“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

Matthew 7:1-5

I admit, my thoughts are influenced by the writing of Gregory Boyd, “Repenting of Religion.” Challenged by the original intent of God in creation – that I would be completely fulfilled by living in a love relationship with my Creator, and that the original intent was spoiled when humanity chose to know good and evil. I admit, I joined all other humans in striving to fill my needs by becoming a judge of good and evil rather than leaving that to God.

Jesus taught other ways. He reminded his listeners that to judge others is to put themselves on the judgment block. It is the standard one uses that will be used to judge her. “Concern” for the small speck in the other’s eye does not compare with the log in my own eye.

Imagine trying to look into someone’s eye to help remove a piece of dust – something that is causing distress. That is quite a task. But when hindered by an even greater obstruction in your own eye, the task is impossible.

I am convicted and challenged by Jesus’ words. And I am guilty. Guilty of looking at others, judging if they are good or evil; all the while, failing to follow Jesus’ command to love others unconditionally.

My prayer must be: Father, forgive me, I am a sinner! Renew me in your perfect love.

“When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.”

Deuteronomy 22:8

Never have I considered entertaining someone on my roof. But then, mine is rather steep and completely unuseable as an entertaining space. This was not true in the Ancient Near East or even during Jesus’ time. Rooftops were often an extension of the home, providing practical living space. Recall in the book of Acts when Peter goes to the roof to pray and he has a vision telling him to go to Cornelius. (Acts 10:9) Putting a railing around the edge of the roof was one way to love their neighbor well – make it so they can’t fall off.

It may seem this verse from Deuteronomy is one I might disregard unless I consider building a flat roof on my house. Except, recall the greatest commandment to love God with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Perhaps there is something to be learned.

Last summer I purchased a new outdoor rug for the living space on my deck. During the previous winter, the squirrels chewed my more expensive rug, so I decided to choose a more economical one. Arriving home from the store, rug in hand, I put it on the deck. It looked perfect.

Until it wasn’t. I noticed almost immediately that the corners and sides of the rug tended to curl up creating a tripping hazard. It annoyed me, but I didn’t do anything about it. And I put the rug out again this summer, knowing it created a potential hazard. I muttered about it; my guests muttered about it. I decided next time I would buy a heavier rug that doesn’t curl.

Finding a solution to the rug issue didn’t become a priority until this week. Until I caught my little toe on an outdoor rug at another home and broke it. Yesterday I used rug tape to firmly plant my rug in place. Sometimes it takes “falling off the roof” to spur me to action.

If I read this verse in Deuteronomy and disregard the principle simply because I do not have a flat roof, I miss the point. If you read this post today and disregard the principle because you don’t have an outdoor rug, you miss the point.

It isn’t really about rugs or roofs, it’s about love. Loving my neighbor as I love myself. Jesus said that all the law and commandments hang on the commands to love God and love others (including myself) well. I don’t need a list of rules to guide me as I love my neighbor. Putting God in the center, where he belongs, and responding to the rest of life from that place will ensure that my actions are loving.

It is so much easier for me to excuse an injustice or risk when I am on this side, the side with the curling rug. But when I get on the other side, the one with the broken toe, I feel more indignant about securing the rug down. When it directly affects me, I want to see change.

Today, I am relying on the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart regarding the “rug” in your life. What do you consistently overlook in relationships with others, excusing obstacles because “it isn’t a big deal?” How has your “toe caught and broke” on the rug of others? How will you extend love even then?

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. Everything hangs on these two commands. –Matthew 22:36-40

Sunday is a day I set aside for rest. Deliberately ceasing from daily work to give my physical body a break, I make room for renewal. I invite you to do the same.

Yesterday I sat by our stream for awhile listening. I haven’t listened well lately so it was good to be intentional about providing that space. I realized, again, how much I need it.

Enjoy your Sunday, allowing your body, mind and spirit to be renewed for a new week!

As the week winds down, I am challenged to ponder anew what it means to live with intimate knowledge of God’s love for me through Jesus. Not of justice, peace, equality, good, evil, morality – any of the characteristics we have become accustomed to associating with Christianity at some level. Just immersing myself in the love of Jesus. Would I become imbalanced and wavering in my faith? How would I explain Jesus to someone? How would I characterize his life? What words would I use to tell someone of my experience of him now?

Perhaps that is to heavy for this Saturday morning. Nonetheless, the song is worth listening to before you begin the day.

Have you ever considered the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? When confronted by the serpent, Eve said they were allowed to eat from every tree except this one or they would die. Satan replied, saying

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.

Genesis 3:4-5

What did Adam and Eve know before they ate from the tree? What is it like in a world where humanity doesn’t have knowledge of good and evil?

As I ponder this, I come to the conclusion that God intended for us to know only good through a love-filled relationship with him. We were never intended to know evil. With this knowledge came an interesting twist of relating to one another.

Recall the discussion from yesterday about the center. When we are cut off from the center, we are cut off from true life, the full life God intended. We make up for it by external behaviors; we critically assess all of life – people, things, behaviors, accomplishments – in terms of good and evil. “How well does this serve me?” becomes the main focus.

