Most people you meet can identify a phrase like “Don’t take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye when there’s a log in your own,” as a Jesus-ism. It has that kind of slightly wordy, slightly obscure, pedantic beat to it. (And it is a Jesus-ism: It occurs with small variations in Matthew, Luke, and Thomas, but not Mark or John.) As with most Jesus-isms it has a traditional meaning that ignores it’s biblical context. In common living it’s a defensive phrase to say “Don’t judge me! You are far worse!” The popularity of this defensive usage is probably because the phrase reverses and amplifies whatever criticism the speaker just received and directs it back at the person who made that criticism. But when Jesus used it, he couldn’t have had this defensive usage in mind because he says it in a lecture setting, not a conversation.
In Matthew the “log in your eye” teaching is part of a long list of things that Jesus teaches his Disciples on a mountain. The list goes on and on, and by the end of it crowds seem to have appeared because all who heard him are amazed. Matthew’s version is (7.3-7.5): “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? 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? 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.”
In Luke the “log in your eye” teaching is part of a shorter list, but the list is part of what Jesus teaches to a crowd after healing them. The list ends abruptly, and Jesus travels to Capernaum. Luke’s version (6.41-6.42) has address spoken to the brother, a reflexive pronoun added, and minor rewording, but otherwise is an exact copy of Matthew’s. “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? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
Thomas, as always, is totally without context. Admittedly it might not have been spoken in a lecture setting like Matthew and Luke, but there’s nothing to suggest otherwise. (26) “You see the mote in your brothers eye, but you do not see the beam in your own eye. When you cast the beam out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to cast the mote from your brother’s eye.” It’s essentially the same as Matthew and Luke, but more concise.
All three of these biblical uses of the “log in your eye” teaching include a second half that doesn’t make it into the common-living-defensive-use. That second half follows the accusation of “You hypocrite!” in Matthew and Luke, and is more gentle in Thomas’ second sentence. It forms an implication: If you remove the log from your eye, then you will see clearly and be able to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
This second half could be interpreted to mean many different things, with the speck-mote-splinter-log being an analogy for a flaw a person must correct on their own, a problem that can be fixed by another, or an obstacle to enlightenment. Depending on what the “log” is analogous to the meaning changes:
1) Before you help someone, make sure you are not suffering the same problem you are trying to solve.
2) After you’ve fixed a problem with yourself, you may fix that problem in others, but not before.
3) If you are unenlightened, you won’t know it, and can only enlighten others if you somehow become enlightened yourself first.
4) Flaws are easily seen in others, but even a large flaw in yourself is invisible: Therefore fix whatever you see in others in yourself first.
5) Judging others is okay as long as you are certain that judgement doesn’t apply to you too.
So the “log in eye” teaching could be one of many meanings, and because of the second half of the teaching, few or none of those meanings align with the common-living-defensive-use. The Bible may not be a clear text, that can be read without interpretation, but it’s far better than the endless and self-disproving chain of “You have the log in your eye!” “No, you have it in your eye!” which often results when someone tries to use this teaching in common-living. It reminds me of family car rides “I’m not touching you!” “No, I’m not touching you!” And you can guess how productive those arguments were!
Charles Nye, (MS Geology, BA Religion, BA CompSci) is a research scientist with the Carbon Management Institute. He is currently evaluating alternative Rare Earth Element resources around Wyoming.
Trinity Blog Article by Trey Sherwood
The Power of a Prayer
About a month ago, I witnessed first hand the transformative power of prayer. While teaching a dog obedience class, I fully ruptured my Achilles tendon. Pop! It happened in a second; I just stepped the wrong way.
This injury was a shock to me in many ways. It was my first major accident, first surgery, first time depending on my husband, family and friends for my well-being and my first extended time away from a job that I love.
It was also the first time I was blessed to be on Trinity’s prayer list.
