Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jesus vs. the Anxious Urgency of Eternal Destiny (and all other varieties as well)

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 02/05/2012

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

We have on the one hand the commands of Jesus to fix our eyes on our responsibilities for ourselves, first and foremost - the planks in our eyes - and after we've done that to be available to help one another with the sawdust in their eyes. 

And on the other hand, we have this sense of anxious urgency produced by the following logic:

our sin separates us from God.

we are often blind to our sin.

if, in our blindness, we never turn from our sin, we will stay eternally separated from God.

we who are not blind to others' sin, then, have a responsibility to tell other people about their sin.

Especially the sins that separate them from God.

So that they can see their sin and repent.

So that they can be saved.

So we end up facing this dilemma when we see someone with some sawdust in their eyes – especially if it seems to us to be the kind of sawdust that we think might really be a problem:

I'm not sure I should say anything, but…

But: if I don't, and they keep doing that, what if they end up in hell, separated from God forever?

But: if I were them, and I were going to hell unless they said something, I'd want them to say something.

But: if I don't say anything, and they end up in hell, I might be responsible for their eternal fate, and then I'd be in trouble too.

But: if I do say something, and they ignore me, or even if they hate me, I'll at least be in the clear, and it's on them now.

This sense of urgency, of a high stakes game in progress, makes it challenging to listen to the voice of the Spirit leading us, doesn't it?

He'd better tell me what to do quick, before it's too late. Because if I don't hear anything soon, I'm going for it! 

[anxiety like static in communication; all communication is emotional, if you're not moving towards, it's hard to hear…the anxiety itself can 1) make it hard to hear, and 2) get us turned in the wrong direction, making us miss what the Spirit is trying to say…]

So what can we do about that anxiety?

we could examine the logic, trying to figure out if any of our assumptions are flawed, or any of our conclusions in error, or

we could listen to Jesus.

[indiana jones clip, whipping out gun against swordsman…]

Jesus does to the anxious urgent edifice constructed by this logic what Indiana Jones does to the swordsman. He looks at it, shrugs, and does away with it.

Jesus says in essence: “hey, I don’t know where you got this anxious urgency from, but you didn’t get it from me.” And as his followers, if it doesn’t look like Jesus, and it doesn’t walk like Jesus, and it doesn’t talk like Jesus, it’s probably a good sign it’s not Jesus. And anxious urgency surely ain’t Jesus.

After all, is a life of faith an exercise in mastering a logic system, or an exercise in trusting God?

Here's the fundamental problem with the anxious urgency approach.  It's simply not how Jesus related to sinful people.  And it's not what Jesus uses as the basis for our mission. So regardless of the merits of our logic, something is off. [which, if we were brutally honest, we’d admit we suspected, if only because of the bad fruit we’ve seen come from it…]

Consider how Jesus went about his saving activity.  Do we ever see that kind of anxious urgency in his interactions with people?  No, we don't.  In fact, we see all kinds of indications of just the opposite.  

[Judas, Peter, as we mentioned last week…]

Jesus withdraws from time to time, time after time, to reconnect with the Father, to rest, to pray.  Despite the clamoring of the crowds.   This is not what anxious urgency would compel him to do, is it? Shouldn’t he just go, go, go, trusting God to give him energy – I mean, he’s only got to keep on keeping on for 3 years, right? What’s the point of conserving energy?

I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus’ mission isn’t urgent, that it isn’t important. I don’t mean to suggest that he thinks it doesn’t matter, so he’ll take his sweet time, thank you very much. No, his mission is so urgent, and so important, that nothing could keep him from it. I only mean that anxious urgency isn’t what moves him. He is intent on cooperating with the Spirit of God – on doing what he sees the Father doing – and the Father values kairos time over kronos time, everytime. [explain…] In fact, Jesus seems to resist anxious urgency whenever he encounters it (mother, lazarus).

When Jesus speaks of how God's kingdom works, he uses language loaded with waiting, with patience. Yeast working through dough, slow and invisible.  Seeds being planted, sprouting in the ground, in season growing up into a harvest. Anxious urgency nowhere to be found.

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

   “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

   “I will open my mouth in parables,
   I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

Matthew 13

Farming, gardening, cooking. All about kairos time. Anxious urgency will ruin all equally well…

Watching Jesus, one might even be tempted to think that forging a peaceful, healthy way of being human before God was as important and urgent as getting on with the mission. One might even be tempted to think that it was somehow an integral part of the mission… One might be tempted to think, even, that anxious urgency could be as destructive a sin as any sin that the people anxious urgency compels us to enlighten are dealing with… I’ll leave that for you to consider, if it interests you.

