Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't Judge Me!!!

The world is split along so many lines of thought these days; religious, racial, political, scientific, sexual, etc... Whenever a Christian is involved in a debate along these lines it is almost a default answer for the non-believer to tell the Christian something to the tune of, "Jesus said 'Do not judge!', so you can't judge me or what I do." It is an interesting thing to observe that when a non-believer gets offended by a Christian they suddenly become Biblical experts. However, the claim bears looking at because Jesus did indeed say, "Do not judge....". He also said much more on the topic though that needs to be addressed to bring that quote into context. The whole matter really falls into the categories of Judgment and Condemnation. The Bible, when taken as a whole, as opposed to cherrypicking certain verses, brings much clarity to the matter.

Let's look at the first of these - Judgment. A judgment can be made on a behavior as to whether it is right or wrong. A judgment can also be passed on a person as a decision of whether or not they are behaving in a good or bad manner. Without even getting into the scriptures, logic would tell us that human beings do, and must, make judgments every day just to survive. If we didn't, we would all be putting our hands on hot stoves, walking into heavy traffic, and hiring child molesters as babysitters. We all make 'common sense' decisions every day in order to survive. However, many of these are learned by experience or simple observation. Where many people differ are with behaviors that deal with differences in moral or religious standards. In short, they look to different sources for their ideas of right and wrong, or they translate the same source differently. So, how do we judge behaviors of these sorts? Let's tale a look at what Jesus did say about judging.

The verse most commonly quoted about not judging is found first in Matthew 7:1-5, although it is repeated in the other Gospels. It is part of what Christians refer to as 'The Sermon on the Mount.' He was speaking primarily to His disciples, teaching them, although undoubtedly others heard it as well as the scriptures mention a great crowd being assembled before Jesus climbed a hilltop with His disciples. It should be pointed out that Jesus' disciples were not always the sharpest knives in the drawer at times and there was occasional backbiting, and, as was the example set by the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, there was often much finger pointing concerning 'religious correctness', just as we have 'political correctness' today. Jesus said this: "Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, with never a though for the great plank in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when all the time there is that plank in your own? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's." Jesus never says not to remove the speck of sawdust from your brother's eye but only warns of making sure you do not have a plank in your own when you attempt to address him about it. This is a clear warning to avoid being a hypocrite and a lesson that Christians should learn well! There are far too many out there warning people about sexual immorality and the sin of homosexuality, for example, when they themselves are caught up in adultery and pornography. In modern terms, Jesus might be saying the Biblical equivalent of, "Check yourself before you wreck yourself!" You have no business addressing another person about their behavior if your own hands are not clean on the matter.

Many people get hung up and offended at being judged or a judgement being made against their behavior because they confuse the word 'judge' with the word 'condemn.' A judgement is nothing more than a decision a person makes as to how they will view a behavior. It happens to everyone all the time. When you go for a job, you are judged on your previous personal and work behavior. When you go into a restaurant or a shop, you are judged by your behavior and treated accordingly. People decide to befriend you...or not, all depending on their judgement of your actions and words. So if somebody says to you, "Don't judge me!", what they are in essence asking for is that you pay no attention to, or that you condone, their behavior. I don't think that is fair to ask of anyone, for without making judgments, or decisions, on the people and things around us, we will never know what the right course in life to take is, what friends are good for us and which are detrimental, what things will get me in trouble and which will bring me progress and most importantly, is my neighbor or loved one in trouble and need help. Judging has to do with behavior, and that is crucial to remember! You can judge a person and say, "I believe such and such a behavior that they are doing is wrong, therefore I will not hire them, be close friends with them, let them watch my children, or whatever....but once you say, "I think that person is an evil person or a bad person and I will punish them," you have just crossed the line from judging to condemning. Condemning is what most people think is happening to them when they are judged for their behaviors. However, condemnation is different because it includes a punishment that is the result of a judgement. Remember that a judgment is nothing more than a decision or view of a behavior. Condemnation is imposing a punishment based on a judgement. While the Bible encourages believers to judge for themselves what is right in many places, it speaks very differently of condemnation.

