end suffering in the world or in our own lives it is because we have a deep seated sense that things aren’t meant to be this way.  Somewhere in our bones we realize that life is not meant to be about suffering and pain.  So we pursue ways to end that suffering in the most prodigal way we know how.  Each example in the parable Jesus tells represent one of the ways in which we do this.

The first example in Jesus’ story is the example we are familiar with.  The youngest son goes to the father and says, “give me all that is mine.”  This is shocking to the consciousness of first century Palestine.  He is basically saying to the father, “I wish you were dead.”  He is recklessly casting aside any love for the father, any love for his brother, and any love for his community.  All he wants to do is to get out and party.  He takes the ostrich approach to pain.  He buries his head in the sand.  He stays numb.  He buys friends.  He sits in front of the television.  He goes out to clubs.  He does anything he can to avoid any real questions about his life and where he fits in the world around him.

The elder brother is the opposite, but the result is exactly the same.  The elder brother follows all the rules.  And he follows them with a reckless abandon as well.  He is so committed to following the rules that he won’t have anything to do with anyone who doesn’t.  It would have been his responsibility to go out looking for his younger brother when he took off.  But he didn’t.  He was all about keeping up the status quo.  He wanted the father’s things as much as the younger brother.  He was just placing his bets that the best way to get those things was to play nice and follow the rules.  So he was furious when the father gave the younger brother his inheritance.  And he was even more furious when the father accepted the younger brother back as a son.  The elder brother also wanted to avoid opening his heart to those around him.  The younger brother built a wall of licentiousness around his heart.  The elder brother built a wall of laws around his.

So we are left with the third way.  The Gospel is always the third way.  The father is prodigal in his love for both sons.  But unlike the sons he recklessly casts aside his own status and self-interest in order to pursue the love of his children.  When the younger son says, “I wish you were dead…give me what is mine.”  He does not run him out of town or have him stoned to death as the Law would have prescribed for such a thing.  He makes the sacrifice himself.  He sells off part of his land.  He gives up a portion of his wealth so that the youngest son can have what he asks for.  And when the elder son refuses to come in to the celebration of his brother’s return the father does not force him to do anything.  He takes the public humiliation, and he leaves the party so that he can beg his son to come in.  And when the elder son is berating him for his prodigal love of the youngest son the fathers reply is this.  He says, “All that I have is yours, and has always been yours.  All I have ever asked of you is for you to love me, and love your brother.”

Many of us hear this story from the perspective of one son or the other.  We might be younger brother types who focus on Jesus’ teaching that the elder brother is equally wrong if not more-so.  We might be elder brother types who focus on the fact that Jesus gives a very clear example of what happens when the younger brother gets exactly what he wants.  But either way, if we read this story and find ourselves saying, “Yeah!  That’s right!  You tell ’em Jesus!”  Then we are missing the point completely.  The point of the story is to understand the prodigal love of the father.  If we can find ourselves beginning to read this story and feel our heart break for both of the brothers, then we are starting to get it.  And if we can look at those around us, especially those who are the opposite from us, and not be angry, but be heartbroken for the ways in which they are broken, we are starting to get it.  And if we can truly want what is best for those around us no matter what the cost is for us, then we are finally beginning to see with the Father’s prodigal eyes.


Moloch…In Whom I Dream Angels…

“[Moses] said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”  “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil.  They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’  So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”” – Exodus 32:21-24

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” – Luke 16:13

“Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch  whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!  Moloch whose name is the Mind!  Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch!” – Allen Ginsberg: “Howl”

We look at this verse in Exodus today and we wonder, how could Aaron and the Israelites have been so stupid?!  Here their leader is on a mountain top talking with the God of the Universe, and in no time at all they have created an imitation god in the form of a golden calf.  We also have to wonder, how stupid did they think Moses to be?  Was he truly to believe that they threw their gold into the fire and miraculously this calf jumped out?  Yes, surely these people were primitive nomads who lacked the sophistication that we hold today…surely.

I’m afraid that when we look at these verses we do not have the luxury of chronological egotism.  I’m afraid that we too have lost our faith in the God of the Universe.  We have not carved a golden calf to worship.  We have formed a tower of gold bars.  But we bow down and worship that tower with every bit as much shameless awe, and arrogant devotion as the Isralites did with their golden calf.  We have created a false god to go before us.  We have created a deaf, dumb, and blind god whose only worth is the worth we ascribe to it.  Now, when faced with an economic crisis, we are crushed when our god turns out to be the lump of cold metal that it always was.