For now,

Consider the context and pace of God's salvation work culminating in Jesus.  

Calling Abraham.  

Wrestling with Jacob and renaming him Israel.  

Allowing Israel's descendants to suffer in slavery 400 years.

10 plagues.

The 12 tribes wandering in the wilderness 40 years.  

Hundreds and hundreds of years more, much of it filled with silence, before Jesus arrives.  

Jesus starting as an embryo, a fetus, a baby, a boy, a teenager, a young man, then finally, around 30, beginning to preach good news and teach and heal and drive out demons.  

Walking from place to place to place, speaking in small towns scattered throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.  

Anxious urgency nowhere to be found.

Then, when Jesus commissions his disciples to follow in his salvation mission, listen to what he tells them:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28

Notice what the "therefore" follows, and what it doesn't.  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."    Therefore doesn't follow what our logic tells us it should follow: "The time is short, and every second you delay, people are dying and going to hell in their ignorance, therefore…And if you fail, you just may join them."

No, “therefore” follows Jesus' proclamation that he has all the authority in heaven and on earth.  In other words, go about your mission out of obedience to me…and have peace, because I'm with you always, to the very end of the age.  

Obedience and peace, those are qualities connected to faith, to trusting God, aren't they?  When we trust, we obey.  When we trust, we act out of a place of peace.  When God is with us, it empowers our obedience.  When God is with us, peace that passes understanding is present.

And, to top it all off, after he commissions his disciples to carry out his mission, he tells them first, they must wait indefinitely in Jerusalem.  

But Jesus!?  People are perishing, and you want us to wait!??

Yes, wait for my holy spirit, which I will send you. 

Because our mission is a mission of faith, requiring us to listen to the voice of his Spirit, to be led and directed as we trust the leading of his Spirit.  If we run off on our own teaching people to be disciples, we'll be teaching people that what it means to be a disciple is to run off on our own, trusting our own logic, rather than obeying him.  If we wait for the leading of his spirit, and out of obedience carry out our mission, then we will be teaching people that what it means to be a disciple is to trust and obey.  The medium is the message. What kind of disciples do you think Jesus wants?

It's so much like the “buts” we have when it comes to judgment.  Jesus tells us not to judge, and we say, but…!

But, somebody's got to let them know what they are doing is wrong!

But, they are wrong and I am right!

But, I have enough information in this case, it's not a matter of being to hasty and getting it wrong!

Sure, that all makes sense.  It follows a certain logic.  But Jesus says don't do it.

Because when we judge, it doesn't matter if we are right in our judgment or not.  What matters is that our judgment puts us in the wrong posture towards other human beings (above them), and makes it impossible for us to be obedient to Jesus' command to us to love (which requires that we be in a posture of service to one another, below them).  Judgment is for him, and him alone.

It’s similar with the way we come alongside of our fellow image bearers and help them to see and follow Jesus.  Jesus tells us to wait and obey him every step of the way, to focus on our responsibilities for ourselves first, and then help one another with the sawdust after that. And we say but…!

But, the time is short! 

But, they can't see how much it's hurting them!

But, they could be paying an eternal price for some short term pleasure, and they might never know!

Sure, that all makes sense.  It follows a certain logic.  But Jesus says don't do it.

Because when we focus on others' sawdust, it places us in the wrong posture towards other human beings (responsible for them), and we fail in our responsibilities for ourselves and towards them.  And when we act out of anxious urgency, instead of trusting obedience, we become disobedient and unfaithful.

story of Saul.

1 Saul was thirty[a] years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-[b] two years.

2 Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest he sent back to their homes.

3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand[c] chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

   Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel.

   Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

1 Samuel 13

God’s priority for us in every situation is for us to be responsible for ourselves, and as part of that responsibility to be responsible to love and serve those to whom God has called us.

Saul was king of Israel.  King of the people who were called apart as God's own, in a land God had given them.  He was responsible before God to, first and foremost, trust God.  

Then his men started to desert.  His prophet didn't show up.  

The invitation of God in the midst of every anxious urgency is "trust me."  Saul didn't.  He abdicated his responsibilities as king to take on the prophet's responsibilities, out of fear. I felt compelled, he said. That wasn't God's Spirit leading him, was it?  No.  And the kingdom was taken from him because in his anxious urgency he stepped out line and did what was reserved for another to do.