First of all, and the best news of all is that the Bible says, in Romans 8:1-2, "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.…". For true believers, they will not receive the punishment they deserve. They will not be judged and condemned for their behaviors because Jesus himself has taken those bad behaviors upon Himself.  When Jesus stepped in and kept a woman from being stoned to death, He did not ask her, "Has nobody judged you?" He asked her, "Has nobody condemned you?" The woman's behavior had already been judged by those in the crowd as being deserving of death according to the law. Thank God we no longer live according to the law only but have the opportunity to be saved from it by God's grace and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross! However, in order for her to receive that punishment, she would have to be condemned according to that judgment. Thankfully, for her, Jesus taught an amazingly important lesson about forgiveness and repentance that day when He told the crowd, "Let Him among you who is without sin cast the first stone." Jesus also told the woman, "Go, and sin no more." He did not disagree with the judgement of her behavior, He was making not only the point that we all sin and deserve forgiveness, but also about the nature of condemnation and who has the authority to condemn or punish people for their sins. James 4:12 tells us, "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy;", referring to God Himself. As God has made the law, while we are able to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong according to it, God is also the only one who has any right to condemn a person according to that law. The judgment of a behavior is plain for anyone to see according to God's law, but it is only God himself who has any right to punish, or condemn, anyone for their violation of His law.  This point, however, is where some Christians cross the line when they seek to publicly shame and distance sinners, thereby placing a punishment upon them for their actions. Some wrong actions will bring their own negative consequences, but those consequences should not come at the hands of believers in Jesus. Instead, they should be heeding other specific words of Jesus when he says in Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." and in Mark 12:31, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Christians are called to gently correct fellow believers if possible when they stray and to go and make disciples of unbelievers. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. So, in order to love your neighbor and do unto him as you would have him do unto you, it seems only fitting to be loving, yet loving enough to warn a person if you believe they are heading in a dangerous direction in life. After that, the decision is solely theirs and the consequences are left to nature and nature's God.

In closing I would only say two things: If you feel like your actions are being judged, get used to it. You yourself judge all sorts of things and people just to get by in the world every day. People will judge you every day of your life by your words and actions so as to decide for themselves exactly what sort of person you are. Unless someone is actively punishing you for your actions, quit your whining and don't be using the Bible to try and shut people up. If you are one of those Christians who makes a bad habit of obsessing over other people's sins, especially if those other people are not believers...stop it! Remember this: Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges." In other words, look after your own behavior and those of others who belong to the church. Why should you expect people to follow the laws of God and the teachings of Jesus if they don't believe in or follow God to begin with?! Certainly, preach the gospel to them, but what happens to them in the end is between them and God.

God bless and play nice y'all!!!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Heroic Example

Take a look around you. I want you to take a good, long look at our American society and the condition of the world in general. When did we become a people who can so easily set aside all the constructive and healthy values that mankind has been guided by for millenia? When did right become wrong and 'rightness' or righteousness no long matter? Looking at just this country alone I see a place where honesty no longer matters and dishonesty and corruption go unchallenged, especially among our public officials. I see a place where we celebrate homosexuality and sexual depravity and mock chastity and purity. Our entertainment is filled with violence and lasciviousness. Our schools will teach our kids how to wear a condom but not how to read. Veterans go homeless without medical care while our government rolls out the red carpet for those who have no concern whatsoever for our laws and our country. The American flag is considered a racist symbol by our own highest court. Our churches and synagogues are attacked as being 'intolerant' and 'bigoted', yet we welcome onto our college campuses the presence of those who are persecuting, raping, and slaughtering thousands around the world. We are being divided along racial and class lines more than ever before. Common sense and the rule of law no longer matter.

There was a time in our country and I would even say in the world when people understood easily the difference between right and wrong; not that all people always did the right thing but goodness and a God-based morality was valued and seen as something to strive towards. Once upon a time there were actually people who would stand up for their beliefs and not bend to absurd cultural trends. Where are those people now? Our society calls for us to accept and tolerate anything, no matter how blatantly destructive and unhealthy it may be for us as a people physically, mentally, and culturally. We are expected to let everything slide and go with the flow. "What difference does it make!" has become the new mantra for our times. We seem willing to let go of thousands of years of learning and advancement under God's guidance for the sake of convenience and societal acceptance. Things were not always so. People were once willing to live, fight, and die for what was clearly right and sensible. Faith in God was an integral part of life, not a cultural option.

I would like to share a story with you of a fine example of a person with this type of mindset. There is a set of old Hebrew writings named The Maccabees, specifically the books of First, Second, Third and Fourth Book of the Maccabees. These writings are part of the Apocrypha. Very basically, the books that make up the Apocrypha were never part of the Hebrew scriptures but were accepted as biblical by the early Christian church. They were later separated out from what we know as the Bible today for various reasons. Some versions of the Bible printed today still contain the Apocrypha although most do not. The name Maccabees was given to the group of Jewish guerrilla fighters who revolted against the Syrian kings ruling over Israel around 167 B.C.. The part of the story I want to share begins at a time when the Hebrews were being persecuted heavily by King Antiochus to persuade them to abandon their ancenstral customs and no longer regulate their lives according to the laws of God. If you'll bear with me, I will let the writings themselves tell the story, directly from 2 Maccabees 6:18-31.