In his book, Repenting of Religion, Gregory Boyd says it this way:

When we live this way, we are living from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The act of invading the center is the act of assailing God as the only rightful judge of the world…to live as the center is to live as a judge. Instead of getting fullness of life from the love that God is we attempt to get life from being wise, knowing good and evil. We live in judgment rather than love.

Gregory A. Boyd, Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God

The last seven words of that quote are mind-blowing to me. I have struggled with judgment my entire life. Always feeling it is my responsibility to know right from wrong, good from evil, I learned to constantly judge everything I encounter according to my internal standards. Rather than living from a place of radical, overwhelming love, I live in judgment.

How about you? Do you feel responsible to know good and evil? Is it difficult to leave those determinations to God and rest in his love not only for you, but for all humanity?

A couple of years ago, I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. As she shared about her family and what her children were doing, she expressed concern for her daughter. This young woman had wandered into a lifestyle my friend did not approve of – it was evil. At one point, I asked her what she thinks would happen if she radically, unconditionally loved her daughter. She paused, shook her head a little and said, “Well, I don’t want her to think I approve of her lifestyle.” Choosing judgment over love created a canyon she will never cross as long as she chooses to relate to her daughter through the lens of judgment.

I do not fault her for this. It’s an easy place to find oneself; a place I am too familiar with. But I don’t like it. The cry of my heart is, “Forgive me, Lord, for I am a sinner.”

I am not a decorator at heart but I recently redecorated my bedroom with the assistance of a friend who has an eye for that sort of thing. The focal point of the room is a quilt I made during the stay at home weeks. Everything else in the room adds to, highlights, shows off the quilt. Because there is only ONE focal point, the room has an air of calm, peace, quiet. Everyone, without exception, has said the same thing about the redo: “It is so peaceful in here.”

I didn’t realize it, but prior to this makeover, my bedroom was a bit chaotic. There were elements in the room that I liked individually, but there was no one center point. It was as if everything screamed to be the focus.

When God created the world and everything in it, he made a center focal point. In the garden, he called it the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. His intention was that he would be the source of life; he would be the center of humanity’s existence. From him, we experience fullness of life, confident that God will share eternal life with us. At the same time, we leave to God that which is for him alone — knowledge of good and evil.

We don’t do that though. Discontent with allowing God to be the center, we put self in the center and then attempt to make everything else revolve around us, including God. As we try to make everything complement us, we see things, people, accomplishments as a means of finding value, worth and dignity. Rather than individuals complementing and pointing to the center — God — individuals clamor to be the center and there is no peace and calm. We try to be what only God can be – the source of life — instead we are an empty hole that sucks life rather than gives it.

In order to step out of the chaos, there needs to be a center focus in life. If that is God, everything complements and revolves around God. Life is lived in love. As we receive love, value and dignity from God, we reflect that to the world around us. In this way, all things operate in harmony.

Do you feel chaotic and unsettled? You might start by checking the focal point of your life. What is in the center? Does everything revolve around you and your desires and needs? Do you look to the Creator to meet your needs, to fill your heart so you can reflect him to others? Or are you trying to do that on your own? This is the first step in lasting change.

I have a pair of black pants I bought at Kohl’s many years ago. They are the perfect pants for so many occasions. The first time I wore them, I fell and scraped a hole in the knee. I was so bummed so I did something I don’t often do — I repaired them with an iron on patch.

I continue to wear the pants and can justify doing so for almost any occasion, even though I know there is a hole. After all, it’s patched and barely shows unless you are looking. I choose them over and over because they are familiar, comfortable and black, but they aren’t my best look.

When I came to Christ, I was six years old. Thinking back on that experience, I sensed Jesus asking if he could be a part of my life. Overwhelmingly, the ask was cushioned in love — his love for me. He loved ME. At that moment, I became a new creation. Scripture tells me the old was gone and new life began at that moment. Already I was transformed; but not yet cognizant of the full benefits of transformation.

As I aged chronologically, I understood more of what it meant to be a Christian, but not necessarily what it meant to be loved unconditionally by God. I learned about good and evil, how to tell the difference, who should receive my judgment or my love based on what I observed. I learned to earn love rather than receive it. I learned to parcel out love and affection, to those who earned it, rather than giving freely. I became competitive, jealous, and judgmental.

I learned to be uncomfortable with too much talk about the love of God for fear we were ignoring his wrath and judgment. In many ways, I felt more comfortable with a sermon about sin, repentance and hell than love, forgiveness and heaven. I deserved judgment, but not love.

And that’s why I keep reaching for old behaviors. Already I am a new creation on the inside. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see my dirty, sinful humanness cloaked in the righteousness of Christ. Ephesians 1 says I am HOLY, BLAMELESS, RIGHTEOUS…already! The part that is being transformed is my awareness, not my reality. You see, my awareness is not yet fully there. So at times, I reach for old behaviors and attitudes.