When the people of God become dependent on their own abilities and their own fleeting sense of security, perhaps God chooses then to lead them into the wilderness.  Maybe this wilderness is not a punishment, but a wake up call.  Maybe this wilderness is the only place in which we can truly commune with God Almighty.  Maybe, just maybe, it is in the dark, beneath a blanket of stars, listening to the crackle of a campfire, in a communal relationship with those around us, that we can finally be the children of God, dependent on Him for all that we have.

I’ll leave this topic for now with a song that sums this up better than I can.  Here’s Bob Dylan’s “Gotta’ Serve Somebody”…



Nietzsche, Jesus, and fishing for pigs with pearls…

piercedfaceI just read a post on a friend’s blog that made me step back and wonder.  The post was a short recounting of a dream.  My friend dreamed he was standing with Jesus on the shore as He called out to the disciples to cast their nets on the other side.  My friend awoke with the understanding that often we are fishing with our nets on the wrong side of the boat.

This post coincided with the culmination of a 3 week long “discussion” I’ve been having with an atheist I met online.  My atheist friend enjoys posting plagiarized quotes (no quotation marks nor credits) to as many Christian YouTube videos as he can.  I took the bait several weeks ago.  I began writing comments addressing the inconsistencies, the fallacies, and the misunderstandings in his posts.  His responses were abusive, personal attacks, or more plagiarized copy/paste comments.  As I read my friend’s blog entry about fishing with our nets on the wrong side, I saw myself clearly as if for the first time.

It is painfully obvious that my atheist friend has zero interest in a real conversation.  Yet I continue to answer his abusive comments.  I had convinced myself that I was posting retorts to his comments in the hopes that he or one of his readers might read the response and come around.  I have finally realized that what really has been happening is an ego clash.  It has been a contest of wits (and one not unlike beating my 11 month old son at basketball).  I have, at least in part, been posting responses to him because I want to be right, not because I want him to have right understanding.  It is becoming clear to me the principal that my father so wisely tried to teach me.  If the devil can’t get you to do the wrong thing, he’ll get you to do the right thing in the wrong way.

I ask any of God’s children who read this, please pray for a confused and angry man who calls himself “TeslaSagan.”  And pray for me, I’m a sinner.

“There they stand…there they laugh. They do not understand me. I am not the mouth for these ears…” – Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

“Do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” – Jesus Christ

(note: The above sketch is from my journal.  It is what it looks like when I mistake my need for right-ness  with my need for righteousness.)


Sanctification and the Cement Pond…

“If you mould a cup, you have to make a hollow: it is the emptiness within that makes it useful.” – Lao Tzu

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” – Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

I was involved in a pretty interesting discussion about sanctification last night.  One man said that he had always believed that sanctification should be a steady upward growth.  He expressed that he was in a place where he was looking back at certain places in his life and feeling like he was closer to God back then.  But then, he also felt that he wouldn’t want to go back to those times either.  One thing I wanted to say (but the discussion moved away from this before I got the chance) was that sanctification is measured more like weight loss.  A person, and even those nearby, are ill equipped to notice any change because it is so gradual, and there are so many fluctuations.  It is when you see someone who hasn’t seen you in a while that they remark, “Wow!  You’ve really lost a lot of weight!”  Or when you see a picture of yourself from a while back and think, “Wow!  I was really fat!”

I really see sanctification like digging a swimming pool.  Your yard will have its value increased by digging this pool.  But in order for your yard to be improved, you have to dig out a lot of dirt that had previously been identified as “your yard.”  Even with machines, this digging is a painful, messy process.  Sometimes you hit rock that you have to break through.  Sometimes you hit a septic line and a lot of horrible stuff you’d hoped to have flushed away will come flooding out.  Very often, in the process of digging it out, a lot of dirt keeps falling back into the hole.  It is only with patience and perseverance that you finally hollow out a space.

As you dig the hole, the rains come and begin to fill the hole.  At first the water is pretty polluted by the dirt and trash that you are still digging out.  But, as you keep digging, you are able to keep more and more trash out, and keep the water more and more pure.  Eventually you start putting in concrete floor and walls.  You line it with things to help hold in the good water.  You begin to fill it with pure, fresh, clean water.  If you leave it like it is, the water will spoil, dirt and bugs will climb in.  You have to constantly filter the water, scoop out the trash, and re-fill it when the water seeps out or evaporates.  And most of all, you have to swim in it and enjoy it…otherwise, what’s the purpose?  How many of us are digging pools that we never enjoy?


