Specks, Planks, Smudges and Sneers



Judgments.  We all make them.  There are times in life we have to.  I need to judge which products I buy, which route I take and how I tackle a particular task.

There is another kind of judgement.  We all make them.  There are times in life when, I look at another and make a decision about them.  Our judgment can be based on many things clothes, accent even the location of where we see that person.  Sometimes, we cannot even define it, a subconscious decision.

We make our judgments based on previous experience, fear, self-preservation and assumptions.  Before we meet an individual, without even knowing we can “pre-judge” them.  Our judgments may prove to be right or wrong.

Jesus warned His hearers about the danger of judging others on what you think you know about them;

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

(Matthew 7 vs. 1)

The judgement that, I think, Jesus talks about here is not the judgement that comes from wisdom.  Jesus does tell His disciples to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matthew 10 vs. 16).  I believe that the judgement Jesus speaks out against is the one that says “because you do… I am better than you”.  Or, the judgement that is willing to point out somebody’s faults and failings, whilst ignoring our own “Have you seen what …. is doing, I don’t do that sort of thing”.

I think we sometimes miss the humour of Jesus when He says;

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

(Matthew 7 vs. 3)

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, calls this “smudges and sneers”.  We see the chaos in another’s life, and pretend that there is no chaos in our own.

So, why is Jesus so concerned about not judging people.  Firstly, I think it has to do with the barriers that it creates.  When we judge somebody else we, instantly, erect a barrier which stops us reaching them and them reaching us.  We create an “other”.  In our world at the moment we see all kinds of examples of division.  As a human race, we need to bring barriers down in order to work together for the good of the whole of humanity.  There should be no “us and them”, there should only be “us”.

Secondly, I think Jesus challenges judgement because it creates a false impression of what God is looking for.  God is not interested in our “performance” or where we come on a “league table” of faith.  He is interested in our hearts being open and receptive to Him.

We do not know the chaos that there is in another persons’ life.  We must be willing to allow God to work through the chaos in our life.  One story I came across comes from the tradition of The Desert Fathers, it really spoke to me;

A brother at Scetis committed a fault.  A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it.  Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went.  He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him.  The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?”  The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

(quoted from “The Monastic Way” edited by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild)





A Heavy Sigh

As part of my daily routine I follow a set of prayer notes.  I looked at the passage this morning and saw that it was a, thankfully, short one.  I say thankfully because, I had a busy day planned and I was hoping to get done quickly!

God, however, had something else in mind

The passage concerned the Pharisees coming to question Jesus and demanding evidence, proof that He is who He said He was.  They wanted signs and miracles to back up Jesus authority.  If you want to take a look for yourself, you will find it in Mark 8 vs. 11 – 13.  There were some words in verse 12 that caught my attention;

He sighed deeply

(Mark 8 vs.12)

I found those words intensely moving.  We sometimes get this picture of Jesus that He was something almost “other worldly”, mystical, separate from the emotions and feelings that the rest of humanity has.  Yet, in three words, I could see the reality of Jesus.  Fully human and fully God.

Why did Jesus sigh deeply?

Was it the pressure and demands that others were making of Him?  Was it the Pharisees, who were supposed to be teachers and leaders of the people, just did not get it?  Was it their lack of faith?  Was it a sigh of sadness because, in rejecting Him, they were missing life in all its fullness?

Perhaps it was a mixture of all of the above.

Sadly, I think all too often, Jesus must sigh deeply over the state of His Church today.  When Christians use the Bible as a cudgel to hit others with.  When Christians point out the “speck in somebody’s eye rather than acknowledging the forest in their own”.  When Christians get bogged down in the small stuff of Church rather than sharing the love of Christ with the world.  I believe Jesus sighs over His Church.

Of course, the Church is made up of people, individuals.  I (you) have to acknowledge our own part in this.  There are attitudes, values and standards of mine (yours) that Jesus must sigh over.