Paul says it so well to the believers in Galatia…

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 

Galatians 5:16

I can’t do this on my own. Living fully aware of the love of God for me requires the help of the Holy Spirit. He reminds me that I am transformed; I am a new creature! He reminds me I don’t have to be defensive, judgmental, competitive or jealous. He shows me how to love others as freely as God loves me. He shows me how to love myself.

I may find comfort in the pants with the hole, but they don’t truly reflect who I am. I am royalty, bought with a price, set apart for His kingdom, deeply and unconditionally loved. None of these benefits depend on what I do; they are a reality of saying yes to Jesus.

Have you responded to God’s invitation to be reconciled to him through Jesus? If so, you already are a new creation; the old is gone! It may not feel like it yet, but that doesn’t change reality!

… Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Go ahead and have a little celebration dance ’cause that’s good news, friends!

A few years ago for my birthday, Dave gave me a consultation with a clothing stylist. She came to my house and spent a couple of hours going through my closet with me and assessing my wardrobe. Every item I owned was individually evaluated by several criteria: Do I currently wear it? (I answered this question.) Is the style of the garment a good fit for my shape? (The stylist answered this question.) What essential items do I need to add? (Stylist) What would I like to add? (me)

When we finished, there were multiple bags and boxes to donate; my closet was organized by color and sleeve length; I felt decidedly free and unencumbered. The whole process was challenging and yet so liberating. To be honest, I am due for another hard look through my clothes. It’s so easy to accumulate things that I never or rarely ever wear.

Yesterday we learned that LOVE is the essential garment. The Message says it like this: And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:14

Jesus answered a question put to him in a similar fashion. He says it like this:

One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:35-40

Imagine asking the same question using language of wardrobe and style. It might sound like this: Teacher, what piece of clothing is absolutely essential? The one thing I can’t do without? Jesus replied, “You have to wear love. Love for the One who made you and love for the ones He made, including yourself. This is the essential, all-purpose garment. Never leave home without it.”

I am reading a book entitled, “Repenting of Religion,” and the author takes three chapters to build the foundation of a relationship with God and it is love. It is the love of God for humanity that sent Jesus. When this happened, God assigned and recognized the insurmountable worth and value of his creation. It is his love for us that changes us, renews us, enables us, overcomes all odds for us.

My writing is not so much what I know, but what I am learning and experiencing in the moment. This concept is whirling about in my head — I think it might be called meditation — and I’m wrestling with it again. What does it mean that God’s love for me is so intense that he came in the person of Jesus to fix the gap between me and him? If I am declared a new creation when I accept his love for me, why don’t I always feel new? Why do I still reach for old behaviors and ways of thinking?

Does the intensity of God’s love seem real to you? Does it naturally flow through you to others? Is it an essential garment you reach for every day?

Clothes. Wardrobes. Closets. We all have them. Some are larger than others. In our closets, we have clothes we love and clothes we need. We have clothes we keep from year to year and clothes we buy and never wear. I have a love-hate relationship with clothes – both buying and wearing.

Last week, I shared a scripture from Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse. In our sermon yesterday, the same scripture was used except from The Message version. It spoke to me in a fresh way as I imagined my wardrobe and the items I choose to keep year after year because they are so ME! If they wear out or stain, I replace them with exact replicas. The piece is just that essential. Read through this scripture again with fresh eyes. Imagine stocking your wardrobe with these items. What is missing from your closet? What needs to go to the trash? It’s Monday! Let’s do a little housecleaning!

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Colossians 3:9-14

I would love to hear what stands out to you in this passage. I love the imagery of cleaning out my closet. I don’t need some of the things I hang on to. They are out of style and don’t fit. But there is one essential garment I need to put on every day — love!

I grew up on a farm bordering a river. Eighty acres of the property is a conifer woods along the river. The bank of the river is a great place to watch the sunset.

One evening, a friend and I decided to go to the river and do just that. During the blue hour following sunset, enough light reflected off the water that we didn’t notice how dark it the woods were getting. Turning to walk back to the house, we realized we should have brought a flash light. The darkness of the woods was impenetrable. For a few moments, I felt desperate. How was I going to get back to the house? I had to go through the woods. There was no other way.

The moonlight reflecting off the river gave enough light to walk by, so as long as we kept close to the bank, we could see. I decided our best option was to walk along the river to our neighbor’s fence and follow it through the woods. We did just that. The river was our guide to the fence and the fence was our guide through the trees.

The last few days have felt heavy and dark to me. As I prepared to write this, I grabbed my Bible app and read a couple verses. Both spoke comfort and strategy to my heart. I believe they might to you as well.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Even though I am weary, I am not alone on this journey through the darkness. He is always with me. I need that right now.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8

This is an excellent strategy. So often in the darkness of the valley, my thoughts wander to all kinds of crazy places. Will this ever end? How did I get here? What will it take to get out? What is here that I can’t see? How do I defend myself? Who is my enemy? Where are they lurking?

Tonight as I prepare to crawl into bed, it is a good reminder that I can fix my thoughts on what I know to be good for my mental health. If nothing else, I know I am not alone in all of this. Perhaps that is the best place to fix my mind tonight.

May your Sunday be blessed with the presence of Jesus in profound ways.