Monday, September 23, 2013

You Know What Assuming Does Don't You?

The memory of Ms. Bronk teaching us the true meaning of the word assume is one of the most vivid I have of high school.  I can see her standing on that podium at the front of the band hall.  Someone had, foolishly, used assumption as an excuse for why they hadn’t done something.  Ms. Bronk asked if we knew what assuming did.  Either none of us really knew, or we could tell by the expression on her face that answering would only draw her frustrated gaze upon on us.   A couple of seconds passed before she broke the silence.  “No?  Well, let me show you.”  The chalk clicked and clacked against the shuttering blackboard behind her as she swiftly wrote out the word “ASSUME” in all upper case.   She continued, “Assuming makes a…”  BOOM, her hands covered all but the letters ASS.  “…out of…”  BOOM.  Then they covered all but the U in the middle.  “…and…”  SHHHH she slid her hands over to reveal on the the letters ME.  It took me a second to say it altogether.  To assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.  I wasn’t the only one that took time.  The delayed collective chuckle said as much. 

Assuming is a dangerous action.  Not only does it make and ass out of you and me; it also usually hurts you and me.  Assumption’s sting is always profound on the back end once we’ve been shown the consequences.  Assumption’s acerbic bight comes from the knowledge that with just the slightest bit of inquiry, if we had only kept an open mind, a dash of humility even, we might not be reaping the current drama our assuming had sewn.  We think, “All I had to do was ask… or seek a little more.” 

Now, assumption isn’t filling in the blank.  I’m a writer, a storyteller.  My mind fills in blanks.  Watch Castle.  His storytelling mind helps fill in those blanks the cops can’t, and that’s why New York is a safer place, people.  No, I don’t think we can help hearing news like, “Hey, did you hear that Sally left Johnny?” without having out minds instinctually fill in the blanks.  Why?  Was he abusive?  Were they that unhappy?  Was there another man?  All of this happens in the blink of an eye. 

Assumption is when we take those fleeting thoughts and actually believe them.  You don’t know Jack, and until you do, you should act like it.  Have the humility to admit you don’t know.  Hard part is that our beliefs are rarely spoken.  Right?  Us and our American passive-aggressiveness.  It’s in our non-verbal language we let people know what we really think, while our mouths flap out something sweet.  That southern influence lingers. 

Example: being left by my wife brought out all sorts of assumptions, and almost none of them were spoken to my face.  People talk.  I’d have a friend come up and tell me they heard about me being left and they’d begin to tell me how they heard I was “this awful thing” or that I was “terrible in this way or that.”  My eyes would widen, and I’d try to calmly explain what ACTUALLY happened.  Then their eyes would bulge as they’d realize they had just spread a… yup… assumption.  Somewhere along the way, someone who knew nothing talked to someone as if they knew something, and voila… two asses were born, and in the end I was deeply hurt, and my reputation was scarred.  It hurt greatly knowing that people were going to assume I had to do something terrible if my wife left me, that I must be awful, that something must really be wrong with me.  There are things wrong with me, but in truth, nothing out of the ordinary for a human.  Another assumption made about me would be revealed when I would first tell someone about my being left and being divorced and their faces would look not sad but grim, disgusted even.  When it was their turn to speak they would share how they were disappointed in me, that they thought I loved God, how dare I that I would go through with a divorce.  They’d start spouting scripture on how God hates divorce, and blah blah blah.  Again, their faces would change when I was able to share that they held an assumption that many people hold, and that is that it takes two to get divorced.  It doesn’t.  If someone wants out, the state of Texas will let them out.  They didn’t even check.  They just… assumed that it took two, and so held in their minds false information about me. 

Sad truth is that it happens a lot, particularly in divorce.  So many people who have gone through what I have shared the same experience.  People judged them based off of nothing.  There was a blank in the narrative and they filled it.  Thing is, that blank is there because it’s not your business.  Not everything is meant for public consumption. 

