Condemnation

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Condemnation feels good. Going off. Putting someone on blast. It makes us feel complete – even if it’s only for a moment.

Pointing out the faults and inconsistencies of others is much more fun than questioning our own motives and behaviors. Many times when we point out these areas that we see as inconsistencies we use another person’s perceived fault to excuse our own behavior. We may have a tendency to excuse unreasonable and irrational behavior on our part when we find a fault with the way someone else has recently acted.

But if you haven’t tried it in a while, condemnation is pretty fun. It gets all of the endorphins firing. We really are smart! Hey, we’re brave! We are making a difference – if people will only respond to our condemnation.

There is a ride; was-not sure-might-still be at Wild Adventures called the Boomerang. Not fun for my non-adventuresome self. Up, down, around a loop, up. Down, around a loop, up. This is what happens when we simply condemn the behaviors around us without calling into question our own choices.

Up: nervous, excited, tense.

Down: exhilaration, others were exposed and we feel justification for the tension we just felt.

               Around the loop: confusion, disorientation, and maybe frustration.

Repeat

As we non-millennial adults sit back judging those coming behind us for their Insta stories and Snapchat whatevers, we might should take a peek into our garages and closets to evaluate whether our choices are about approval as well. Introspection and reflection should be the words of the day. This not to excuse poor behavioral choices of any generation but to keep us off the Boomerang ride.

Condemnation goes far beyond what we see and share on Social Media. It happens in workplaces, restaurants, schools, churches, and every other place that people gather together. It shapes how we choose, and more importantly, it shapes how we treat others who choose differently than us.

Condemnation of others brings about momentary euphoria and leaves us feeling disoriented and irritable. A poet named Asaph, had a little something to say about that:

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

 

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Approval

I don’t do a lot of reflecting on my childhood. I’m not saying that is a positive or negative, I just don’t. If I press myself I can remember things but as a general rule I don’t experience waves of nostalgia. Side note – a can of Sunkist gets me every time. I can almost smell my dad’s car. (which one for the Hardings?)

Interestingly enough, I do remember being on stage a few times. Awards. Recognitions. Sure, those are memorable things for probably everyone, but I only remember a certain few and today, given other circumstances, it has caused some introspection.

I like approval. I like being needed and wanted. My terms of course, but I would imagine that this applies to all of us. Certainly, at different periods of our lives we experience this differently, but it would apply to most whom I’ve met. Even those who claim they don’t want approval are usually still seeking approval although it may be outside of the conventional understanding of our culture and timeframe.

We can probably all look back and recognize when a desire for acceptance and approval drove our behavior. If we are transparent, we might even recognize when it led to behavior that was detrimental to others. As an aside, if we are adults we probably don’t have to go all the way back to our childhood to remember such instances, we probably have acted this way as adults.

So here’s a few things that at times I’ve noted about myself when it comes to seeking approval. Recognizing these behaviors can help me keep a better perspective of myself and leads to less demands for recognition.

When I can’t concede any points to those who would disagree with me on a topic. The Deceiver would be pleased to keep us focused on the inconsistencies and faults of others, which will continuously boost our desire for recognition and validation. Thus Adam pointed to Eve, and Eve pointed to the Serpent.

An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends
and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

When I can’t make simple, complete, self-evaluating statements. It might just be me, but the more I refuse to acknowledge the choices that I have made the more I begin to seek approval. When I refuse to acknowledge my choices to those closest to me I become a danger to myself as I seek approval outside of those who know and care for me. Here are some phrases I’ve had to learn – and practice. Acknowledging my choices means accepting blame for my actions.

                I was wrong.

You are right.

I am sorry.

I know you may not have meant                                , but I felt,                           , and                  I responded badly. It’s my fault.

I don’t fully understand.

Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.

 

A Little More

Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written several books centered around the theme, Boundaries. They are well worth your time and money.

 

 

It’s Wrong.

It’s wrong. And I will stand alongside anyone else who says it is wrong. We don’t need to agree on anything else. In fact, this is living out the promise of Jesus.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

Being free means that I can stand up among people whom I live and agree with much and call this policy evil, much to their dismay. Being free means that I can stand alongside people with whom I would have much disagreement and call this policy evil, and they agree. Freedom means that I don’t worry about which political party I am strengthening or weakening.

The political decision by the Trump Administration to cruelly separate children from their parents is wrong. Are there partisan politicians using this as an opportunity to shrill? Absolutely. On both sides.

