Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Specks & Planks

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/15/2012

Let’s begin by looking at Matthew 7.

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

[kids complaining…]

This metaphor of specks and planks and judgment is best understood as a commentary about how we relate to each other with respect to sins and flaws and imperfections and failures and brokenness. Why do you look at someone else’s sin, and pay no attention to your own? It’s a comical, cartoonish, exaggerated image – the plank and the speck of sawdust – but Jesus is using it to make a lasting impression on us, because this really, really matters to Jesus. Because this really, really matters for those of us who want to follow him on his way of love, who want to partner with him in seeing salvation come to this broken world, who want to welcome and embrace the kingdom of God. It really, really matters to us in the Vineyard Church of Milan as well, especially as we try to come to grips with what it means for us to be a centered set church, following the way of Jesus together, creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect.

Think about it. Let’s say that you’re curious about Jesus. Something is drawing you to explore him. You haven’t been very religious in your life. Some parts of your life are going great. Some parts have been hard. Something is gnawing at you, whatever the case.

And let’s say, in a moment of crazy hope, you show up at church.

And let’s say the people at this church look at you and say, aha,oooh, er, wow. I see a speck of sawdust there in your eye. Before you go any further, here, you’d better let us help you with that.

If you are desperate, you might let these strangers give it their best shot. Or, more likely, you might not. Because something about the way they are looking at you tells you they are hungry for something different than you are hungry for, and that makes you a little unsettled. It’s not that you think they are wrong about what they see necessarily, it’s just that you are looking hard for God, and they seem to be looking hard for specks of sawdust.

But what if the people at this church look at you and say, aha, you seem hungry for finding out more about Jesus. If you’re like me, you might be wondering if that speck irritating your eye will keep you from finding him. I know what that’s like. I had one just like that, but it was way bigger, more like a log. But God still had favor for me, so much of it. If it’s all that mattered, it may have kept me from finding him, but it didn’t keep him from finding me! And he let me play, he let me count, even before I could see very clearly. And he gave me a big embrace, and put a ring on my finger, and sandals on my feet, and killed a fatted calf and invited his whole household and the whole village to just to welcome me home. Before I even had a chance to get that log taken care of. And I just keep finding more and more logs floating across my vision. But one by one, he’s helping me get rid of them. Come on in; there’s no way that thing can keep you from him any more than my logs have. In fact, when the time is right, he just might take care of it for you, or teach you how to get it out. And we’re all here to help, if help is needed. You just let us know, and in the meantime, get to know us; we’re eager to get to know you. Who knows, you might be able to help us deal with some of our logs.

Now that’s some breathing room, isn’t it? You just might be able to find some favor here, you just might be able to count here, you just might be able to connect to God here. And if you do, well, that sawdust isn’t gonna stand a chance against the river of life that’s going to start welling up within you and the happy tears that will be pouring out of you.

Now this passage about sawdust and planks shows up in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It’s an epic teaching about the good news of the kingdom of God and what it means to be human in the reality of God’s kingdom.

And at the center of Jesus’ teaching about what it means to be a human being made in the image of God are the twin commands about love and judgment. Love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love each other as I have loved you. And do not judge.


Both commands go hand in hand. If you adopt Jesus’ incarnated way of being human, you cannot help but both love others and not judge. And the reason for that, as we’ve spoken about in various times and various ways, has to do with our posture towards one another.


Jesus shows us that the proper posture for his followers towards other human beings is to be the posture of a servant. One who lowers oneself in order to love and lift up. And in that position, judgment is impossible. Because to judge, one must stand above to condemn. And human beings cannot simultaneously be in both postures. It’s like an on/off switch. We can either love, or we can judge. But not both. And because his command to us is to love, his twin command is to not judge.

Obeying these commands will produce a tension in us. A tension that it is worth acknowledging and becoming conscious of, so that it doesn’t rule us and get us off track.

That tension shows up here in Matthew 7. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye…”

We look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, often, because we love them and we are concerned for them. I mean, heck, the very reason we notice is because we are looking, and we are looking – assuming we are in a healthy place – because we care.