But there was something else that I thought about.  Jesus is fully human and fully God so, not only does He sigh, He also rejoices.  I believe that is true today too.  There are times when I must do things, think things, say things, possibly even totally unaware when Jesus rejoices and celebrates “he has got it!  He has learnt something”

As I put my down my Bible, and turned towards my days work I found myself praying “Lord, help me today to bring more joy to your heart.  May my life give you cause for celebration”

What will your day be like?



My reading this morning came from the book of Genesis chapter 1.  As I read this familiar passage, I was totally awestruck by the creativity of God all coming from the sound of His voice.  I was awestruck that this same God continues to speak into the world today.  I was awestruck that this same God, wants to speak into lives, into our hearts.

As I turned to my Bible notes the writer said “how will you respond to what you have just read?”  The result of this time of reflection found its way into some jottings in my journal. I wanted to share this because, I hope it will lead you into some thoughts and reflections of your own.


So, here we go……

O Lord,

Amazing God,

You who spoke


Brought all things into being

At the sound of your voice

Order was brought

Into the chaos

O Lord,
Amazing God
You who spoke
The word became flesh
At the sound of your voice
Hope was brought
Into the world

O Lord,
Amazing God
You who spoke
Bore our shame
At the sound of your voice
Forgiveness came
From a Cross

O Lord,
Amazing God
You who spoke
Rose to life
At the sound of your voice
Peace was brought
To the human heart
O Lord,
Amazing God
You who spoke
Give hope to all
At the sound of your voice
Freedom breaks out
Into the world

O Lord,
Amazing God
You who spoke
Wants to be heard
At the sound of your voice
May I respond
To you

So, let me ask you, how do you want to respond?

The “Red Rag To A Bull” Issue


It happened again to me this week. 

Somebody raised a “red rag to a bull” issue with me this week.

It is something I have struggled with and fought with myself over the years and I do not know if you would say I have lost or, I have won the battle.

The biggest challenge I face is try to live, what people have described, a balanced life.  I know the theory, work from a place of rest, take a Sabbath, balance demands of work, family and leisure time.  I have tried and tried again but, somehow, I have never managed to get it right (or so I am told).

The end result of this battle has often been a feeling of guilt because, I have got it wrong and a feeling that I have let others down by not being there for them.

When I worked in industry, it was fairly straightforward.  My work ended when I left the factory gates.  I knew what was expected of me.  I had targets to achieve.  I had starting and finishing hours, I knew when tea break and lunch break happened.  Whenever I was not at work, I was involved in family and leisure time.

Of course, ministry isn’t 9 – 5 Monday to Friday.  I have struggled with lines of where work begins and ends.  No targets but, expectations of people of myself and expectations that we believe (mistakenly) that God has placed on us

Life seemed simpler when I had a proper job!


Actually, it wasn’t quite like that.

Life was not simpler then.

I remove my rose tinted glasses


In truth, I took the worries concerns and pressures home with me.  I did not leave colleagues at the factory, I carried my concerns for them and prayed for them.  When I had a disagreement with the boss or, some project had gone wrong, I was kept awake at night worrying and carrying the burden of the day.

You see, I have always struggled to achieve what I am told is the work / life balance.

A little while back now, I made a revolutionary decision.  I gave up trying. 

I accepted that I cannot achieve what other, well meaning, people expect my work / life balance to look like.  I accepted that ministry and actually non ministry “normal life” neither begins nor ends.  I accepted that all of life is integrated.  There is no divide between secular and sacred.

I have a real fondness for some verses in Matthews gospel translated by Eugene Peterson;

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 

Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

(Matthew 11 vs. 28 – 30)


What I am trying to learn is, as Peterson brilliantly puts it, “the unforced rhythm of grace”.  I am trying to discern where God wants me to be.  I am trying to learn to be fully present to God and, in that way, I can live freely and lightly. 

In other words, stop trying and start living God’s way!