YOUR OWN PERSONAL JESUS
"Don’t set yourself up as a judge who takes the liberty of casually condemning others, or even as a critic who thinks that he or she has the right to criticize them, because when you do that, you set a universal law into motion that will inevitably bring negative things back into your own life. In other words, don’t judge so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For in direct proportion to your judgment, criticism and condemnation of others, you will be personally judged and criticized and condemned. It’s just the way the law works. And in accordance with the measure you use to deal out to others…whatever you may deal out…it will be dealt out again to you. You define the terms of your own life in this sense. And why do you fixate on the very small particle…the tiny speck of sawdust…that is in your brother's eye, while you are completely unaware of and oblivious to the huge beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you obsessively say to your brother, ‘Let me try to get that tiny, superficial splinter that I’m preoccupied with out of your eye,’ when all the while there is the beam of timber that is obvious to everyone but you lodged in your own eye? Don’t be such a clueless hypocrite! Work on dislodging that beam of timber from your own eye first, because until you can completely remove such glaring, personal obstructions, you’re frankly not qualified to take on the responsibility of extracting anything at all from your brother's eye, no matter how big or how small."
(Matthew 7:1-5 - MATTHEW IN THE NOW)
Wow...where was the GOOD NEWS in that chapter?
After reading the second half of it, you may be asking that question.
It's a legitimate one.
But for me, telling that story still falls under the category of my sharing GOOD NEWS with you, for the simple reason that I can even talk about it and still be OK.
I hope I've already made this clear in the book so far, but in case I haven't, allow me to reiterate something...
There is nothing that I have shared in these pages that comes from a "victim" mentality.
On the contrary...I actually feel empowered by sharing the painful stuff.
Like the boy David running toward the giant, my being able to discuss these things out in the open takes away the sting of them...it makes me feel fearless, because I know in my heart that there's absolutely nothing that I'm afraid to talk about.
Someone recently said to me, "I hate that you have to write about all the religious haters and share some of the mean-spirited things that they have written and/or said about you or to you in your book!"
I quickly assured that person that I don't share the negative things to sound whiny or victimized, or to even complain about them.
The only reason I even talk about that kind of stuff at all is so that I can hold up a mirror to the ugliness of religious intolerance (of any kind), and show it...expose it...for what it really is.
I feel like it's my duty.
To whom much has been given, much is required.
I don't worry about the homophobes and modern-day Pharisees and their fundamentalist rhetoric.
Their problem with me is their problem, not mine.
But I was thinking about this yesterday as I sat down to write this chapter.
I was thinking about the audacity and arrogance of religious people who feel that it is their God-given right and responsibility to correct everyone, and to make sure that everyone else stays in line.
Religious people are generally so loud and nosy...so involved in, and committed to expressing their opinions about everyone and everything.
When I started writing this book I was 53...now about to turn 54...I am a grandfather, and have been preaching for 40 years...I have been a successful pastor, more successful than most, in fact...
I am re-stating these things here to make the point that I could play the "Elder" card and be loud and opinionated about everyone in church-world with whom I disagree. I could feel justified in telling everyone who I thought was right and who I thought was wrong...about who I thought was "of God".
And sometimes I do, on occasion, say something about a public religious figure in a sermon if I think it's pertinent to the point I'm making at the time.
Yet it would never even cross my mind to fire off letters, or to get my thoughts onto blogs or on the Facebook pages of others who I don't even know, to confront or rebuke them about their theology, or their life, or anything else for that matter.
Sometimes I read the rebukes that people send me and think "Who do you think you are?"
I'm sure I've already said all this at some point in the book...probably more than once...but yesterday as I was thinking about the attitude of the very religious because of something that someone had posted on my FB page, I began to write this down in response.
So I thought I would include it here in this chapter...
It's good and pleasant for brethren to confront the loudmouths...resist the devil and he will flee from you...
Anyway, here's what I wrote...
by Jim Swilley
1. I AM NOT YOUR CREATOR I choose to believe that it was God, not I, who created you in His image (Genesis 1:26), and so I will respect and always try to recognize whatever parts of His DNA are evident in your makeup, whether or not you ever conform to the image of who I think you should or shouldn't be. Your relationship with Him is something personal...something that is between you and Him alone...and so I not only realize that I will I never fully understand it, I can also rest in the knowledge that I don't have to. Your relationship with your God is something that I'm not even required to have an opinion about, because God is God, and I completely trust Him as your Creator!