For those that haven’t experienced the life-changing power of prayer, let me say “wow” and thank you! Your supplications to God are making all the difference in my ongoing recovery. I have been pain free and ahead of schedule with my physical therapy because of your love and care for me, your sister in Christ.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:14 -16
Realizing what the power of prayer can do for those on our growing prayer list at Trinity, I challenge you to take your prayer practice a step further. Ask God to help lead and guide you then take a moment in the morning to pray for someone you read about or see in the news. In the afternoon, pray for the first stranger you see out on the street. In the evening, pray for a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
In these difficult times of loss, confusion and sadness, it is tempting to let the feeling of hopelessness overshadow God’s love for the world. We often wonder, “What can I do to make a difference?” My observation is that prayer, openness to God’s presence in our lives and His deep love for us makes all the difference in the world!
So this week I challenge you to share a hug, a kind word, a big smile and especially a prayer with or for a friend, stranger or someone different than yourself. Let us seek out opportunities to create hope, love and understanding as God works through us in powerful ways.
As always, thank you for your prayers!
Trey Sherwood is the Director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on economic development, historic preservation and community building. Sherwood is a volunteer dog trainer at Rockin’ E and she serves on the Laramie Public Art Coalition, Laramie Mural Project, Laramie’s Public Art Plan, TELC’s Campus Ministry and is a board member of the Laramie Plains Museum and Wyoming State Historical Society.
A few days ago (Saturday, July 2nd) was the anniversary of my father’s death. And I must confess that with the busy-ness of my life this past week, I did not even realize it until I saw a Facebook post from my sister talking about how much she missed him. And that made me think about the one and only time that I have ever tried to visit my father’s grave.
It was on a Memorial Day a few years ago… my mother asked if I would go with her to the cemetery. It was a breezy, sunny day… one my father would have enjoyed. I was surprised by my mother’s request at the time. You see, neither she nor I had visited this grave since my father passed away nine years before. We lived only five minutes from the cemetery (and I passed it at least once a week on my way about town), but in all of these years neither of us had gone there even once.
Out of respect for my mother’s request, I agreed. And then I found myself walking up and down the rows of gravestones, looking for where he was buried, wondering what I would do or say once we found him. I mean, I hadn’t been here in nearly nine years… what did that say for me as a grieving daughter, one who still misses the sound of his hearty “belly-laughs” and still wishes I could feel his arms around me in that bear-hug that lifted me off my feet?
The Women of the ELCA has a resource called The Faces of Grief. The opening of this resource begins by reminding us, “When we grieve, we each walk a different journey. No one can tell you how to grieve. Your process is your process.”
So, perhaps my way to grieve is not sitting at the foot of a gravestone and thinking of the day of my father’s funeral. I’d like to think that my grieving takes form when I hear one of “our” songs or when I hold a letter he wrote me in my hands and trace his “Love, Dad” with my fingers. I’d like to think that my grieving is less about a visit to the cemetery and more about pausing for a moment whenever I think of him.
We never did find the gravestone that day… but as we walked each row, we thought about James Hugh Scott… father, husband, grandfather and friend. And we felt connected to him in those moments…
As The Faces of Grief says, “What does grief look like? It comes in such a variety of colors and hues, and it wears many faces.” Mine is just one version. What is yours?
This is Intern Jennifer Michael’s final blog post. She and her pug, Squishy will be returning to Dubuque, Iowa next week to begin her final year of seminary at Wartburg Theological Seminary. She wants everyone to know how deeply grateful she is for the time she spent with our congregation at Trinity. She will be missed!
In college I took Modern Jewish Thought, a course covering the last few hundred years of Jewish theology in one semester. It required a hectic pace and a lot of reading, much of which I failed to do. At one point, Prof. Benjamin assigned an essay “Who is Jewish?” Like any good liberal arts student, I avoided giving a direct answer. But as I worked though my texts and resources I realized that, for once, my vague answer was completely correct! It turned out that there was a very active discussion among Jewish theologians with answers including maternal lineage, observance of practices and law, physical traits, degree of importance placed on Zionism, and many others. I concluded that this was an open question, because none of these answers seemed quite right. They all cut out some people who didn’t fit the offered definition, yet clearly were Jewish by any intuitive understanding.
