“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James 3:1-2
Last week I was discussing this verse with a teacher at work. It started with talk higher expectations for pastors and whether or not it’s fair. In many ways there are high standards for school teachers as well. You are expected to not only have a higher knowledge of a particular topic, you are to exemplify that in your life. Your friend, the math teacher, has a miscalculation to which you reply, “I thought you were the math teacher.”
Teaching at a school can bring upon high expectations. Certainly, if you are not adequate at your job, you could potentially lose your job. Not knowing your material can lose you the respect of your pupils. In considering the verse above, perfection should not be an expectation. Teachers should be afforded that grace and I think it is critical as teachers to also exercise grace in the expectations of their students. Not only on our subject matter must we show understanding, but in the way we function.
For church leaders, which I believe is the true context of this passage, this is never more true. What I have seen in my time as a pastor is the trap of being judgmental. When you teach on the matters of sin, one might be led to believe they are authorized to judge. In taking judgment toward someone else’s sin, we get trapped in our own sin. We remove Jesus as judge and place ourselves in the role.
We preach and teach grace. God’s grace toward us though we may sin. So then we are held to a higher standard and more strictly judged by the Lord. When we know and teach grace, we should be the biggest distributor of it. Practice what you preach, for none are perfect but the Lord alone. -jason
Another election has come and gone and it seems the political arena is more divided than ever. I saw a commercial that explicitly advertised, “Vote Republican”. It wasn’t about a particular candidate, it was promoting a political party. I often bounce between both conservative and liberal media sources to attempt to sort through the rhetoric. In doing so I see clearly how one can easily be swayed if you only hear one side.
Same is true in our churches and theological debates that have been ensuing for years. Both ends of the theological debate have convincing arguments. If we are deaf to one side and only hear the other, we quickly create a divided environment. Politics, theology, economics, education…there are many areas of life that can foster polarization if we only hear one side. We become convinced we and our side are absolutely correct.
In the midst of this reflection I got news that a dear friend and mentor passed away. Tim Morita was an accomplished member of the military and retired as a high ranking Navy chaplain. He also had one of the greatest pastoral hearts that I have known. I learned a lot working under him. He was a good man, generous and humble. These things I can say in complete sincerity, even though we never saw eye to eye all the time. I’m certain I drove him crazy with my questioning and strong opinions. We had many disagreements, but I came to respect the fact that he was always listening, with both ears. I had some strong views of the church and the issue we are facing as the church. We disagreed on a lot of it. After he retired from Olivet, he gave me a call. In visiting other churches he told me, “I see what you are talking about now.” We had several conversations after he retired and I was looking forward to our next one in December when he was supposed to return to Hawaii.
As I think about it, many of my mentors hold very different views than I do. Tim Morita, Larry Smith, Glenn Harada and many others. We see things differently, but they listened with both ears. They could hear both sides of the debate and respectfully hold to what they believed. That’s something I treasure and hope to reflect one day. I hope I will always be able to listen with both ears and make my decisions on what I hear on both sides, like my mentors do, like Tim did well.
I will always remember vividly my three children running to the door at the end of the hall. “Pastor Tim!!!”, with their tiny hands and faces pressed against the glass door. Then Tim pulling up a chair to offer up jelly beans and a great big smile.
I’ll see you again, at the end of the hall. Door wide open, just like your heart. -jason
One peaceful afternoon, at a little cafe in Sausalito, I sat with some friends and a man walked by with his dog. As he safely passed out of earshot, Elijah said, “I wonder who’s the master?” Just then the dog stopped to do his business and his “master” bent over to pick it up. We all chuckled.
As a dog owner myself I often feel like my dog really owns me. As much as I loathe it, when I walk my dog, I pick up his poop. Unfortunately, there are some who do not. In our neighborhood I have seen large piles of poop left behind in people lawns and even one right in front of our driveway. In an effort to remedy this, people have put up signs, both handmade and store bought. When I have picked up my dogs poop I have had cheerful comments from neighbors, ‘Thanks for picking that up!”
Dogs are our personal pets, our own preferences and our responsibilities, but when we leave the poop behind, we affect others around us.
Reminds me of the “dogs” we walk in our lives. When we have a hard day at work, or we have a fight with our spouse, maybe someone cuts you off on the road and we walk that “dog” into the rest of our neighborhood. We leave the poop behind in other people’s lawns. We are short with our family members, we snarky with the sales clerk, we put in danger other drivers on the road when we drive recklessly.
Our dogs, our responsibilities, they leave their poop behind, but we can pick it up and dispose of it properly. Pull over, take a breath. Pray. Do something fun. Treat yourself to your favorite snack. Call a trusted friend. Whatever you do, be the master of your “dogs”, don’t let them master you. Pick up your poop. -jason