A stuffed turkeyWhile most Americans give thanks for their blessings this time of year, I’d like to look at a different side of the coin using Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, found in Luke 18:9-14.

Jesus often aimed his stories straight at the spiritual elitists of the world. In his day, that would be the Pharisees. They (not the Roman Empire, as is commonly believed) embodied the worst of God’s enemies because they, unlike Roman/Greek/Gentile societies, were supposed to know better. After all, didn’t they constantly proclaim themselves the experts?

The Pharisee mindset isn’t unique to them and is still alive and well among scientific, academic, religious, social, and political elitists of all parties and cultures, including many Christians, who regard any group but their own with contempt. So Jesus’ illustration is as relevant today as it was then:

To some who were confident of their own rightness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

I disagree with the idea that God rejected the Pharisee’s prayer because he was insincere. I believe he was totally sincere. In his mind, he’s perfectly right, and therefore more than acceptable to God, for which he’s genuinely grateful. The Pharisee’s problem is precisely that he meant every word, which demonstrates a heart of condescension and contempt, a clueless heart. He not only doesn’t know himself, he doesn’t know God.

At the root of this problem is the relentless human habit of comparing oneself to others, which nearly always leads to judgmentalism and one of two extremes: self-degradation or self-superiority. Judgmentalism is different from simply making observations, i.e., discernment. It’s one thing to be aware of differences (discernment), but it’s quite another to use that to make yourself superior or inferior (judgmentalism).

The tax collector doesn’t compare himself to anyone. He’s not looking around, not obsessed with what others say and do, not distracted by how others look. I also disagree with the idea that beating his chest equates to beating himself up in self-hatred. I think he was simply discerning, which demonstrated a clean, honest heart. Aware, not clueless. Despite sin, he knew himself and God well, and that’s why he went home justified.

Now wouldn’t it be the grandest irony to miss Jesus’ point and conclude, “Thank God I’m not like the Pharisee”—or liberals/conservatives, gays/homophobes, atheists/Christians, Americans/rest of the world!

Isn’t that just how hypocrisy sneaks up on us like rust on a hinge? Speaking from experience, it’s a booby-trap that backfires mentally and spiritually, turning even the most sincere person into a blind, ridiculous expert. It’s why Jesus said to be careful and “watch yourselves!” (Luk. 17:3)

So I’m grateful for the usual biggies: life, laughter, family, friends, employment, enough to eat, a roof overhead, and a sound enough mind and body to enjoy it all. But I’m especially thankful for spectacular failures on my part over the years that were proverbial blessings in disguise. These are what seasoned my faith like pepper and onion in Thanksgiving Day stuffing.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone! May you live, laugh, and love (even through tears), knowing yourself and God more richly each year.

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English: Hypocrite "Love" message. A...We’ve been reviewing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he addresses 6 sinful habits, common to all people, which make love inconsistent, if not impossible.

He also offers 6 alternative habits which, when practiced intentionally and in the order he presents them, build love into a routine way of life instead of sporadic acts of kindness.

This gradual shift from the old self to the new is known by several biblical terms: repentance, redemption, salvation, completion, and perfection, to name a few.

Step 1 eliminates willful anger/contempt by practicing willful mercy until that feels more natural. Step 2 keeps your eyes on you and God, not everyone else. You add this new habit to the previous one. Then, Step 3 is to stop swearing/insisting on having your way, the “right” way. Instead of demanding or manipulating, you can let Yes be yes or No be no and leave it at that.

Step 4 gouges out indebtedness/score-keeping by adding debt-free thinking. When you don’t feel obligated to the whole world, and they don’t “owe” you respect, apologies, or whatever, you’re well on the way to gracious, unconditional love. Your will/spirit is keeping step with God’s (Gal. 5:25).

Step 5 reduces worry over image and appearance by practicing privacy with God. Instead of sharing every opinion or deed with the world, or jumping through hoops to get noticed, you keep some things “secret,” just between you and God. You’re less prone to spout off and trigger retaliatory anger from neighbors, which degenerates into animosity and all out war.

Like building a house, each new habit is added to the previous ones once they’re well established. Love is cultivated and grown, not conjured out of nowhere.

Step 6 is the culmination, or perfection, of a Christ-like spirit that doesn’t struggle with love as if it’s a two-ton set of weights. This kind of person is complete and whole. He/she wishes God’s good on obnoxious or even dangerous neighbors. They live with a rich sense of relief from sin’s control, abundant in power and blessed delight. (more…)

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Family, one of India’s venomous snakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sixth and final universal habit common to man is judgment and hypocrisy. This is the most venomous one because it’s the cumulative effect of the five we sampled in Parts 1-5.

Those are anger and contempt, adultery and divorce from God, swearing, score-keeping and payback, and image.)

Judgmentalism

There are different kinds of judgment. Krisis is the Greek word for the kind that leads to a turning point. (In English, crisis.) When Scripture refers to God’s judgment of man, this is the word. The idea is to bring about a change, to restore and cure, even if by painful measures. The spirit and motive is love.

Then there’s the kind that’s simply analytical—to evaluate or assess differences. Biblically, that’s called discernment, good judgment. When Jesus says you can recognize a tree by its fruit, that’s discernment. When you weigh pros and cons without the will to do harm, that’s good judgment. So it’s no sin to make observations, form opinions, and make decisions based on them. In fact, we’re called to learn and practice this kind of judgment.

And then there’s the condemning, acidic kind: judgmentalism. The difference between judgmentalism and discernment boils down to motive. The spirit behind judgmentalism is scorn, ill will, and the wish to do damage.

For example, when my mechanic says that my car’s transmission is going bad, he doesn’t condemn me as a terrible car owner. His motive isn’t to accuse me of a crime or rake me over the coals, but to get maximum benefit out of my car. His attitude will reflect that, and I won’t react as if attacked. This kind of judgment doesn’t deny wrong, but neither does it spout off. It seeks no harm even if the message is unpleasant, for love does no harm to neighbors (Rom. 13:10).

But when you use criticism as a weapon to attack and condemn people, or deliberately use differences to stir up ill will, that’s the sinful kind of judgment Jesus refers to. It carries a mean-spiritedness that always escalates because the receiver, usually as poisoned as the next person, turns to tear you to pieces with payback. They can’t react any other way because they don’t know any other way. (more…)

Scratched wooden plank of house facade.

The 6th and final saboteur of well-being and healthy relationships are judgmentalism and hypocrisy. They’re the unavoidable result of embracing the culprits in steps 1-5. I may sound like a broken record, but sequence is the first key to success. Jesus doesn’t want us to fail. He wants us to win, so he laid it out in optimal order in his Sermon on the Mount.

If you wonder why people can be judgmental or difficult, it’s because they’re still full of willful anger and contempt, obsession over others, swearing or proving, score-keeping, or outer appearance.  Accordingly, people can’t not be judgmental or difficult!

If you don’t want to be this way yourself, you don’t start by trying to fix neighbors. You fix yourself. But you can’t start here; you start further back with the stuff that forms a judgmental, hypocritical spirit.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:1-5)

Double-Crosser

A fine line separates judgmentalism and discernment. To distinguish differences is discernment—a good thing. To judge only by outer appearance is to pass judgment—not good. When you add the element of contempt, it’s double disaster.

For example, when my mechanic says that my Mustang’s fuel pump is going bad, he doesn’t condemn me as a terrible car owner. His motive isn’t to rake me over the coals, but to get maximum performance out of my car. He simply tells me what’s wrong and lets me decide if I want to make repairs. That’s discernment and good judgment. (more…)