It is in humility and patience we find the maturity to say to ourselves, “I don’t know what happened, and I am okay with that.”  Then, when someone asks if you’ve heard about how Johnny left Sally you can say yes.  You’ll start talking about how sad it is, how you wonder what happened, and here is where victory is had… at this moment you’ll already have admitted you don’t know, and that’s what you’ll say.  “I don’t know.  Could be a lot of different reasons.”  And you leave it what it is.  Then when they say what they think, you can ask them where they got their information.  You won’t just take it as gospel, because for all you know they are falling into the same trap of filling in blanks, of assuming.  When they say they just think so, or they pieced it together because of blah blah blah you can just say, “So, you don’t actually know?”  When they admit they don’t you will have loved your brother or sister well.  Not only will you have protected the one being gossiped about, but you’ll be blessing the one gossiping by ending the line of destruction their assumption was blazing.   Your thoughts hold value in your brother’s and sister’s eyes.  I cannot tell you the damage done hearing the third hand assumptions made about me during this past year.  It broke my heart, and made me feel sub-human.  To say that I did not feel loved was an understatement. 

Don’t be an ass (the donkey-kind, not the other).  Don’t assume.  Love your brother and sister.  Assumption is judgment based on ignorance.  We condemn someone based off of guesses.  How could that ever be a good thing? 

Proverbs 16:28
“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

Proverbs 26:20

“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

How Being Judged Hurts

A lot of people think that John 3:16 is the most ubiquitous and well-known verse in the Bible.  I disagree.   It may be the most well-known Bible reference, but in spirit I believe there is one that is far more ingrained in the minds of mankind.   
Check this out…

Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged” ESV

Every human knows this.  Heck, dogs probably know this.  We just can’t hear them in their minds saying, “Don’t judge me, okay.  The cat did it.  Okay?  You don’t know me.  Don’t act like you know me.”  If an atheist knows ONE verse it is this one.  It is everyone’s way of saying, “How dare you point out my sin to me!”  
There are two Biblical definitions of the word, judge.  One is to discern.  The other is to condemn.

We know that we are supposed to admonish one another, that discernment is good.  We will know one another by our fruit.  Yes?  The idea that Jesus was saying, “Don’t see other people’s sin ever.  If someone is stealing something, just let it go.  If your loved one is showing destructive patterns, how dare you admonish them.  How dare you reveal what you see that they might stop.”  We all deep down know this.  None of us live out the opposite either.  We all say something when we see our loved one about to put their hand into the fire.  We all say, “Stop!”   To let that person touch the fire unwarned is not even remotely loving.  No one let’s their kid wonder into the street for fear of judgment, nor allows their kid to keep lying.  Both are very dangerous, and to leave it to that person to just figure it out is silly, and no one does that.  We all share what we’ve learned, and discernment is part of that.

So what is the issue if it isn’t discernment? 


One of the greatest pieces of wisdom outside the Bible I’ve ever read was on the difference between condemnation and conviction.  Both sting at first.  Being told we are wrong ALWAYS hurts.  It is a practiced skill and sign of maturity to get better at hearing that you are wrong.  The difference is that conviction always promises life, and there is a sweetness behind it.  It is about freedom.  There is now therefore no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  We are free.  However, sin hurts, and we need to be shown from time to time that we are hurting ourselves.  On the other hand, condemnation brings about death.  It keeps us trapped in our sin, focused on the past.  It is a tool of satan.

Until this last year, I had never really felt the sting of condemnation so heavily, nor seen how destructive it can be.  It makes since to me now as I read that the number one reason for the rise of the “Nones,” those no longer affiliated with any church, is judgment.  I don’t think I ever really saw that judgment goes beyond words.  It isn’t just proclaiming, “You are going to hell.”  It is a posture of the heart and spirit, one that overflows into our actions.

A year ago my wife left me.  I have no desire to go into detail.  I have worked hard to preserve a relationship of some kind, however trivial, with my ex-wife.  All I care to say is that I did not deserve to be left.  She had no Biblical right to leave me.  I did not want her to leave.  I did not want to be divorced.  Beyond that, I am not going to say much.   
Since then, I have experienced a whole new side to the church I have never before known.  Note that when I say church, I mean the church greater, the body of believers, not one church in specific.  What I have experienced is judgment, and hear this, it has hurt me worse than I can possibly admit.  There just are not words. 