And yet, Jesus warns us that there is a danger in how we respond to what we see in others as we love them. A danger so serious that we could end up with two tragic consequences. One, we might miss out on some serious problems of our own (the plank in our own eyes). And two, we might do some serious damage to those we are trying to help because we aren’t tuned in to how compromised our own vision is.

So Jesus’ solution is both simple and brilliant. Our attentions must be properly ordered. First things first. When it comes to sin, you are responsible for your own sin. Not for the sins of others. Attend to your responsibility for yourself, and as you succeed, then you might be in a place come alongside others as they attend to that for which they are responsible.

We are a centered-set church. Which means we are directing our eyes towards Jesus, who has invited us to follow him. Which means our primary concern is drawing nearer to him and being shaped by him as we take our next step in discipleship to him, step after step after step.


Each of those steps is a step of faith. A step of surrendering something he’s calling us to let go of so that he can put something new, and better in our hands, perhaps. Or a step of freedom from a particular sin. Or a step in service to others. Or a step in trusting him with some new area of our lives. Or a step in growing in love. Or a step of obedience. Or a step in taking off a mask and being our true self before him or others.

Being a centered-set church requires different kinds of habits and responses in relationship to God and to one another than we might be accustomed to if our formative faith experiences took place in a church where certain kinds of boundary markers defined who was in and who was out. Because, in a centered set church, what defines our participation in the community of faith is motion. What defines our participation is the direction our hearts are moving us – towards Jesus, or away from him. Regardless of how close or how far from him he might find us in any particular area of our lives. So our faith journey isn’t a story of striving to get to some pre-established point and then stay there, but rather a story of continuously being called further up and further in to the heart of God.

In particular, a critical question that is answered differently in a centered set church from a bounded set church is this one: What are the responsibilities of a member of the community of faith?

In a community defined by its boundaries, the answer tends to revolve around the boundaries. Each person is responsible for the boundaries. Responsible for making sure the boundaries are clear, and well maintained, and honored. Responsible for dealing effectively with boundary infractions. Responsible for successfully getting interested people inside the boundaries, and protecting the boundaries from attack. Responsible for maintaining the purity of population within the boundaries.


In a community defined by movement towards the center, the answer takes on a very different shape. For a member of a centered set community, the answer revolves around one’s responsibilities for oneself and towards others. This week we will begin exploring this idea (and we’ll continue next week, at least, as well). In a nutshell, in a church devoted to centering itself on Jesus, each person is responsible for himself – for his or her own next step in discipleship towards Jesus – and each person is responsible to every other person – to love and serve them as Jesus directs through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the scriptures. Because after all, Jesus himself places loving one another at the heart of discipleship to him.


This, in fact, is the pattern Jesus sets for us, and the pattern he himself followed as he walked in our skin. Jesus is responsible for himself – for doing what his Father has sent him to do – and responsible to each of his estranged brothers and sisters, his Father’s image-bearing kids, to seek them and save the lost. [examples…]


Jesus lives out a basic truth about our responsibilities. I am only responsible for one person in the universe. And that person is myself. I am only responsible for myself because I am the only one I have any true control over (and truth be told, that control seems tenuous at best, sometimes!). I am responsible for my heart towards God, my heart towards others, I am responsible for the condition of my soul, for what I feed it and how I care for it, I am responsible for how I direct and use and nourish my mind, I am responsible my strength. How I care for it, how I steward it, what I train and prepare it to do.

Both go hand in hand. I am only responsible for myself. But God has given me all sorts of other responsibilities towards others. And in fact, I cannot be faithful in my responsibility for myself without also being faithful in my responsibility towards others. And I cannot be faithful in my responsibility towards others without being faithful in my responsibility for myself.

I am responsible to God.

To Love him. To serve him. To obey him.

In fact, it’s because of my responsibilities toward God that I am responsible to be responsible for myself. Because my life, my very self, is a gift that he has given me to steward.

And in the same vein, my responsibility towards God leads me into responsibilities towards others. If I love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength, I will also find myself loving my neighbor as myself.

I am responsible to my wife, Ronni.

To love her. To be in a posture of service towards her. To be ready to lay down my life for her in whatever way the Lord may so direct me.

I am responsible to my kids.

To love them. To serve them. To be ready to lay down my life for in whatever way the Lord may so direct me.

