"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Everyone's a Critic

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Philippians 4:6-8 NIV
Few statements are truer than, "Everyone's a critic," and its correlary, "He(or she) is his own worst critic." I believe every human being who has ever drawn breath has exhibited some degree of critical nature. Some folks seem bereft if they can find nothing to criticize in others. But that's only the half if it.
        Self-criticism, while seeming constructive at first, can easily spread within anyone like a wildfire, consuming confidence, motivation and competance as a spark or cigarette butt might consume a majestic forrest. Christ's apostle Paul concluded his letter to the church in Philippi with some of the best advice ever, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Typical church-going Christians pay little attention to those words, for one reason, because they come from one of the more pulpit-worn Scripture passages; in church, familiarity seems to breed apathy.
        That begs the question of why the passage attracted my attention strongly enough to motivate my writing about it. With your permission, just a moment of back story: I subscribe to an e-mailed feed called Daily Manna from the Net. Google it for some unexpected blessings. Anyway, sometimes the sage advice to prepare ones mind and spirit for Scripture reading doesn't seem to apply to the random, indiscriminate exposure to Scripture. When I open the Daily Manna e-mail, my eyes take in a surprise packet of God's mind, and occasionally, my mind offers a seed-sized tract of fertile ground for it. Such was the case for this verse.
        While Philippians 4:4-8 offers profound closing instructions for Paul's letter to the Philippian church, as it does for us, let's focus on verse eight for just a moment. Many respond to this "whatever" verse with a noncommittal, "whatever," assuming that only supersaints must concern themselves with such instruction, an attitude that couldn't be further from the truth. So, verse eight exhorts us to think about things that are excellent or praiseworthy. I nearly threw in the word "only," but since it isn't in the actual text, I'll work around that minor detail by mentioning the words that begin this clause: "if any." That is to say, wherever we find an inner strength or praiseworthy behavior in another person, we are to think about that; an attitude exactly opposite to what most people exhibit.
        So, why single this verse out from all the others? Because it encapsulates Christ's attitude toward those he served. If he had first sought out our reprehensible attitudes and behaviors, if he had exhibited the same critical spirit the world finds comfortably nestled within church pews, he would have shrunk back in repulsion before ever creating us.
        When, as Christians, we take his name and identify with him, we give up our right to an arbitrarily critical attitude, whether toward others or toward ourselves. Are we then not to discern and deal with deliberate wrongdoing? 1Peter 4:17 expresses God's perspective on our right to judge. Begining with verse fifteen, Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
        God's apostle Paul provided the perfect post script for this seemingly difficult assignment in Philippians 2:12,13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Sound hard? God answered our reservations in 1 John 5:3-5: This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

        So, there's God's answer to our critical attitudes. Obedience is not optional, but goes right along with his word's love passages. If you belong to him, you will demonstrate it by obeying his commands.
        Yes, everyone's a critic, except Christians.

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