As I said, I have learned much about judgment.  Let me go back to what condemnation is versus discernment.  The main element of condemnation is not speaking words to people.  That is the overflow.  It is in the heart.  In order to judge someone in the verb sense you must first become a judge the noun.  In order to become a judge you are placing yourself as a dispenser of the law.  Think about that.  It is an act of self-elevation.  One doesn’t have to elevate to be a part of admonishing and conviction.  Who better than a former thief, or someone who still even battles the desire to steal to tell see the pattern in another thief and say, "Don't do it.  I know.  This road only leads to pain."  Is not the lustful man or woman the most qualified to warn of the false promises lust brings?  It surely is. Notice that the fellow criminal is still aware of the law.  There is an acute awareness, a discernment, of the law and can see when someone else is breaking it, and still warns to obey it.  I say that to again show that discernment and admonishment are not bad.

I want you to think about this...  Being judged, condemned, has given satan so much power for lies in my heart it is amazing.  I have never felt so useless, so unloved, or so dirty in my life, and I wasn’t even the one who left.  I was wronged, and yet I have been made to feel like dirt, like I am not pure, not true, not a real Christian anymore.  I have become a second-class Christian.   
Ultimately, that feeling is my own fault.  No one controls my heart.  These are lies that I have believed.  That is on me.  I should have been stronger, more faithful.  How many times has the Holy Spirit reminded me that Jesus was an outcast by the religious institutions of the day?  Many.   
Yet, I have struggled like never before, and in doing so I now see the power of condemnation.  If I, someone who has devoted their life to Christ, has struggled so mightily under the burden of condemnation from the church then what effect does it have on someone just peeking through the door?  We already know the answer.  Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to experience something to really understand it.  I never understood how I could condemn people with my actions, with my looks, with my posture.  I never saw how my feeling like I was better than someone would pervade through my mask and show in a hundred little ways, or come back around through gossip.  How many times have I heard mean things said about me by my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Even an amplified sense of pity can be a part of it. 

I realize there are a ton of trails and loose ends to be discussed in this.  For now, I just want you to meditate on the devastation a spirit of condemnation has.  Even though I have suffered it’s burden, I still struggle to not think myself better than others, to go beyond lovingly and gently calling someone out, and instead wreak havoc upon them, making them feel awful and unloved.  Perhaps that is the key.  Perhaps we forget that Jesus loved us BEFORE we were clean, BEFORE we loved Him.  Yes?  Maybe?  We too ought to love others BEFORE they become clean, as we are not clean either, really, not in action.  That is the beauty of the gospel, to be seen as clean when we are not.  God takes those weights and measurements of judgment and tosses them away. 

The counteraction to this has been the redemptive, the restorative, the understanding love of so many others.  It has been through the tenderness of those who have not condemned (but have sometimes admonished).  They gave counsel.  They hurt with me.  They reminded me that I am not somehow less of a person, that divorce is not a super sin, that it doesn’t define me.  I may be someone has been divorced, but that doesn’t make my definition the divorced guy.  It is not my label for life.  I am the redeemed guy, the Christian, the mess of a man made Holy only by grace, the guy that keeps screwing up and keeps getting taken care of by Jesus anyway.  
They helped me move past my own condemnation of myself.  It is amazing how when people start to treat you a certain way you struggle not to feel that way.  It is through the guidance of others I am reminded that I did not do wrong.  I didn’t leave, that you can’t make someone else obey, or love you.  I have been reminded constantly that good parents have children go astray, good spouses get left, and good people suffer.  Job was innocent yet suffered.  I remember Tim Skaggs, senior pastor at Coggin Avenue Baptist in Brownwood reminding me that Jesus stood outside of Jerusalem and wept because he had called them to Him and they would not come, that if Jesus couldn’t make them come how could I believe I could make Kathleen come to me?  I couldn’t.  We as the church can help or hinder so much.   
My prayer is that we can all see ourselves as we are, sinners redeemed by God.  May we not condemn.  May we not remember we are fellow criminals all coming together in praise of the fact that the actual judge decided to let us go free despite our criminal action.  May we not make a mockery of the court, and as criminals, climb into that judges chair, grab the gavel, and start waiving at the other criminals just like us, lest we be held in contempt of court.  All glory be to God.  Amen.