We face so many anxious urgencies, don't we?  Anxious urgency is always a tool of the enemy to draw us away from our responsibilities for our ourselves and to others, to twist those up in a such a knot that we can't hear the voice of God's Spirit leading us, in such a knot that we can't see clearly the way forward, in a such a knot that we stop trusting and obeying.  

We face it about our money...  

We face it about our important relationships...  

We face it about our kids...  

We face it about our bodies...  

We face it about our ministries, even...

[pastoral questions about the eternal fate of loved ones…do you trust Jesus?  Is he good?  That's where peace comes.  That's the place from which we can live faithful, obedient lives.  It's the same with questions like "do you think such and such a behavior that so and so is engaged in leads to hell…?"  what does it matter with respect to your trusting obedience of Jesus?  The real question is, in what way is the Spirit leading you to love and serve that person?  Oh, you have trouble listening to the leading of the Spirit?  Perhaps that's the plank that needs attention first…]

Jesus is saving, restoring, healing this broken world. Jesus. He is redeeming, renewing, rescuing. He is making all things new. And he’s including us. Starting with us, and commissioning us to join in cooperation with him through the empowering of his Holy Spirit.

We, in our old creation bodies, with our old creation minds, are subject to the anxious urgency of Kronos time, which always seems to go too slow when brokenness abounds, and go way too fast when heaven rains down. But Jesus, the firstborn from among the dead, in his resurrection body, equally at home in the river of time and in the eternity of the heavens, has eyes to see Kairos time.

Will we wait when he says wait? Will we go when he says go? Will we learn to resist the voice of anxious urgency, recognizing that it is not the voice of the good shepherd? Will we come to understand that no matter what it says, no matter what sense it makes, it is not the voice of the one who loves us? Will we learn to listen to Jesus’ voice? His voice is the voice of peace. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He will be with us always, even to the end of the age.

Practical Tips:

1. Get on the right hook. Do you feel this gets you “off the hook” for confronting other people about their sin? It might, I suppose, depending on the context. But it’s really about getting “on the hook” for being obedient to Jesus. For you taking the next step of discipleship with him. Does that mean asking him what you need to repent for? Does that mean asking him who you need to serve and love and how? Yes, yes, and yes. Are you doing that – intentionally, actively in your life right now? Keep it up. Are you not? It’s time to start. Kairos time.

2. Get off the Anxious Urgency train. Is there something you are doing in your life because of an anxious urgency? Talk with a wise brother or sister about it. Pray that Jesus would give you grace to resist the anxious urgency and trust his leading instead. Pause and pray the Lord’s prayer before you act next out of anxious urgency next time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/29/2012

[conversation with mortgage broker…]

By way of preview, before we finish today, we will look at 4 questions we can ask ourselves before trying to help someone “improve” themselves.

1. Do I love this person?

2. Am I in a posture of service?

3. Am I free from anxiety about their response to God or to the help I give?

4. Am I willing to suffer pain to help them see God more clearly and follow him more freely?

If the answer is yes to all 4, and you think Jesus is leading you to help, then dive right in. If not, wait.

But more on that later.

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

[recap of first week, first things first, responsible for self, responsible to others / downside of over-responsibility (being responsible for others instead of for self) creates destructive stress, a violation of God-given self, makes us fail our true responsibilities / how this is central to faithfully pursuing our mission…1) Follow 2) Create Breathing Room….Last week we talked about resisting the strong forces that lead us to ignore our own planks and focus on the sawdust in others’ eyes, our instinct for triangulation in our relationship with God, because it is always easier to focus on someone else and avoid the uncomfortable or painful things between us and God ]

We closed last week by saying that Jesus is teaching us that if we want be his disciples, if we want to follow in his footsteps, then with respect to our relationships with him, we must let go of the supports and relief valves that focusing on others sometimes provide us, and in faith, deal with him face to face. And then we will be properly positioned to take the posture of a servant and not a judge towards every other image-bearer, and be a true help to one another in our discipleship with him.

How do you know when and how to help others in their relationship with God? How do you know when you are supposed to help someone get a speck of sawdust out of their eye?

Let’s be clear before we go any further what we are not talking about.

