“Judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus clearly states to us in Scripture (Luke 6:37). But it’s easier said than done when we are living in an ever increasingly judgmental society.
It can seem like no big deal to join the chorus of voices who are judging others out of hand for all sorts of things they have said or done.
But as the saying goes, every time you point one finger at someone, there are usually ten fingers pointing back at you. There by the grace of God gooes each one of us. We are all sinners and we all make mistakes.
The difference for us as Christians is to replace judgment that may be welling upside of us for any given person, with forgiveness and love. Because that is how we would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.
In the middle of the growing contentious issue regarding refugees in America, I came across a moment of brightness in the conversation. I found it in the story of Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers, of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington, who had an idea:
“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow? And I found a great deal on pillows at a local retailer. What a fitting way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the ministry of Jesus, who associated with the outsiders, Samaritans and lepers, and who himself was a refugee as an infant” (Pritchett, Rachel, “Providing Comfort,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 39).
The church blessed 500 pillows in their sanctuary by tossing them into the air before delivering them to Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest, which provides services to refugees.
In a recent article in Living Lutheran magazine, author Tiffany C. Chaney makes an interesting observation about the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. She writes,
“The text doesn’t say ‘Blessed are those who used to mourn or those who were poor in spirit or those who made peace before.’ The blessed are in the midst of serving God now; they are deep in the trenches. They are being persecuted and reviled and more, even now. And yet they are blessed” (“Living Saints,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 23).
The present-tense reality of being blessed in the midst of trials really struck home to me. I realize that in the midst of struggles, I often look toward to some future time when blessings will come my way. But the fact of the matter is that blessings come when I am feeling sad, when I can feeling a lack of spirit, when I feel far from peaceful.
A few Christmases ago, there was a special on TV celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. As part of the program, Kristin Chenoweth sang the song “Happiness” from the You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown musical.
That particular clip is no longer available on YouTube, but here is another older, shortened (much slower, sorry) version for you to listen to:
My favorite line from that song is “Happiness is catching a firefly, setting him free.” I can feel the joy in that, and it makes be nostalgic for childhood. The song eventually concludes, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.” Though I love this song, that’s a pretty broad brush!
That got me to thinking about what happiness is to the Christian. St. Paul helps us in this regard when he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
For us as Christians, the circumstances of our lives are not what bring us ultimate happiness. For the Christian, happiness is knowing we have a gracious and forgiving God who will never abandon us.
Therefore, happiness for the Christian is not centered on what we love, but on the fact that we are loved by Christ. And that love is revealed to us in flesh and blood through the Babe of Bethlehem who came to live with us and love us in person all the way to the cross, that we might be saved and live with him forever. That is the true and lasting happiness that brings joy to the world this Christmas and always.
If I had to write a new verse to the “Happiness” song, then I would add: “Happiness is Jesus who loves me, knowing he cares so. He died for me!” May that be your song this season, too, and may it bring happiness to your heart.
As Christmas approaches, it is good for us to remember that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Why is that significant? Because bread plays a important role in the life of Christ and in the Bible in general.
An article in the September 2017 Living Lutheran magazine points out that “bread is perhaps the easiest metaphor in the Bible. Almost all possible ingredients have a scriptural spotlight” (Kari Alice Olsen, Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 20). Let’s take a look:
Water: Water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. —1 Peter 3:21
Yeast: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. —Luke 13:20-21
Naturalism is a system of thought and action which denies the existence of God and instead believes everything happens according to scientifically explainable laws of nature. In this construct, then, human life exists only because of a process of evolution and its value is only determined by its usefulness.
We as Christians must reject naturalism because we know from Scripture that human life is designed by God and that humanity is very valuable to him. This is not to say we reject science; it is simply to say that God has ordained the laws of nature and they are under his purview.
Consider these verses from Scripture:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26).
This verse reminds us that humans are different from animals and have a special place in God’s creation.
We all remember those “greater than” or “less than” symbols we used in math class: 1 < 3, 5 > 4, etc. It’s a principle we can apply to our Christian lives as well. On 99.1 Joy FM in St. Louis during their Moment in the Word on June 9, 2017, they pointed to the following verse:
He must become greater; I must become less. —John 3:30
Spoken by John the Baptist, these words remind us that we must always allow Christ to be greater than ourselves. We must recognize that we are always less than him. In everything we do, we must apply the “greater than/less less” equation to it.
Is this activity making God greater or making me greater?
Is this approach to something making God less than ourselves?
We live in an increasingly pluralistic society. Pluralism is the philosophy that holds that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life. As a result, most issues are considered “neutral” (neither right nor wrong) and can be determined by the individual as he or she sees fit.
The problem for the Christian Church because of pluralism is that the Christian Church becomes only one of many possibilities for how to look at the world, and, therefore, any standard of truth or conduct is diminished or often even disregarded.
Pluralism leads to a kind of chaos of thought in which nothing is agreed upon and there are no set rules for anything. It’s about your truth and my truth and their truth and all are considered okay in this framework.
Ideologies of the world often clash with the theology of Christianity, and the ideology of consumerism is one of them.
Consumerism says, “I will pick and choose what I want.” In the mentality of consumerism, which is one of the most pervasive approaches in our society today, life is all about making choices. We choose what to buy, where to shop, where to live, what career to follow, what job to take, etc.
The problem comes when that approach leaks into spiritual life and the same principle is applied to what people believe and where they go to church. In this model, “the church becomes just another retail outlet, faith just another commodity. People change congregations and preachers and even denominations as readily and they change banks and grocery stores” (Colson, Chuck, The Body).
In the May 2017 issue of Living Lutheran, the cover included 16 images of the face of Christ from different artists. Editor Jennifer Younker noted, “When I look at the cover I’m amazed that, even though all the images are very different, I instantly recognize them as the face of Christ. Although each individual visual is influenced by its regional, ethnic and cultural lenses, the cover evokes the freedom and salvation we receive from Jesus Christ and shows that Christ’s love transcends all perceived physical differences” (Editor’s Note, Living Lutheran, May 2017, p. 4).
This cover and these comments got me to thinking about how I personally envision the face of Christ. For me, I picture a warm, loving, kind face smiling back at me with a look that says everything will be fine because he loves me.