"There was Eleazar, one of the leading teachers of the law, a man of great age and distinguished bearing. He was being forced to open his mouth and eat pork, but preferring an honorable death to an unclean life, he spat it out and voluntarily submitted to the flogging, as indeed men should act who have the courage to refuse to eat forbidden food even for love of life. For old acquaintances' sake the officials in charge of this sacrilegious feast had a word with Eleazar in private; they urged him to bring meat which he was permitted to eat and had himself prepared, and only pretend to be eating the sacrificial meat as the king had ordered. In that way he would escape death and take advantage of the clemency which their long-standing friendship merited. But Eleazar made an honorable decision, one worthy of his years and the authority of old age, worthy of the grey hairs he had attained to and wore with such distinction, worthy of his perfect conduct from childhood up, but above all, worthy of the holy and God-given law. So he answered at once: 'Send me quickly to my grave. If I went through with this pretense at my time of life, many of the young might believe that at the age of ninety Eleazar had turned apostate. If I practiced deceit for the sake of a brief moment of life, I should lead them astray and bring stain and pollution on my old age. I might for the present avoid man's punishment, but, alive or dead, I shall never escape from the hand of the Almighty. So if I now die bravely, I shall show that I have deserved my long life and leave the young a fine example, to teach them how to die a good death, gladly and nobly, for our revered and holy laws.' 
When he had finished speaking, he was immediately dragged away to be flogged. Those who for a little while had shown him friendship now became his enemies because, in their view, what he had said was madness. When he was almost dead from the blows, Eleazar sighed deeply and said: 'To the Lord belongs all holy knowledge. He knows what terrible agony I endure in my body from this flogging, though I could have escaped death; yet he knows also that in my soul I suffer gladly, because I stand in awe of him.'
So he died; and by his death he left a heroic example and a glorious memory, not only for the young but also for the great body of the nation."

The story continues on to tell of many others who, because of Eleazar's example, stood up to the persecution and cultural degradation of the Syrians, and chose death over dishonoring their country's traditions and the law of their God. Truly, this brave man set a heroic example not only for those of his generation, but for the entire future nation of Israel.

So this brings us to our generation, and our nation. Who will be the ones to set a heroic example for the people of our time? It certainly won't be the politicians. Most of them seem pretty content with just lining their pockets and working to get re-elected. I can probably count on one hand the number of Congressman that actually give a damn about the American people and that have a properly working moral compass. The current administration is seemingly doing everything in its power to destroy traditional American values and snubs its nose at our Constitution and our laws. I'd like to think our churches would be taking a stand for God's word and His values. Unfortunately, it seems all too prevalent these days that so many churches are more worried about the numbers game. How many people can we draw in to fill the collection plates? How do we stay relevant to today's culture? The end result is that God's word ends up getting so sugar-coated and watered down that it is hardly distinguishable from a Tony Robbins seminar. Worse yet, that kind of attitude does a true seeker after God absolutely no good. A church that stays true to God's word is getting harder and harder to find in America. You can count out the press as well. They have proven beyond any doubt that if they are not acting as shills for one party or another, they are simply the sellers of the sensational. Ratings and money is what journalism is about. It seems like wherever you look, all the institutions who are supposed to safeguard this nation and its people are asleep at the wheel, totally confuzzled, or fighting for a good seat on the gravy train.

So who will take up the responsibility to turn this ship around? Look in the mirror., and me, and the folks who live next door. We have to be brave enough to speak up about the corruption, the lies, and the downright evil and perverseness in our society. Vote your beliefs, even if it doesn't seem to do any good. Call your Senators and Representatives. Badger them! Challenge your pastors and rabbis...respectfully. Talk to your friends and neighbors. I think you'll find you're not alone. There are many people searching for answers in this country and in this world, but those in control have us all thinking the next guy hates us and has it in for us. That's a lie meant to divide and conquer us. I firmly believe there are more good people in this world than there are bad folks. It's just that the bad folks make more noise and don't care who they have to step on to get what they want. The good people have become like sheep, quiet and timid. If they continue that way they will be led to the slaughter like sheep. It's time to wake up and remember who you are and where you came from; where we all came from as a nation and as believers. Live like a lion and don't worry about what the haters think! The world is waiting for heroes. Be that heroic example to your family, to your community, and to the world! Most of all, love each other. Care for each other. Work together to bring peace to wherever you go. All those things are both godly and traditionally American. Despite the growing darkness, I still expect the light to break through in time!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Welcome to the Junction!!!

Allow me to sincerely welcome you to Straightjacket Junction! Whether you are here out of curiosity, out of boredom, or perhaps just because you hit the wrong button on your keyboard, you are welcome nonetheless. In the days to come I hope this blog will become a place where we can look at the craziness around us and make some sense of it. If nothing else, at least have fun with it. The topics will be highly varied; from politics to religion, music to movies, mainstream news to off the beaten path…nothing is off-limits at the Junction.