We are not talking about when someone has done some unforebearable wrong against you that creates the need for reconciliation. [examples…] When a wrong is done against you that requires the work of reconciliation to set right, Matthew 18 points the way forward (Go, speak to your brother or sister in private, etc…), not Matthew 7.

We are also not talking about the kinds of correction we have to bring for the sake of peaceful, well-ordered community. Where some member of the community is acting in some way that disrupts the community or brings harm to others. [kids teasing Elle…] We see Jesus firmly correcting his disciples all the time when they get out of line with his purposes.

The truth is, of course, we will handle both of those kinds of situations better without judgment and without planks, and from a posture of love and service, [examples…] but those aren’t the kinds of situations Jesus is addressing in Matthew 7.

Matthew 7 is about the experience of living in community with others and the endless opportunities that provides us to focus on either the specks of sawdust in the eyes of others, or the planks in our eyes. Matthew 7 is about following the way of Jesus together, in a way that allows us to create breathing room for God to do what God does best as we fulfill our responsibilities for ourselves and towards others.

Jesus, as we’ve talked about, says first things first. Deal with our own planks. Be responsible first and foremost for ourselves. But he also implies that there are times in which one of the ways we fulfill our responsibilities towards one another is by helping each other with the sawdust floating around in our eyes.

In other words, one of the ways we love and serve each other as brothers and sisters in a community of faith is by helping each other gracefully get rid of the obstacles that we have to clear sight and forward movement in discipleship with Jesus. [examples…]

So how do we know when the time is right for us to help, and when the time is wrong? And how do we know how to do it, once we know the time is right?

The truest answer is both the simplest and probably the least satisfying. When God, through his Holy Spirit, tells you to. And as to the how, we do it gracefully. No ifs, ands, or buts.

For followers of Jesus, this is the ultimate answer to every question about when to do anything. Jesus himself said, I only do what I see the Father doing. This is what life in the Spirit looks like. It’s what inside-out living looks like. It is the kingdom of God within us expressing itself outward through our words and actions.

If our actions are a response to the leading of Jesus’ Spirit, and nothing else, then we will always be acting in love, and if we are operating from well-formed character, we will act gracefully in the posture of servant, like Christ himself. We can’t lose.

Each of us is well aware, however, that discerning the voice of God’s spirit in our lives is a lifelong exercise, and character takes time. Both are gifts that need development over time. And in the meantime, we might need some guidelines, some nudging in the right direction. When we have the inclination to go help someone with what looks like a speck of sawdust to us, how do we know if it’s God’s spirit showing it to us? How can we be sure our own planks aren’t distorting our vision? How do we know if it’s God’s Spirit telling us to go offer help? How can we be sure it’s not just our instinct for triangulation kicking in?

We can learn a lot from seeing how Jesus attends to the sawdust he encounters.

Consider the woman caught in adultery…

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8

The Pharisee’s eyes are full of sawdust. Jealousy of Jesus’ influence on the crowds, a willingness to use this woman to entrap him, anger, you name it - triangulation of the first order. Their sawdust has made them blind to themselves and to their responsibilities to others. So he gently turns their attention to their own planks. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” That’s enough. He doesn’t go one by one correcting each of them. He just directs them to their planks in order to protect this woman from their judgment and lets them take it from there.

This woman has some sawdust. But it seems that the first sawdust Jesus deals with is the sawdust flung into her eyes by the crowd. Because that is the sawdust that has the capacity to blind her to God. “Has no one condemned you…? Then neither do I.”

The most significant obstacle to clear vision and forward movement for this woman apparently was the picture of God she had because of the inappropriate judgment of those in power around her. Jesus attends to this first. You think you stand condemned before an angry God? No, you stand under the grace of one who loves you.

Jesus is always doing this for what he describes as the lost sheep of Israel, harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. The sinners and tax collectors, the poor and the hurting. The first thing he addresses for them is the false picture of God they have because of the inappropriate judgment of those in power around them. Blessed are those who... Blessed are the… and on and on. Cleaning out sawdust. Helping people see clearly so they can take steps of faith towards God.

And then, after that, he helps her with the next speck of sawdust. Go now, and leave your life of sin. So simple, calm. Jesus isn’t anxious about her at all. Repentance is almost a foregone conclusion, isn’t it? Now that you see God clearly, and yourself clearly, those other specks of sawdust are going to wash right out, aren’t they? See that they do.

