the All Our Minds project | On Judgmental Christians

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the All Our Minds project | On Judgmental Christians

Question #2: Why are some Christians so judgmental when the Bible teaches compassion, understanding, and kindness?
 
We’ll just dive right in with this one...

As a Sunday School teacher, it’s interesting for me to think about the different aspects of God’s character that different kids hold more firmly to. Some hop on the Jesus Loves Me train and ride straight on ‘til morning. Whether it’s because of their backgrounds or personal temperaments, it’s easier and more intuitive for them to latch on to the concept of a loving God. These are the kids who might get scared or anxious at the mention of God’s wrath.  
 
Then there are the kids on the other end of the spectrum who can understand God’s wrath more readily than His love. These kids are very well-behaved, disciplined and logical. They hold on to the idea that actions have consequences and they sometimes get confused when the topic of forgiveness comes up.
 
Whether a person is born into a Christian family or comes to Christ later in life, it’s not uncommon for us to begin our spiritual walks with a leaning in one of these two directions. Especially as adults, our backgrounds and experiences inform our view of God and can bring us to a starting point in our faith.
 
The hope, of course, is that our understanding of God’s character would continue to expand and evolve as we grow in our faith. That our hearts and minds would learn to hold both His love and His wrath simultaneously—and that we would learn to live out of the most God-honoring balance of the two.  
 
Historically, we as the Church have failed pretty miserably at balancing these scales. In fact, this painfully apparent shortcoming can be traced all the way back to biblical times.
 
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it plain and clear: “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” (Matthew 7:1-2).
 
So the question stands: why do we do it?
 
1. We point people to Jesus’ rules before pointing them to Jesus
 
Being a Christian means having a relationship with Jesus. Imagine meeting somebody for the first time and immediately receiving a rulebook for how to be friends with that person. We need to talk every day and you need to change X, Y, Z about yourself. Also, your whole life is about serving me now. How interested would you be in building a friendship with that person? Exactly.
 
All too often, this is the abrupt introduction that people get to Jesus. We define Him by the standards He sets, and not as the grace-filled Reconciler we know Him to be. This reversal is a critical misstep that pushes people away from experiencing His love.
 
Why would somebody who doesn’t know Jesus care whether or not they’re meeting His standards? The explanation of That’s not how Jesus wants you to live means nothing if the person hearing it doesn’t care what Jesus thinks about their life choices.
 
In a lot of ways, it’s easier for Christians to draw lines in the sand and play referee when somebody goes out of bounds. It’s easier to apply cut and dry rules than it is to build a relationship, hear a person’s questions and walk through Jesus' words on the topic. When we take the Change this-Change that-You’re-wrong-I’m right approach, it just reads as self-righteous judgment.
 
Jesus is the why. We need to start with the why.
 
2. We miss the mark on “speaking the Truth in love”
 
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us what it means to speak the truth in love:
 
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (4:14-16).
 
The first part of the passage is all about remaining firm and rooted in what we know to be true—namely, the Gospel message. Instead of being tossed by the waves of uncertainty, we are to be confident in the Truth that Jesus died for our sins. When we have the confidence in Jesus, we will be built up in love and hence enabled to speak the truth in love.
 
Those are pretty words, but what does it look like in practice? Similar to the Sunday school students I mentioned before, I think that many grown Christians struggle to strike this balance. I don’t want to compromise the Truth, but how do I share this radically offensive Truth in love?
 

To me, this is a matter of It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. If you’ve ever seen a street-corner evangelist with a megaphone and a sign that reads God hates sin or You’re going to hell, you know what I’m talking about. Nothing about how that message is being communicated is in love. It’s all about judgment and hate.
 
It really boils down to relationships. Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul was committed to understanding the perspectives of others, meeting them in their questioning and sharing the Gospel in a way that created bridges between their differences. We can’t do any of that unless we’re in relationship with others. In order to speak the Truth in love, we need to actually love the person we’re speaking to.
 
3. We’ve wrongly responded to the gift of God’s forgiveness with pride instead of humility
 
This is at the root of the judgmental thoughts and actions of many Christians. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ was at some point humbled by this verse. But somewhere between acknowledging our own brokenness, being forgiven and searching for wisdom and knowledge in God’s Word, a toxic sense of worthiness creeps into our hearts. The little voice that says I’m actually pretty good at following Jesus.
 
When we listen to that voice and forget our brokenness, we are living out of a place of pride that separates us from God and others. Suddenly, we don’t need God nearly as much as we used to—and we’re probably looking down on others. Later in Romans, Paul writes: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (12:3).
 
Choosing pride over humility makes it easy to be judgmental and impossible to be compassionate. Once I start believing that I’m better than the person next to me, I’ve lost sight of the core message of the Gospel that I claim to have mastered: that we were all buried under the weight of sin before Christ atoned for it all.
 
So now what?