Since I see it as my right to spew words into the ether, I certainly encourage you to throw your thoughts right back at me. Just like voting in Chicago, I strongly urge you to comment “early and often.” I only ask that you be respectful. Not so much of me as of others who may be leaving their comments as well. I have no problem with sending your rude comment into the seventh level of hell, to burn eternally along with other likeminded comments and most of the Bee Gees lyrics.

As this blog progresses, and I actually figure out what I’m doing, there will be more features, links, and gadgets, so please check in often. So make yourself comfortable here. Feel free to kick the padded walls. Take a shot of thorazine if necessary. Actual blogging will commence after my next anger management session.

Practicing Medicine

This is what modern doctors do. They practice the art and science of medicine upon their patients. Doctors take the knowledge they have been taught, they look at your situation, and they practice what they have learned in hopes of finding a cure or treatment for your individual ailment. It is far from a perfect answer to all medical problems, as doctors and modern science have yet to learn everything there is to know about the human body and mind. In fact, what they think they know changes almost daily. So, they practice and hopefully they get it right. It can be quite a disconcerting thought if you are laying on a gurney in the emergency room that the people who are possibly responsible for your life or death are just 'practicing.' Practice is something we normally equate with something that is done in preparation for the 'real thing.' Most people consider their lives to be the real thing, having no fake life to compare it with. This is not to disparage doctors or anybody in the medical professions. They often do the very best they can with the knowledge and tools at their disposal and there have been many times I have been extremely thankful for their services. But still...their knowledge is limited and they don't always have all the answers for every ailment they are presented with.

This realization has very recently hit very close to home for me. Most people don't know that for a number of years now I have been living with a yet to be determined auto-immune disorder. I also lived through (obviously) a heart attack in 2010. My daily life is a long slog through sometimes severe pain and extreme fatigue. Despite being now unemployed as a result of this, I do attempt to make the best I can of every day God gives me. A couple weeks back my condition took a nasty turn as my fatigue increased dramatically and I have begun experiencing chest and back pain. Well, as is common nowadays, it took me two weeks before I could get an appointment with my doctor. In the meantime, blood-work was done so my doctor could see what was going on to some degree inside this amazing human machine which their files list as 'Sanders, Steven E. - Male - Age 49.' The results were not very positive in many respects. There is a suspicion that perhaps the stent in my artery is becoming clogged again. So, with all the haste of a snail-driven chariot, it has been arranged for me to see my cardiologist in about another month. He will then most likely draw upon his limited knowledge, poke around inside my vital organs and blood vessels, and, gaining some more practice for himself, hopefully come out of it all with a successful fix or treatment for what is ailing me. However, it is not my medical problems that I wanted to talk about. It is the Christian spiritual subject of Practicing Medicine that is on my mind today.

I think most Christians, and those of some other religions as well, would agree that human beings are more than simply physical entities. It is my personal belief that men and women are spirits (spiritual beings) who possess a soul and are temporarily encased in an earthly body. I think this view is supported by the Bible in such verses as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in which the apostle Paul says, "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." If this is the case, certainly this trinity of human existence is not always in perfect balance just as our earthly body is rarely in its optimal state. So I got to thinking this morning, which is always a dangerous thing in itself, if our earthly bodies are very often in need of the practice of medicine, how much more must our spiritual bodies require similar attention? After all, our material bodies are only temporary, whereas our spiritual bodies are potentially eternal. The question then becomes, what type of treatment is fitting for our spiritual selves and who is the doctor to provide such crucial care?

While whole books can be and have been written on the subject of spiritual maintenance and well-being, I would simply refer again to Paul who said in Ephesians 4:23-24, " and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.…" and in Romans 12:2,"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Paul also told us in 2 Corinthians 4:16, "That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day." Jesus Christ Himself told us plainly who our doctor would be. John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." So clearly we are to be renewed and transformed daily in our spiritual nature and the Holy Spirit of God is the one who will be there to teach us and guide us through our daily treatments.

One thing I find so encouraging about this is that, unlike the imperfect practicing of bodily medicine that we receive from our earthly doctors, who must draw upon the limited knowledge of their learning, the Holy Spirit draws upon and passes on to us the knowledge of God Almighty. He has created all and knows all. That wisdom that we receive from Him and put into practice daily is 100% reliable. We have no need for further tests or consultations from other specialists. God knows exactly what you need and when you need it. If only we stay in daily consultation with Him through the Holy Spirit and through the studying of His word, we can be sure that the health of our spiritual being will be in tip-top shape! However, the key phrase in our success is daily consultation. Every once in awhile will not get it and will often, as is common, result in repeated visits to the spiritual emergency room when we find ourselves suffering from one sort of inner sickness or another. So, as we go about our daily lives, perhaps we should consider practicing medicine of the most valuable kind. " My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body." - Proverbs 4:20-22

Have a blessed day!!!