Tag Archives: scripture

eyeball

The Speck-Plank Conundrum

(A four minute read)

It sounds like a physics problem: The Speck-Plank Conundrum. It’s not – it’s a moral one. That’s the bad news. The good news is that although a conundrum is a knotty problem, it is one that does have a solution.

It’s an oldie but a goodie and the classic line about hypocrisy. You know it either from Luke 6 or Matthew 7. Jesus asks, ‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not see the beam that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye” when you yourself do not see the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”’ 1

First, definitions.

Speck, mote – two translations of the Greek κάρφος (karphos) which means ‘straw’.

Plank, beam, log – all these images are used by the gospel translators for the Greek δοκός (dokos) which means ‘a stick of timber.’

Actually Jesus walks us through several examples of our hypocrisy in this passage – I think he wants to make sure we can’t possibly miss the point.

Considering other parts of this passage, If I am blind about something, can I lead anyone anywhere? Yes, but nowhere good.

If I’m a student of Christ, can I possibly know better than he does? No, but having the mind of Christ, I can grow in his likeness.

When I judge others, don’t I do this to feel superior? Yes, always. Isn’t this why Jesus tells us to love our enemies? He wants humility from us.

Finally, since Holy Spirit lives in me – will I not exhibit his good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

Well – yes and no. At least not always.

That’s because I’m a work in progress. Look at Luke 6:45.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

My mouth speaks (and leads me to act) based on what’s in my heart. Knowing that, I know I have a ways to go.

Before I was saved, I spent a lot more time judging people than I do now. In fact, it was an occupation at times – like when I was employed to write editorials, and again, when I was employed to write comedy. Being un-saved I thought of this quality as ‘discernment.’

Well no, it wasn’t. Now that I have a relationship with Jesus, I know what discernment is. And yet, growing in discernment doesn’t release me from the speck-plank conundrum. That’s because some evil bits still remain in my heart, and work subtly on my behavior.

Here’s an example. About a year ago, going to my local cash point, I passed a homeless man sitting on the pavement staring at the floor. As I passed him, my so-called discernment showed me he was angry, possibly violent, and had a chip on his shoulder. I often will stop and spend time with the floor-squatters and perhaps even give them a gift, but not this guy. I marched right past.

After inserting my debit card and entering my pin I glanced back at him. Suddenly I saw him very differently. It was as though Jesus was there, saying ‘Here’s how I see him.’ And no longer was there an angry disaffected man sitting there, but a lost, frightened boy.

He called himself Frankie. He’d been in and out of prison since he was 18 and tired of it. He wants to make changes in his life. He needed encouragement. He needed a friend. He needed someone to take the plank out of his own eye and just sit with him.

Funny that. When I removed the plank from my own eye, I no longer saw any speck in his eye. His eye was clear. All I saw was someone created in God’s image, in his likeness.

I am sometimes blind. I all too often put myself ahead of Jesus. I do suffer from the speck-plank conundrum. But the fruit I bear is often good – thanks to Holy Spirit and the things he helps me store in my heart. May I continue to be planted next to his living water.

Heavenly Father, in your mercy, forgive us where we have been blind. Remove that blindness. Holy Spirit, write your words on our hearts, so that we only bear good fruit. Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to follow you, and not get ahead of you. Make us good carpenters – who know the difference between a speck of sawdust and a plank of wood. In your mighty name we pray. Amen.

Luke 6:41-42

Photo: Victor Freitas via Pexels

Pamphlet

A Life of Prayer

(A four-minute read)

Some days I wake up with unanswered questions. These aren’t questions for research, but they are life-changing. Or at least perspective-changing. They’re questions God pops into my head. They’re questions I can’t immediately answer. They are meat to be chewed until the flavor comes through in the form of insight.

A Life of Prayer

Today’s question is about prayer. Do I have a prayer life, or do I lead a life of prayer?

No simple question, and it immediately leads to more questions:

– How would I tell the difference?
– Is the former adequate?
– Is the latter more desirable?
– If I have the former, and want the latter, how do I get it?
– What transforms me from a man who prays, to a praying man?

Inevitably, I have more than a mouthful; it’s now turned into a meal.

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonian church to ‘Pray without ceasing.’ 1 I get a vision of someone on his knees from morning to night, getting up only for food or relief.

There are stories told of great prayer warriors who spent so much time in prayer that there was a groove worn in the floor where they knelt, and a rubbed-raw forehead-sized spot on the wall. Or they would kneel in the snow long enough to come away with bloody knees.

Do I really need to do any of that to ‘pray without ceasing’?

I could. But not necessarily. There may be a more subtle answer.

Some Useful Advice

Theologian N. T. Wright describes the verses in and around ‘Pray without ceasing’ as a type of memory device for the young Christians in Thessalonica:

‘Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies.
Examine all things.
Firmly hold onto what is good.
Abstain from all appearances of evil.’ 2

Wright says in his ‘Paul for Everyone’ series that these are aids such as we’d use for learning grammar rules, like ‘I before E except after C’. The reason we have them, he says, is so we learn them until they become second nature to us, and we no longer have to think about them.3

Back to my original question then. Do I have a prayer life? Or do I live a life of prayer?

A Life of Prayer

The term ‘prayer life’ describes something I take on and attach to my inner world through some motivation. Like my ‘sleep life’ or my ‘eating life’ or my ‘work life’ or my ‘sex life.’ I’m involved in these things, but they are, in a way, detached from my personhood.

