Faith: Planks and splinters




Too much self-criticism is unhealthy, but being completely blinkered where our own actions are concerned won’t win us any friends.

The restaurant was a welcome oasis; we sat down at the outside table with a sigh of relief. Jerusalem’s suk, the bazaar, was a bustling mass of humanity. Shoppers scurried around like ants, hunting for a bargain one of them uselessly haggling about items that cost less than a pound. Street traders hurried through the labyrinth of cobbled streets, huge trays of fresh bread and bagels impossibly balanced atop their heads. The exotic smell of spices hung fragrant in the air.

But there was an added element to the atmosphere – religion. A wailing summons to worship blared out from a speaker atop a mosque, an insistent cry to the faithful. And, as a group of Christian pilgrims, we had found inspiration in seeing the old, old story come to life. We had been moved by the old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, their twisted limbs a prophetic picture of the agony and struggle that Jesus experienced there. Galilee’s rural simplicity had been a tonic, and the beach at Tabgha is always a joy. It was there that Jesus cooked breakfast for His weary friends, an unusual act after beating the powers of death and hell in His resurrection but a beautiful example of His relentless care.

We were hungry for our lunch and a smiling waiter had welcomed us and offered menus. Suddenly, a group of Christians plonked themselves down at the table next to us. Their t-shirts loudly announced that they were believers: “I follow a Jewish carpenter” said one. Another had “Faithbook: Add Jesus as a friend”, which either suggested that the wearer was (a) into social media or (b) wrestling with a lisp, or both. Incredibly, a third proclaimed that: “The world is a battlefield, God is my weapon. The Bible is my ammo.” What? God is my weapon? The Bible is ammo? Ammunition is used to kill people. Apparently, this group had all shopped at for their attire.

But their fashion choices were just the beginning of sorrows. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that sitting in a food establishment usually means ordering from the menu they opened their bags and tucked into the sandwiches that they’d brought with them. One of them eve produced a Thermos flask with hot drinks. And of course, no eating began before a lengthy prayer of grace was shared, asking the Lord to bless the food. The restaurant owner was probably not greatly blessed himself, but smiled patiently. I wondered how many times he, an orthodox Jew, witnessed this kind of thing. I shot him a look, but there was no hint of frustration. This must have been a regular event that he’d grown used to: Christians behaving badly.

Something similar happened when Kay and I attended a large national prayer event. A hug queue of people lined up patiently to get in. The presence of the President of the the United Sates meant that security was high, and creating a secure environment takes time. Suddenly a leader and his entourage rudely pushed their way to the front. I informed the queue-jumpers that they should take their place at the back of the line: “That’s where we were just now” one of them glowered, somewhat menacingly, “And now we’re here.” And there they stood, bustling for first place, into a prayer meeting. I contemplated further action, but a punch-up prior to a period of intercession would be quite unseemly. The incongruity of pushing in to pray apparently didn’t occur. Christians behaving badly.

Jesus warns us against allowing a dab of piety to blind us to obvious realities. Being picky about gnats but swallowing camels whole is a dangerous tendency among those who are spiritually keen. The Pharisees were white-hot on rules for eating, but equally fervent about whipping up a conspiracy to condemn an innocent man to death. Faith should bring focus to our lives, offering a faithful reflection in a mirror-mirror-on-the-wall, who’s-the-fairest-of-them-all culture. But sometimes a bit of religious devotion can blind us to the reality of us. We ignore what is obviously wrong in our lives, justifying ourselves by what is ‘right’ in our lives. Able to spot the faults of others from a great distance, we’re keen to help them remove the tiniest specks from their eyes, while ignoring the great logs that protrude from our own.

I recently chatted with a man whose work ethic is shocking. (If there was a Guinness World Record for low productivity and taking time off, he’d win by a country mile.)

He spent most of our conversation complaining about his boss who, he says, is lazy and unproductive. There’s that log again.

So, asking God to show us what we don’t currently see about ourselves is surely a healthy prayer to pray. And this is vital. Some people don’t become followers of Jesus because they don’t know any Christians. And some people don’t turn to Christ precisely because the do know some of His crowd.

Their meal over the t-shirted snackers moved on, eager for the next epiphany. I hope they didn’t leave their paper bags and soiled cups behind for the server to clear away. But who knows? Perhaps they did. After all, they were in a restaurant.

This is an extract from Staying in the Boat by Jeff Lucas published by CWR available here.

Main Photo Credit: Jason Abdilla via Unsplash

Jeff Lucas

Author and speaker Jeff Lucas travels internationally in a ministry of Bible teaching which carries a specific vision to encourage and equip the church. He is the author of fourteen books. He writes a monthly column for Christianity Magazine, as well as daily Bible notes for CWR entitled Lucas on Life Every Day.

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