2. I AM NOT YOUR SAVIOR: I choose to always remember that it was Jesus, not I, who chose you in Him before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4). I also choose to remember that it was Jesus alone, not I, who died on the cross for you. I took no stripes on my back for you, and so I am unqualified to make a judgment call on your relationship with the One who did. I choose to remember that it is He, not I, who now ever lives to make intercession for you, in order to "save you to the uttermost" (Hebrews 7:25). Your relationship with Jesus Christ is something personal...something that is between you and Him alone, so I have no choice but to accept it as it is, as you work out your own salvation "with fear and trembling"! (Philippians 2:12)
3. I AM NOT YOUR LORD: If you say that you have confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord, then I have no choice but to believe you, and to accept that as a fact, even if my experience with Him is quite different from yours. You do not have to answer to me for your life, because you did not confess me as Lord over it. And if you never confess Jesus as Lord in this lifetime according to my definition and understanding of it, I still choose to believe that every knee will ultimately bow, and every tongue will, indeed, confess to that fact, and so I believe that that will include you, according to my understanding of it. In the meantime, my only responsibility to you is to love you! (Romans 13:8)
4. I AM NOT YOUR HOLY SPIRIT: I will remember to trust the work of the Spirit in your life, and will recognize that it is He, not I, who began a good work in you, and so it is He who will continue to perform that good work until the Day of the Lord (Philippians 1:6). I have neither the ability nor the responsibility to convict you of what I may perceive to be sin in your life. Whatever needs to be added or taken away from you is strictly in the hands of the The Helper, and I will not be arrogant enough to assume that I could or should do what only He is qualified or supposed to do in you, for you, or through you!
5. I AM NOT YOUR JUDGE: However you interpret the Scriptures is something that I choose to respect, even if your interpretation is quite different from mine. And if you don't believe the Scriptures, or even acknowledge them, I will still consider it my responsibility to be a "living epistle" before you, regardless of what you do or don't believe (II Corinthians 3:3). You do not owe me any explanation for your world-view or theology (or lack, thereof), and I will not use certain Scriptures about "exhortation", or "provoking one another to good works", or being a "fruit inspector" to impose my opinions on you, manipulate you, or to defend my desire to control you in any way. I will not religiously hide self-serving motives behind certain verses of Scripture taken out of context to defend my desire to mind your business. My only request is that you will give me the same consideration.
6. I AM NOT YOUR PASTOR: I am not your Pastor, unless you tell me that God alone has led you to that conclusion...and if that is, in fact, the case, it must only be because He has placed you in the church "as it has pleased Him" (I Corinthians 12:18), and because my gift makes room for me in your life. And if I am, indeed, your Pastor, I am only a shepherd who works for the Chief Shepherd to lead (not drive) the flock..I will not be a "Lord over God's heritage" (I Peter 5:3), but will aspire to be one who "rules with liberty". And if I do ever have a personal "word" for you, it will not come from my own opinion of you or of what you do, but from the Holy Spirit...and even then that word should be judged, as should all prophecy. I understand that as your Spiritual Leader I must "give an account for your soul" (Hebrews 13:17), but as a general rule, your personal life is none of my business. Period.
7. I AM NOTHING MORE THAN YOUR FRIEND AND BROTHER I will not judge you, and will, to the best of my ability, love you unconditionally, as you are continually conformed to His image in the way that is unique to you. In so doing, I am making the effort to fulfill the Golden Rule, doing unto you "as I would have you do unto me". I don't need for you to be wrong for me to believe that I'm right. Please recognize that God is my Creator, not you....that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord, not you...that the Holy Spirit is working in my life according to His good pleasure, not you...and that only God can judge me, not you. You are not even required to have an opinion about me, or anything that I do or say, and unless you ask me for my opinion, I will not impose mine upon you in any way. I will respect your right to live your life as you see fit, and to interpret the Scriptures as you believe the Holy Spirit leads you to do, without any interruption, intervention, opinion, or commentary from me, whatsoever. I will allow God alone to be God in your life, as you allow Him alone to be God in my life. And even if I am your pastor or leader or teacher or spouse or partner or father or son or fill any other role in your life, I will still only want God's best for you, and will pray that His will, not mine, will always be done in your life on earth as it is in heaven!
This is my pledge to you...
I hope these words get the point across.
What I'm talking about here is bigger than whatever has happened in my personal life.
It's bigger than the issue of homophobia.
It's bigger than the issue of dealing with fundamentalism.
What I'm talking about is what's wrong with Christianity and religion in general today...about why there are so many atheists in the world...about why with every generation the church is becoming less and less relevant to society.
People are tired of other people simply refusing to allow other people to live their own lives.
Go back and read the Gospels and look for the real Jesus.
That Jesus wasn't a jerk.
Now that's GOOD NEWS!