Sunday, March 6, 2011

Remove the Log

I went snowboarding in Tahoe with my fellow medical students last weekend. To begin, let me confess that I am no expert snowboarder. But I generally go a day or two per year, and can hold my own. Anyways, I and a friend got out-boarded by a group that I was trying to keep up with. My friend was a beginner, and was going to go off by herself so as not to hinder me, too. Now if you’ve never learned snowboarding, let me explain: learning to snowboard sucks big time. It pays off in the end because snowboarding is totally awesomer than skiing. But when you’re learning it, it is not fun. Not even a little bit. Especially if you’re doing it all by yourself. So I decided to go with her a few runs and give her the boon of my super-smart expert advice. And so I did that. So under my wise tutelage, she endured many corrections: “Go faster; you’ll have more control.” “Don’t be afraid of falling.”

Then after the two runs of this, I realized something: I kicked my foot out when I turned. I went slow. I was afraid of falling. I knew what was right, but I didn’t do it. My mediocrity that day and the day before was because I did all those things I told my friend not to. I was the biggest snowboard hypocrite on the mountain.

In Christianity, there’re a lot of things that God gets angry about. But there is a special place in the wrath of God for hypocrisy. Jesus certainly did not approve of sexual sins, but treated sexual sinners with compassion and forgiveness. He didn’t do that to hypocrites. He proclaimed their doom, shamed them in front of massive crowds, and once, even used physical violence against them. In Matthew 7, Jesus gives a powerful and wise command, and then follows it up with a mocking satire:
1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
This got me thinking about the Church (big ‘C’, that is, the set of all those who are followers of Jesus). How often do we say things and how often do we actually do them? How much of our own super-smart expert advice do we actually take?

A perfect small example of this is the Jesus fish on cars. To my Nor Cal friends, in other parts of the country, Christians will put a fish on the back of their car, (Ichthus which is an acronym in Greek for “Jesus Christ God’s Son [and] Savior”); the more familiar Darwin fish (and the Flying Sphagetti Monster logo) was a response to this. Imagine if Christians actually were “slow to wrath” and “considered others better than themselves” on the road. I, for one, have certainly not noticed a difference between rude driving by cars with Jesus fish and those without them. Remove the log!

Let’s take a more serious case. We are (in)famous for proclaiming the importance of family values. But we still engage in divorce and adultery. We shout with righteous indignation about how the gays/liberals/perverts/pornographers are ruining marriage, and then we, even the most faithful among us, have a 32% failure rate (among Christians who frequently attend church). It’s no good pointing to the non-Christians with a divorce rate of 48% and saying, “Well at least we’re better than them!” We are to compare ourselves only with God. If we want to be able to proclaim that homosexuality is an abomination, our ranks need to be slightly cleaner than 32% abomination. Remove the log!

Finally, let’s look at the Great Commandment. Jesus asked to summarize the law. #1 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” #2 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.Let’s just look at #2. Do we really love our neighbor as ourselves? The example Christ gives to illustrate is a foreigner helping a Jew who was robbed (“The Good Samaritan”). Do we behave like him? Christians certainly give more to charity than secular people, $2,210 per year, compared to $642 (2). But we are the ones with the “Not of this world” stickers. If we really considered our citizenship in Heaven, would we not be much more liberal in our charity? The cost to prevent the death of a child in Africa is as low as $1 per year of life saved. Did we really need the leather seats, the pool, or the grande caramel macchiato? Will we be able to present our bank statements to Christ on judgment day and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? How can we tell others to leave the concerns of earth and care only for the things of Heaven? How can we talk to others of eternal life, and yet pay it so little regard ourselves? Remove the log!

If we’re right about theology, we’re sitting on the greatest teachings of the greatest man who ever lived. We have the ability: the philosophy and teachings of Jesus, the example of the saints, the fellowship of the Church, the Power of the Holy Spirit! We can look up from our grey daily struggles identical to those of our non-Christian peers and we can see the multi-colored glory of Christ, who calls us to a life of adventure. But such a life of driving our cars radically differently (that is, politely), making promises that we never break, and giving with abundance and joy is scary. It was the same problem I had on the mountain. I knew exactly what to do, but I didn’t have the courage to do it. I even told someone else how to do it, but I didn’t do it. I was content with my mediocrity.

Last Sunday, I removed the log. I took my own advice. I rode the lift to the top of the mountain, and pointed the nose downhill. A thrill of adrenaline, and then I was moving fast, faster than I can remember! I nearly fell, but I caught myself because of the control that came with speed. The fear melted away as the thrill of carving down the mountain set in.

I pray that we would overcome our fear and trust God completely. Only when I lost control, did I gain it. Only when we give up our lives, can we save them. I pray that we would remove the log. I pray that we would rise up and live according to the radical teachings of Jesus. I pray that we would lose control, but then realize this was the only way to ever get it.

(2) Brooks, Arthur “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving.” Hoover Institute.


  1. $2,210 per year is quite generous, I would say, considering the median annual household income in the US is $40,000. What percent of income would meet your threshold for good Christian charity?

    Also, I'm curious, is this segment of society more affluent on average?

  2. By comparison with y'all, it's a ton! :) But if roles of rich and poor were reversed (especially of Americans and those in developing countries) I think we'd want quite a bit more to be given.

    I don't have a number in mind, and it would probably vary depending on circumstance. But the comfort with which we live (even at $40,000), contrasted to the needs both here and abroad is a problem. We have nowhere near the sense of crisis or urgency the situation requires. My criticism of the Church is that we're not giving as if money didn't matter to us (as we claim we should be).

    And by the way, aren't you the one who's supposed to be arguing for a redistribution of wealth? :P

    Here's John Winthrop on how much we should give (1630):

    "when there is no other means whereby our Christian brother may be relieved in his distress, we must help him beyond our ability rather than tempt God in putting him upon help by miraculous or extraordinary meanes."

  3. And I don't think Christians, as a group, are any richer. If anything, we're usually less educated and poorer. But it would depend on how the study defined "Christian".

  4. Just rough numbers - if people were tithing (that is giving a 10th of their earnings to the Lord), the number should be $4k. Jewish law included a minimum tithe plus all sorts of other giving. It lessens the shoes and latte budget, but in light of eternity with Christ, I suppose we can make do :)

  5. @Meredith You're right. A tithe is a good, numerical, Biblical minimum. It worked for Abraham!

    I haven't tabulated the Torah guidelines to giving. Do you know of anyone who's done that (if you add up the tithe, the sacrifices, and other things like the gleaning laws)?

    Shoes? Who spends money on shoes? :P