James 1:19-21 – The Gospel of Bob and Fred…

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” – James 1:19-21

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

“One-half of the ills of life come because men are unwilling to sit down quietly for thirty minutes to think through all the possible consequences of their acts.” – Blaise Pascal

“When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.” – Mark Twain

As the saying goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth because you are supposed to listen twice as much as you speak.”  These three verses, probably more than anything I’ve ever read, ring true and frustrate me at the same time.  The default of my heart is anger.  But when I sit down and really look at it, what is that anger?  It is nothing more, and nothing less than my inflamed ego.  There is a time and a place for righteous anger.  There is a time when the only correct course of action is to pick up a cat-of-nine-tails and start turning over tables.  But 99.999% of the time our anger is nothing like righteous anger.  We get angry because so-and-so gets such-and-such and they don’t deserve it.  We get angry because someone says something out of the way to us, or about us and got away with it.  We get angry because we didn’t get our way.  In other words, we get angry because we are jealous.  We get jealous because of our pride.  And our pride is the basis of every other sin that we might commit.

Robert Anton Wilson said, “Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares tell them the truth about themselves.”  This is what we need to understand.  James tells us that our anger stands in the way of the righteousness that God has for us.  Our anger keeps us from, as Bob Wilson so aptly pointed out, hearing the truth about ourselves.  More often than not, our anger flares up in the presence of anything that tries to pull off our mask and expose the self we want so desperately to hide.

There is an interesting thing that James adds at the end of these verses.  After telling us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, he tells us to get rid of moral filth that is so prevalent.  This idea is a “therefore” to the idea of being slow to anger, etc.  In other words, he is telling us that the way we can accomplish the first part, is in doing the second.  We are to get rid of moral filth in our lives, be humble in accepting the Word of God, and this will be the way that we are able to do the first part.  You want to know how to tell when a person knows what they are doing is wrong?  Watch for the things that make them angry.  Tell an alcoholic that they need to watch their drinking.  Tell a legalist that they need to be more loving.  Tell a “free-spirit” that they need some boundaries.  You will find out pretty quickly when a person isn’t so sure that what they are doing is right.

I’ll take it one step further.  In general, the thing that a person thinks is “the worst” sin, is the thing that that person struggles with the most.  And it comes back, once again, to the pride of Lucifer that we all share.  A person who thinks that being a drunk is the worst thing you can do is typically someone who has fought very hard to overcome drunkenness.  That person is then putting their pride in their ability to stop drinking, and thinks “I did it, why can’t you?”  A person who struggles with lust may think that infidelity is the worst thing you can do.  A person who struggles with anger may think that violence is the worst thing to do.  The list could go on forever.  The point is that James’ advice here is twofold.  We are to get rid of our moral filth.  That’s the part that our friends I’ve listed above have done.  But the second part is that we are then to “humbly” accept the Word of God which can save us.  And there is the kicker.  Once we realize that any ability that we have to overcome this moral filth does not come from us, but from God’s Word planted in us, then we see things in a new light.  When we realize that we, like these poor saps we are so angry with, are completely helpless to do anything about our sinful selves, then we become a lot more eager to forgive them.  When we realize that we are no better than they are, then we give them the benefit of the doubt.  Jesus puts it in positive terms when He tells us to love our neighbor as our self.

One of the most devastating, and humbling experiences that a person can have is to realize that you are exactly the thing that makes you the most angry.  It is so easy for us to look at the Swaggarts and Bakkers of the world and say, “you fought so hard against this thing in public, but look at your private life.”  But if we are honest with ourselves, we are absolutely no different.  Robert Anton Wilson again stumbled on something close to the truth when he said, “You are precicely as big as what you love and precicly as small as what you allow to annoy you.”  The downfall of these men, and the downfall of us all comes when we try to correct our own actions by just trying harder.  We think there must be some program, some method, some path that we can, on our own efforts, do to overcome.  But the fact is that we are totally and completely ill equiped to do this on our own.

In the end, like every other issue, it comes back to the two things that Jesus Himself told us to do.  This “word planted in you” that James refers to is that of Jesus, The Word Himself.  We are told to love God with all that we have and all that we are.  And we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  This means that we humbly listen to what God tells us.  And what God tells us is that we need His help.  It also means that we are to love our neighbors by giving them the same forgiveness and the same benefit of the doubt that we give ourselves.  Even when we beat up on ourselves, and wallow in our “wrongness,”  we are really doing so out of some sense of pride in our ability to admit that we are so wrong.

The beauty and the freedom of the Gospel is that we don’t have to change other people.  When Jesus told Peter vaguely how he would die, Peter’s first response was, “What about John.”  Jesus, in the Grace and Truth way that only He could pull off said simply, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”  Let that play in your mind the next time you are angry.  The next time you think, “So-and-so just said blah-blah-blah to me!”  Think, “what is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”  The next time you wonder, “why did so-and-so get away with doing whatever-it-is?”  Remember, “What is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”  And the next time you are faced with the choice to do the whatever-it-is that tempts you.  Remember, “What is that to me?  I must follow Jesus.”

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” – Fred Rogers