Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Musings: Make 'Em Smile

*This was a post I wrote several years ago, then forgot about. I recently encountered it again, and found it just as convicting and true.

"When you become a Christian, things change about you. I know a lot of things changed about me. The trouble is, not all of these changes are positive. I know at least one thing that changed about me that I really didn't like: as my spirit became more sensitive, I became judgmental."

Since our usual pastor was away on a family trip one Sunday several years ago (in our former church), he asked one of the other dads in the church to share instead. I'm still mulling over what this man shared Sunday morning.

It was the most interesting message on the judgmental spirit that I'd ever heard. He shared on the issue of judgment from three aspects: God's responsibility, the church's responsibility, and our personal responsibility. The major subpoints he made was that God has total responsibility for meting out judgment, and He makes it very clear in His Word exactly where the church must step in as His agent, but personally, our responsibility in the area of judgment is one of two things: discernment and restoration. We are not the ones in charge of foisting a penalty onto the people whom we "judge" in our minds. One of the verses he shared was Romans 2:1: "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." When we judge another in pride, we run the risk of showing the same lack of character.

He shared dozens more verses on the subject, and I noticed a pattern: whenever God talks about His judgment, it carries punishments and consequences to the full extent of His law. In regards to churches' judgment, it is largely the church's responsibility to maintain the integrity of the flock, while allowing God to still be the one to mete out judgment on the wicked person. However, whenever it speaks of personal judgment, does it say that the individuals are just in shutting the person out of their circles? Does the Bible encourage us to close of our spirits to one another? He shared Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." We are called to do everything possible to restore the person we are tempted to cut off, and how can we do that if we avoid them?

Couple that with a healthy sense of discernment. It is not our job to separate the wheat from the tares. That's God's judgment. God calls us to restore the one who is mistaken in his thinking, who is trapped in his sin, but what about those people who make a lifestyle out of sin? Is it okay to be judgmental of the evil people who intentionally pattern their lives wholly against God's Word? The speaker shared the verses we all know about the consequences of sin, how everyone who sins and breaks the Ten Commandments shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven under any circumstances, and how the wages of sin is in no uncertain terms death. 

The actions of the sinners already has consequences from God. God is acting His judgment against them; why do we need to add ours to it? I would submit that perhaps the answer is no. It is not all right to be judgmental and self-righteous and speak evilly of another person, even if their choices are wrong. The verse that comes to my mind right now (it wasn't quite in the sermon, but I really think it applies) is Ephesians 4:29: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." I think that word "hearers" includes non-believers. (I mean, honestly; if the verse meant "just Christians", I'm pretty sure Paul would have been the kind of guy to use the word "brethren" when he meant "brethren"; by using "hearers," he made it all-inclusive, see?) If this is so, how can we as Christians follow the instructions of this verse when we say unwholesome things about the unbelievers who make wrong choices according to God's Word?
One of the hardest things for us to do as Christians is follow the old adage, "Hate the sin; love the sinner." We think (and I speak from personal experience), "How can I love somebody who purposely decides to steal/lie/cheat etc.? That kind of person is a bad person, how can I love a bad person?" Good question.

I liked the way this man applied his message. One would think that he could, in the role of pastor, say "So, the take-home is 'Don't be judgmental, because Jesus says to love your enemies.'" He totally could have said that, and been correct. But would it have meant anything? We of the congregation would have been left with the same questions and no way to figure out the answer on our own.

But he didn't say that.

Instead, he gave us a creative challenge: "When you find someone who you are tempted to write off, to ignore, to avoid--usually someone with a frown or a bad attitude or just a gruff demeanor, someone who makes you scowl to look at or think of your best to get them to smile." He got the idea from Zig Zaglar, the famous motivational speaker. I think it is golden, and I'll tell you why.

How can you get someone to smile? You do something for them, you give them a gift, you spend time with them, (you tickle them.... well, okay, I wouldn't recommend that one for anyone over the age of two....), you find something to say that would encourage them....

In short: You love them. You cannot--you will not, you do not even possess the capacity to--make someone smile if you do not first make the decision to overlook their faults and love them. Making those people smile is I think almost a covert way of loving them in your hearts without your mind (the part that usually judges someone and writes them off in the first place) even realizing it. Make them smile with your words, and hey! You never spent money, you didn't even have to tell jokes for any length of time to make them laugh, even, you didn't have to know enough about them to buy a gift... but you made them smile, and you are one step closer to loving them as Christ would.
This, my friends, is a fulfillment of Ephesians 4:29: When you make a non-believer smile, other non-believers notice. You may even have gained a hearing with the non-believer who now smiles when he or she remembers you. You have effectively "ministered grace unto the hearers." And when you share your experience in making someone smile among those in your church, I would think that falls solidly in the category of "good for necessary edification." You will be an encouragement to believers when you share of how God inspired you to make someone smile, and you have just encouraged non-believers too, by making them smile.

So: Don't focus on merely "not judging" or "loving your enemies." Just make them smile instead, that's all. It doesn't have to be a laugh, though I think you can chalk yourself up "bonus points" if the person laughs! See what God will do through you when you "... Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who spitefully misuse you..." (Matthew 5:44)