Is it crazy to those of us who believe abortion is wrong to see some of the organizations that are advocating for children separated from their parents? Yes. Should it? Maybe. If you believe this is hypocrisy on their part, then be thankful that it’s not your hypocrisy. If you think they or others are using this to gain attention – so be it. It’s still wrong – and acting on that is freedom.

You nor I would care if the drama queen of the South was telling us when it’s our house burning. It’s our house. It’s burning. This behavior is torching our country, but more importantly it is destroying the lives of tender children.

Sin is debilitating. We feel forced to act in ways that we would rather not. We find ourselves making decisions that we knew were incorrect. Somehow, someway, in the moment we felt as if we did not have any choice. This, friends, is the work of the prince of this world, Satan. Lies and deception that seem to force us into a corner.

The behavior of this administration; Trump, Sessions, et al, is using the methods of the prince of this world. It is always our greatest temptation and it goes all the way back to Eve: you shall be as gods – knowing right from wrong.

Maybe you’re not sure it’s your problem. Well, if you are a follower of Jesus, then it is.

And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

I believe this particular issue will change very soon. Possibly by tomorrow. But it’s not that simple. Something has happened in the lives of many children that may never be reversed; both by emotional scars, and the reality that some may never be reunited with their parents.

Live in Freedom. Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Wait A Few

It seems like we just can’t help ourselves. Recently, I was attending a conference which was attended by church staff members. Christy and I sat at breakfast the morning after Trump had announced that he was going to meet with the Dictator of North Korea. The gentleman behind me, who also happened to sit at my table for the conference, gave us his immediate and prolonged opinion on this move.

As he opined to the group of unfortunate folks at his breakfast table, Christy and I spent a few minutes noting how pastors have a tendency to think that not only do they have an opinion about something, but they must all share that opinion. As children of pastors, and having served in pastoral roles for the past 15 years we realize that the blame for this behavior must be shared. The pastors, who are convinced that God has given them insight into crop planting, national security, and the correct way to discipline each individual child, are plentiful and obstreperous. Plentiful too are the members who want to shirk personal responsibility and seek to burden a pastor with a decision that he is unqualified to address due to lack of personal knowledge or limitations outside of his control.

I have spent some studying the need of Sabbath lately and have come to a conclusion: Our inability to wait is directly linked to our belief that we must always be in some type of production. Our culture, and yes, our desires, have convinced us that either we must be producing something or we must be planning to produce something. In fact, we have complete conversations in which we try to ‘out tire’ each other. This leads to constant sharing of opinions when we have given little thought, much less prayer, to the realities of the situations and opportunities which confront us in our lives.

This is one of Satan’s tools. You see, the enemy does not know the future. He only knows that right now, today, he has a chance for destruction and he wields that tool as forcefully as he can. God, however, knows the future, and encourages us to wait on him. He tells us that He will provide, while we scurry about like a chipmunk in November, hunting the few remaining nuts and then piling them around us as if they will prove to others that we are more resourceful than them.

To have an idea about the work of Satan we need only to look at Pharaoh of Egypt. When questioned as to whether or not he would allow the Israelites to stop work for a period of time to allow them to worship their God his response was that production must remain the same while their supplies would be drastically cut. The stipulation is clear; we must always produce more from less. Less information, more opinions. Less, time, more perceived work or production.

Just a few days into the wilderness God beautifully contradicts the economy and behavior of Pharaoh. Every day but one, manna from heaven fell on the ground. On the 7th day manna did not fall and the Israelites were forced to eat from what they had gathered the day before. The truth is clear; God can, and does, pause. He waits.

I need to learn to wait. Words spoken in haste often lead to anger and foolishness. Opinions formed at the drop of a hat are based more in our pride than our knowledge and as such are sure ground for destruction and peril. In a sermon I made an observation that Satan works in the immediate. He cannot wait. When we surrender to the rush of immediacy in our relationships and our lives we surrender ourselves to our passions.

As you think about waiting take a moment and listen to this wonderful song. You won’t have to wait long to figure out what it’s about, or where it’s at.

 

 

The Babylon Bee is Hilarious – and I Won’t read It

We are all an odd mixture. Shaped by the environment that we were raised in, coupled with the choices we have made along the way, and the inner working and processing of our soul, we are a complex set of personalities. No matter our personality there is always that tipping point where the ‘good’ can become ‘too much.’

We can be the driven person who accomplishes task after task and yet be unable to enjoy rest or appreciate the people who make our tasks functional and possible. We can be the person without a care in the world – too the point that bills don’t get paid, thus depriving ourselves of the ability to be care free.  Balance is a word that we hear often and here’s a personal example of how I try to achieve some balance. 