 
I believe that we as the church can do better. In fact, Jesus demands better from us. He will never stop demanding better from us. That’s just sanctification.
 
I wish I could promise you that all Christians will one day stop being judgmental. I wish I could promise you that all of us will model Christ-like humility and compassion in every moment of every day. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen on this side of heaven.
 
We are imperfect people serving the perfect God. The God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Many are weary from dealing with the church’s shortcomings, myself included. While developing my response to this question, this sermon reminded me that the church is messy because it’s filled with sinners. 
 
Mark 2:17 reads: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is the hospital where dying sinners come to see the doctor. Jesus is the doctor who offers new life to anybody who asks for it.
 
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis:
 
If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable? (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Resources:
https://www.bethinking.org/is-religion-harmful/why-are-christians-so-hypocritical
https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/why-are-christians-so-judgmental
https://www.exploregod.com/why-are-christians-so-judgmental
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whiskeypreacher/2014/01/christians-are-judgmental-jerks/
http://parkerhillsbiblefellowship.org/sites/parkerhillsbiblefellowship.org/files/audio/files/7_arent_christians_hypocritical_gullible_judgmental.pdf

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the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

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the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

For those of you who missed my last post, this is the start of a new series called the All Our Minds project. I’m asking anybody who’s interested—you included—to tell me their biggest question about Christianity. I’ll do some research and write a response to your question, which will hopefully lead to a healthy dialogue and a discovery of God’s Truth on the subject.
 
Okay, now that we’re all caught up—drumroll please.

And our first question of the series is…

If I pray every day and study the faith on my own but do not attend church, does this make me a "bad Christian"?
 
When I first saw this question, the part that immediately caught my eye was the term “bad Christian.” Let’s start there.
 
The terms “good Christian” and “bad Christian” get thrown around a lot and I’m not really convinced that they serve us well when we’re dialoguing about our faith. If any of us are calling ourselves “good Christians,” we’re probably glazing over at least a dozen areas where God is working to grow us. But thinking of ourselves as “bad Christians” could lead to futility and resignation, which isn’t helpful either.  
 
So rather than approaching this as a matter of “good Christian” vs. “bad Christian,” I’d like to think about this question in terms of how Jesus lived and how He calls us to relate to one another.
 
Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth is our tried-and-true example of a godly life. 1 John leaves us with this challenge: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (2:6). Whenever we’re asking ourselves a question about the Christian lifestyle, this is the ground zero that we need to start at. How should I be living my life? The way that Jesus did. How did church fit into Jesus’ life? I’m so glad you asked.
 
When Jesus was just twelve years old, His parents accidentally left Him at the temple in Jerusalem… for three days. They finally found him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Flustered, His parents asked Him why He had stayed behind.
 
“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).
 
From that young age, spending time in His Father’s house was very important to Jesus—and it stayed that way throughout His ministry. In addition to actively praying for others and with others, involvement in the local faith community was central to Jesus’ life on this earth. Here are a few reasons why it’s central to ours too.  

A growing faith is relational

The New Testament makes it clear that the life of a Christ-follower is not one of isolation. In fact, quite the opposite—it’s all about relationships. Relationship with Christ. Relationships with fellow believers. Relationships with teachers, lepers and prodigal sons. 

Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Gathering with one another gives us a strength that we can’t have on our own. If we’re not relating to others and building life-giving relationships in our church community, we’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow spiritually. By investing in these relationships, our personal faith and views will be challenged, and thus sharpened.  

Accountability is key

I believe that God’s Word is infallible. Unfortunately for us, we as humans do not share that same quality. In other words, we bring all of our preconceptions, personal experiences and inherently flawed human logic to the Bible when we read it.

Since we all approach God’s Word from our own unique background, it’s important for us to have accountability and guidance in our interpretations. Proverbs 11:14 says “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Most of us wouldn’t hold firmly to a conviction of any kind without hearing out some alternate perspectives. God’s Truth is objective, but we need the help of leaders and fellow believers to get to the heart of it. 

Now, for anybody who has ever been hurt or deceived by the church, this one might seem counterintuitive. The church is full of hypocrites. What kind of “accountability” can I really expect from them? Listen, I get it. I can’t write this piece without acknowledging that the church has some apparent shortcomings. Hear me out though…

C.S. Lewis writes “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Beyond C.S. Lewis, the apostle Paul writes “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

None of us are good. We’re all flawed. And as it turns out, flawed people dealing with other flawed people is actually a recipe for spiritual growth. Together, our collective shortcomings are illuminated, our hearts are humbled and our need for grace is evident. Many people are driven away from fellowship because they don’t want to face church politics or hypocrisy, but those vices are everywhere whether we like it or not. If we actively resist them by holding each other accountable in fellowship, we’re sharpened by the practice of loving our neighbor when it’s hard. 