It’s essentially the same pattern with the Samaritan woman at the well, isn’t it? Jesus reshapes her picture of God by the way he relates to her and what he says to her, and then gently addresses the other sawdust, the stuff that the tears welling up in her eyes are just about to wash out anyway.

Or what about Zacchaeus?

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19

Are we noticing a pattern? Jesus – through his graceful actions – deals with the sawdust that keeps Zacchaeus from seeing who God is, and the other sawdust doesn’t stand a chance.

In this case, the other people are muttering (sawdust alert!), but Jesus leaves it alone for some reason. Presumably because that sawdust doesn’t require any further attention from him in that moment. And he doesn’t seem anxious about it at all.

How about one more?

36When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7

He sees her sawdust, and simply forgives it. It’s not keeping her from him at all, is it? Forgiveness is the only attention it needs.

Simon and the Pharisees on the other hand are blinded by their sawdust to themselves and to their responsibilities to others. So Jesus attends to what is lodged in their eyes by drawing their attention to their planks. “You gave me no… You gave me no… You did not…”

Before we try to apply all this to our own situations, I want to draw something else to our attention about the way Jesus related to his disciples in the midst of some of their most obvious sin.

Think about Peter and Judas at the last supper. Jesus knows both of them are about to screw up big time. Judas is going to betray him (John 13:21-30), and Peter is going to deny him 3 times (John 13:38). But Jesus doesn’t do anything to stop it. And he doesn’t seem anxious about it at all. Judas’ sawdust is completely Judas’ responsibility at this point, and Jesus’ fulfills his responsibility towards him by simply letting him know he sees it and giving him permission to do what he has determined to do. And Jesus allows Peter’s sawdust to remain unattended, because it seems that the time for him to help Peter with it is not now. It will be later, as we talked about last week, but it is not now.

In light of Jesus’ approach, let’s return to those 4 guideline questions we mentioned earlier. If we think the Holy Spirit might be leading us to help someone with a speck of sawdust I’ve noticed, or that they’ve asked us for help with, we should ask the following 4 questions:

1. Do I love this person?

2. Am I in a posture of service?

3. Am I free from anxiety about their response to God or to the help I give?

4. Am I willing to suffer pain to help them see God more clearly and follow him more freely?

Do I love this person?

If you want God’s best blessings for them, for them to have life, and have it to the full; if you see them as a beloved image-bearer of God, then that is a sign you are seeing clearly enough to help.

Love is our guide and our aim. Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Am I in a posture of service?

If you can see that the most important relationship in that person’s life is their holy relationship with God – them to God, and God to them, with them responsible for themselves, and God responsible for leading the discipleship process in cooperation with their surrender – then you can see yourself as one who comes as a servant to them in their responsibilities for themselves, and as one who comes as a servant to God in being an agent of his grace to one of his kids.

Am I free from anxiety about their response to God or to the help I give?

If you feel like your well-being is tied up in their response to God (or to your help!), it will be easy to move from servant to judge. This may be a sign you are acting out of a misplaced “responsibility for” instead of a graceful “responsible to.”

Remember, stress is a function of over-responsibility for the relationship of two others. And we don’t function very gracefully when we are stressed. We have a harder time hearing the voice of the Spirit leading us. So we need to give space for our input or advice or suggestions to be rejected, or poorly implemented, without getting frustrated or letting go of our humility.

Am I willing to suffer pain to help them see God more clearly and follow more freely?

If you can see how their sawdust is keeping them from seeing God clearly or having confidence to take a step of faith towards God, and you would be willing to suffer pain to show them God more clearly, then you might be seeing clearly enough, and be properly positioned, to help.

Because this work of sawdust removal rarely happens in a hit and run fashion. It almost always happens in the context of loving relationship. And loving relationship almost always involves pain.

Next week, what to do with the pressured urgency of eternal destiny? What if that speck of sawdust is what stands between them and heaven?

Practical Tips:

1. Practice Practically. Help somebody with a practical project – painting a room, fixing something, cooking with them, etc. – and notice how you relate to them as you do it. Ask God to teach you through the experience.

2. Ask God for a No-Brainer. Ask God to prompt someone to ask you for your help with some part of their discipleship journey. If that area of their life comes up in conversation as a point of pain for the person, ask them if they would be willing to let you help them. The very fact that they are open and vulnerable with you about that part of their life is often a sign that they experience you as someone who loves them, who is not in a posture of judgment towards them, and who is not overly invested in the outcome.