Out of the mishmash of my life and choices has come an inordinate dependence and enjoyment in scarcasm. I shall not speak for my siblings but if scarcasm were a dialect then the Harding household had its own personal dialect. 

For me, I have found that a tendency towards scarcasm is a sign of a critical, and often, harsh spirit. Condemning would be a proper word. 

For all the laughs that the Babylon Bee offers there is the side effect on my attitude and treatment of others and for me it isn’t worth the jokes. 

Destroying the poor Scarecrow

scarecrow-in-overallsI don’t know about you all but life can seem to come at you fast. We eat fast, drive fast, attempt to bank fast, and on and on we could go. About the only thing we do slowly is watch TV, or possibly scroll through our social media.

As a result, we find ourselves feeling as if we have to make decisions quickly or form opinions in a matter of moments. Thankfully, there is Google and Twitter to help ensure that we form the correct opinion or vote for the correct person. To be more succinct, we are far too willing to let others decide and opine for us as long as it does not contradict our current focus and desires.

I would argue that many times the proof that we are actually thinking for ourselves is found in the contradictions that we experience and confront. The problem that I want to address today is what happens when we find ourselves attempting to defend the opinions of others that we have hastily adopted as our own. In these situations, the only thing that will do is to round up a straw man, or woman, and beat them down mercilessly.

The fine folks at Merriam Webster (m-w.com) describe the straw man in this way:  a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted

Straw men and straw women are awesome! They will wear whatever clothes – or argument – that you throw on them. They do not respond and they are so easy to skewer. In fact, the presence of these characters of straw only seems to embolden our positions as our voices grow louder and louder in the arguments.

Straw men can be used to attack religion and they seem to really excel. However, if a religious person is allowed the use of a straw man they can just as easily destroy any contrarian argument. This is probably the most attractive quality of these dusty creatures in that you can change your opinion about a subject and be just as skilled in destroying opposing opinions within a short amount of time, as the learning curve on straw men is extremely short. You cannot file to run for public office unless you have demonstrated sufficient skill in destroying these fearful creatures of the garden.

For those who claim to be a child of God then the following verses from Philippians 2 speak to how our speech and attitudes are to be shaped. If you would not claim to be a child of God or doubt the reality of God then the challenge would be to ask yourself what is so appealing about arguing with an unresponsive dummy, when your very reality depends on being correct.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-5

If you desire an example of a straw man then I’m sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone in some public space holding forth on their victory over a wobbly scarecrow.

Refrigerator Art

“Mom, it’s terrible! I went across the lines, and my black crayon wouldn’t do the shoes right! I hate it!” With the last exclamation the 7 year old dropped the offending artwork on the kitchen counter and collapsed into a chair. With her head in her hands she still managed to keep one eye on her mother as she reached for the latest rendition of her child’s horrible art.

As a parent of 4 children, one of whom is currently 7, I have had this type of event happen with me on occasion. There are normally two possible outcomes to this situation and while one may be preferred above the other, the child wins either way.

In one scenario the mother responds by overly praising the artwork. Instead of just accepting the art and proceeding to hang it on the fridge the mother gushes over the dress and condemns the bad black crayon for its inability to operate up to snuff. If the child really gets her going, the mother may even agree to buy more crayons or, better yet, markers. Surely, the princess’ artwork cannot be left up to the folks at Crayola. The child is overly praised and leaves the room pleased with herself.

In the second scenario the mother may respond with a critical eye. She may give the child directions on how to stay within the lines and she may even point out that a crayon sharpener was bought for just such a crayon as the black crayon. In a push to make the little darling even more of a perfectionist she may point out some things that the child didn’t complain about; such as the fact that most princess’ dresses are pink or blue and not brown. The child realizes she did not please her mother and is pleased with herself for beating her mother to the condemnation.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s dangerous. It causes us to depend upon our own reasoning and ability. It inhibits our faith and leaves us looking to others for confirmation or condemnation.

As adults we probably don’t spend a lot of time crying over refrigerator art but the other topics in which we can participate in self-fulfilling prophecies are seemingly endless. This isn’t the way of the people who have joined the Kingdom of God.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage Timothy he made this statement one of the first statements in his letter:

Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:6-7

Speak out of power. Speak with love. Use sound judgement and leave the spirit of fearfulness which seeks to control the response of others in self-fulfilling prophecies. And if you have a few minutes take a listen to this song, Refrigerator Art, by Allen Levi.