So a ‘prayer life’ seems like the rest of them. It’s like a garment, something I can don or doff at will, as it seems convenient, when it suits me.

A ‘life of prayer’ – now that sounds different. Internal. Personal. All-consuming. Imagine it in relation to the idea of a ‘life of sleeping’, or a ‘life of eating’, or a ‘life of work’ or a ‘life of sex’. All of them sound pretty radical, and would eventually lead to various levels of dissolution!

A ‘life of prayer’ though, would be in a class by itself. Because it’s not about being obsessed with prayer to the exclusion of all else. Rather it’s looking for God in all the places of my life, even the broken ones (especially the broken ones) so that the idea of prayer infiltrates all these other ‘lives’ that I live and builds them up.

In other words, I bring my prayer life (which is my conversation with God) into the parts of my life that seem on the surface to be ‘non-God’: work, eating, sleeping, marriage, exercise, tying my shoes, taking out the rubbish, complaining, fearing, lusting, apathy, judging, scorn.

Yeah, especially those last ones. Prayer is the only tool I have for making progress against them.

It’s not coincidental that ‘Pray without ceasing’ is sandwiched between ‘Rejoice always’ and ‘In everything give thanks.’ Being grateful and full of praise leads to a light heart. And that makes the conversation of prayer much easier.

Now, to work on ensuring it’s a two-way conversation.

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
3. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, Tom Wright, pp 130-131

Hands

Coming Together

(A six minute read – part of a year-long series on the Ministry of Reconciliation)

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/: The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree.

It’s easy to pass this word off as only relevant for person-to-person conflict. Something done after a war, or a genocide, or when a business partnership goes bad. Perhaps it’s a January response to that ugly political discussion at the holiday dinner table.

Reconciliation is much more

Reconciliation is much, much bigger than that. It’s about charting new courses for ourselves. It’s about listening to one another. It’s about being willing to reserve judgment. It’s about wanting to be nice. It’s about healing. Ultimately, its about forgiveness. More on that in a moment.

The Bible says that, as a Christian, I’ve been given the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ What is that? It means my purpose here is to bring love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control into all I do. Those are the tools in my tool-kit for building reconciliation among estranged parties.

The Biblical word for reconciliation in the Greek is katallagē (καταλλαγή), which means restoration to favor.

It comes from the root word katallassō (καταλλάσσω), which means to change mutually.

See the connection? Mutual change is an adjustment you and I make through compromise. It comes through listening and reserving judgment until we can both change. Only then, can we again favor one another.

What’s that about forgiveness?

If I’m in dispute with you I can’t reconcile with you until I forgive you. Forgive you for being a jerk. For having wrong ideas. For disagreeing with me. For whatever is on my list that gives me the self-righteous excuse to push you away, to stop listening, to stop caring about you.

Only through forgiveness can I become willing to return (repent) to a state of right relationship with you. Only then can I reconcile. Assuming you too are willing, of course. You just might have your own list and be enjoying the fruits of your own anger.

If that’s the case: Houston, we have a problem.

Easily dealt with

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Love. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s one of the tools in that tool-kit, remember?

Last week, I wrote about my friend Brian, who met love in the midst of a group of young people who talked him out of suicide. God’s love, expressed through them, radically changed his life.

That love reconciled Brian to God, from whom he’d been estranged his entire life. It also reconciled him to other people, whom he’d been blaming for his troubles. Finally, it reconciled him to himself.

He was living one way, met love, and now lives another.

I’m not saying that love without God in it can’t lead to some level of reconciliation. It can. But I don’t believe it transforms us, and it’s much harder for it to last. Reconciliation is God language. We can borrow it, but if He’s not in it, it’s not as powerful as when He is. His involvement gives it a capital letter, as it were.

Reconciliation happens everywhere

God is always all-in. He does nothing by half measures. If God is love, then He is always love, and is love all the time. He is not arbitrary. Sure, it’s easy to ask amid a pandemic, ‘Oh yeah? So where’s God in this?’

That’s a great question. In fact, that’s the right question. Because God always comes into evil situations – whether created by the devil directly, or by my own sin. When I look for Him – I can find a path to reconciliation.

God showed up in our neighborhood as Jesus Christ, to reconcile the world to Himself, no longer counting our sins against us – if we believe in Him.1 It’s pretty simple, really.

So He continues: reconciling all of creation to Himself. It’s happening all the time everywhere, whether we can see it or not.

Of course, we can work against it. If I come up and hit you in the nose, that’s not what you’d call a reconciling gesture. However, even in that stupid act and its aftermath, there is an opportunity for reconciliation to begin.

Physically, it’s obvious: the blood clots and then soon stops flowing; in a short time the pain and swelling recede; damaged tissue repairs itself; not too long after, it’s as though nothing happened.

On a heart level it’s a different matter. If I’m not willing to apologize profusely (and probably, have a pretty good excuse that you’ll accept!) you won’t begin to think about forgiving me. Thus, I stop that omnipresent reconciliation in its tracks. Or, if you think I’m offering a bogus excuse, or are insincere, you may also call a halt to the healing.

See? Even when it doesn’t happen, it’s still available. The potential remains. We just have to grab it, and it becomes real.

Looking ahead

Hang on to this idea that reconciliation is happening all the time, everywhere. Because we’ll explore that in the coming weeks. And I think you’ll be surprised to find out that it shows up in some seemingly unlikely places.

1. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 (NLT) ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’

Definition courtesy of Cambridge Dictionary

Read the entire series