We remind each other of the hope we have

Another part of accountability is encouragement. By encouraging you and being present amidst your hardships, I’m holding you accountable to the hope of Christ that lives in you. Hebrews 10:24-25 hits the nail on the head: 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

When we gather as a community to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we serve as living testimonies of the active hope we all have in Christ. If a brother or sister is struggling through a hard time, Paul says, “ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In his letter to the Corinthians, he says of the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is how we as the church are called to relate to one another. 

You’re a member of the body of Christ, which means you have a job to do

I’m going to let Romans 12:4-8 speak for itself on this one:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of His family. Each of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are gifted in different areas and have different strengths to share with our church community. That’s a big part of why it’s so important for us all to be actively engaged in church fellowship. Because are all united by a common love for Christ and a common desire to glorify Him—and we all have a role to play.

So now what?

Let’s say you don’t have a church that you attend regularly. Maybe you had one that you really loved and then you moved to a new place. Or maybe you’re a new Christian and just haven’t found a congregation that makes sense for you yet. 

Finding the right church can be challenging. Whenever I think about church searching, I remember this line from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”:
 
Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.... the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic… (Letter #16).

In other words, it’s incredibly easy to indefinitely remain in the church search stage. Often times, it’s because we’re looking for a perfect blend of criterion that may or may not exist. In seasons when I’ve lived far from my home church, I’ve done the church search shuffle and there’s no sugar coating it—it’s tricky. 

I could probably write a whole post on this topic alone. Instead, I’ll just share what worked best for me: creating a list of my Tier One non-negotiable attributes that I needed in a church and working my way down from there. It helped me prioritize what mattered most while also managing my expectations.

There are plenty of people who go to church but don’t believe. Walking into a building every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. does not a faithful Christian make. But steering clear of the church altogether seems like a sure-fire way to miss out on chances to grow spiritually. As our faith grows, we draw closer to God—and isn’t that what this life is all about?

“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). 

Resources:
www.biblegateway.com
www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-should-i-go-to-church
www.gotquestions.org/when-did-the-church-begin.html
www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/faith-in-life/prayer/learning-from-the-prayer-life-of-jesus

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An Introduction | The All OUR Minds Project

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An Introduction | The All OUR Minds Project

Matthew 22:37. “An oldie but a goodie” some might call it.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Whether it was on BibleGateway or in the “Wall Decor” aisle at Home Goods, most of us—Christian or not—have seen this verse somewhere at some point. I mean, Jesus went on record to cite this as His “first and greatest commandment,” so for the 21st century reader, it really has a way of sticking out in a 1200-page ancient manuscript.

A few weeks ago, those last four words—with all your mind—struck me in a new way. Loving God with all my mind means “[taking] captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m falling short in this area (1 Corinthians 10:5). When I started thinking about how much of my brainpower is wasted on over-analyzing social interactions, worrying about the future, and comparing myself to others…well, it was just embarrassing. And we all know how motivating embarrassment can be.  

Alright, this is literally Jesus’ greatest commandment, I thought, and I know I’m missing out on a lot of chances to live it out. So I started brainstorming some new, tangible ways to redirect my brainpower and use my mind to better serve God and the people around me. That’s where the idea for a new writing project emerged.

If you’re reading this post right now, you probably know that I love writing about my faith. Throughout my spiritual walk as a Christian, writing has always given me a way to process through different questions or experiences I’ve had—and I know I’m not the only person with questions.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most people—Christian and non-Christian—have questions about Christianity. How could we not? There are so many conflicting perspectives on just about every aspect of the Christian faith. The thought of sifting through all of them to find the root of God’s Truth can at times feel impossible, or at the very least, overwhelming. But I believe that dialogue with people of various opinions is the best way to arrive at true understanding.

So here it is. I’m calling it the All Our Minds project. I’m reaching out to people in my community–people like you—and asking them to share their biggest question about the Christian faith. Whether you're Christian or not, ask yourself "What part of the Bible or the Christian life is difficult for me to wrap my mind around?" As questions come in, I’ll begin digging for scripture-based responses and sharing my findings in posts right here on my blog. Other than me, nobody will know who submitted each question. Many of the people I’ve approached so far have asked if they can send more than one question—by all means, please do.

But it’s called the All OUR Minds project for a reason. I'll be sharing one response every two weeks, and my hope is that my initial post on each topic will be thought of as the beginning of a dialogue. If you read a response and think “How could she possibly think that?” or “What about this passage?” or “That reminds me of that one time I…,” don’t just keep those thoughts to yourself! Share them in the comments section below or privately through the CONTACT tab. The last thing I want is for this to become a space where I just slam the gavel on what God’s Truth is without considering the wisdom, perspectives and understanding of others. That’s why this exercise really only works if we’re in it together.  

Today’s culture is riddled with confusion and misunderstandings around what it means to be a Christian. I’m not a theologian, pastor, or seminary student, but I want to be a part of cutting through the noise to find and share the Truth. Will you join me?

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

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