I am responsible to the church.

To love her. To be in a posture of service towards her. To be ready to lay down my life for her in whatever way the Lord may so direct me.

I am responsible to every other image bearer, friend or enemy. To love them. To be in a posture of service towards them. To be ready to lay down my life for them in whatever way the Lord may so direct me.

I have responsibilities towards all of creation as well, responsibilities to all God’s creatures, great and small, and to the earth itself that is God’s gift to us and an expression of his glory.

And bringing it full circle, as a member of a community of image-bearers and an ecology upon which I and my life have an impact, I have a responsibility to be responsible for myself. And if I am faithful, with God’s help, to my responsibilities, God’s good purposes can be done in me, and through me, in the lives of those around me towards whom God has given me responsibilities.

This, perhaps, seems a little bit like a “No, duh” kind of a thing. But consider how often we substitute our responsibility for ourselves and to others with a sense of responsibility for others.


The parent who is over-responsible for his children. The spouse who is over-responsible for his or her worse half. The coach who is over-responsible for his or her players. The employer who is over-responsible for his or her employees. (Did you ever see Jesus apologize for his disciples?)image

Being responsible for others instead of oneself creates destructive stress. [monkeys responsible for getting food for others developing ulcers…] Because we cannot control others’ responses. (We can’t even predict their responses with a high degree of accuracy.) And because it will inevitably create conflict (who is responsible for them, us or them?) [Landis’s and the ice-cream]


Making yourself responsible for someone who is not you is a violation of God-given self. A violation of your own self and a violation of their self. It destroys life-giving boundaries. You lose your identity in the identity of others, and others without well-differentiated senses of self will lose their identities as you over-function in their lives. God made you, you. He made her, her. He made him, him. That was his call, and it’s not ours to override. Every unauthorized judgment is a form of over-responsibility.

Love, on the other hand, allows one to embrace others as one would embrace oneself, without violating either self. Love recognizes one’s self as made to be in communion with other selves, while still being fully one’s unique self. This is the truth of the trinity, is it not?


And being responsible for others will cause us to fail in our primary responsibility to them and to God, which is to love them. Because we will inevitably get frustrated. Or disappointed. And then manipulative. And judgmental. And soon enough we will stand above them as we stand above ourselves, from a place of authority instead of service.

“I was responsible for him!” No, you were responsible to care for him, or to watch out for him, or to teach him, or whatever. And you may have failed at that (or not), but he was responsible for himself. For his choices, or actions. That is a holy thing, territory where even angels fear to tread, a place one can enter only as a helper, and even then, only by invitation.


As a church, we are responsible to one another and to the disconnected and discounted and disfavored.

We are responsible to love.

To create breathing room.

To announce good news. To proclaim the message of salvation. To forgive. To heal. To cast out demons. To serve.

To make disciples.

To baptize.

To encourage, exhort, correct.

To speak truth in love.

All of that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings us back to ourselves.

We are responsible for ourselves. To bring ourselves under the rule and reign of God’s kingdom. To be trained in the way of love and set free from the enslavement of sin. So our hearts beat as God’s heart beats. So that we listen and hear and obey the Spirit of God. So that we will what God wills.

The implications of this are more significant than we might realize, so we’ll explore more next week. The impact on our intimacy with God. How we help one another follow Jesus. What it means to be a leader. Should be fun. In the meantime…

Practical Tips:

1. Next time someone lets you down, take off your speck specs, and fill out your log log. [someone fails in a responsibility they have to you…do you look first at the spec in their eye – their failure in their responsibilities…? Or the plank in yours – your anger, disappointment, bitterness, your need to forgive, serve, love…?] Write down your responsibilities for yourself that the failure of the other person has created for you. Work through those. When you are satisfied that your slate is clean, then you can put your speck specs back on and see how you might serve them in helping them get better at handling their responsibilities towards you and others.

2. Risk 40 bucks on 20/20 vision. Ask 2 people this week if they can help you identify any logs in your eyes. Assure them that they are not responsible for how you respond to what they say. Give them $10 to answer your question, with the promise of $10 more if you get upset with them. If they won’t answer your question, you might already know one of your logs…

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