So why don’t we see this question in Christianity as often? Are Christians too free spirited to settle on a definition? Is defining who is Christian a pedantic and pointless exercise? Are we so individualist that we let anyone who finds it convenient to join or leave our group to do so as often as they choose to self-define? Does God’s new covenant with the Gentiles through Jesus and the Spirit preclude humans attempting an earthy definition? Some other reason?
Intuitively, we know Christians when we see them do Christian things, and voice Christian beliefs. This matches up nicely with the Catholic doctrine of being saved through works, and the Protestant doctrine of being saved through faith and grace. Christianity doesn’t have the complex cultural, geographic, and hereditary elements, that Judaism does. So maybe we got lucky, and the definition is easier, like my biology professor’s tongue-in-cheek definition for a species: If it acts like a duck and talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck!
I still think there needs to be a proper definition for what makes us Christians, but until then, we can make do with the tongue-in-cheek definition even though it doesn’t cover every Christian:
If it acts like a Christian and believes like a Christian, then it’s probably a Christian!
“Quack!”… Excuse me, I meant, “Hallelujah!”
Charles Nye, (MS Geology, BA Religion, BA CompSci) is a research scientist with the Carbon Management Institute. He is currently evaluating alternative Rare Earth Element resources around Wyoming.
Last week, Sally and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. What was going to be a fancy Italian/French dinner for the two of us at Bella’s in Saratoga ended up with four friends at the Bear Tree Tavern and Café in Centennial. (I can highly recommend both!) As they say in small town newspapers, “A good time was had by all.” Interestingly, the four guests represented three couples, with two of them having lost spouses. So, out of the four couples of us, all have or had marriages of 40 years or more. And, while the national divorce rate is around 50%, most of our friends are in their first marriage. Some of that is generational. When couples got married in the 60s and 70s, the anticipation was that you would stay married. Since most of our friends are of that age group, that anticipation was the norm. Sadly, I don’t think it is that way anymore. (One other interesting factoid, Sally and I were 22 when we got married. As this is our 44th anniversary, it means we have been married for two-thirds of our lives… to each other! Or another way of thinking of it, we’ve been married twice as long as we haven’t! Pretty neat!)
So, why is it that most of our friends have beat the national statistic? Easily, I would say that most of them have a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) association. But, what is it about that association? I don’t think it is specifically the rejection of divorce that most religions profess, but rather the outlook of ourselves in relationship to God and to the world. It is a sense of something greater than “just me.” When we are “me” oriented, relationship becomes secondary. When we are “we” oriented, that relationship is our definition. Hence, serving others reflects into serving me as well. It is a gift to the other and a gift to ourselves. The belief system also gives a way for forgiving those sins, great and small, that we live with daily. Sally has sometimes intimated that I may be a little difficult to live with on rare occasion. Go figure. But there is also a way forgive those ills that I do. Forgiveness acts as a pressure relief valve to keep the relationship from blowing up!
It reminds me of a saying that I heard long ago and remembered. “Love is not two people together looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, it is two people standing next to each other looking the same direction into the future.” My view has always been to the West, across a wide prairie, to some mountains and a red/golden sunset that we see from our living room. God is good.
Thomas V. Edgar, P.E., Ph.D., F.ASCE, is an emeritus professor in Civil Engineering after teaching at UW for 34 years. He received the Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching award in 2014. He and wife Sally have two adult children, Erik and Elizabeth.
Psalm 27 begins with these confident words of trust: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” The psalmist continues in this vein for a good while and even says, “God will shelter me in the day of trouble and set me high upon a rock.” It seems like nothing can cause him to waver.
But then comes a crack in that shield of confidence. “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger… do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.” The ache in this plaintive cry for help is almost palpable. The psalmist is so beset by his enemies that he fears that God has forsaken him. How can such disparity in thoughts and feelings be contained in the same prayer?
This contradictory mix has a beauty all its own. Why? The psalmist feels comfortable being honest with God. Without reservation he expresses the tangled muddle of his experience. Underlying this honest expression is a trust that God hears and will answer. How reassuring this is on those days when my thoughts swing from buoyant confidence to hesitant second-guessing.
This is why Psalm 27 is one of my favorites. It reminds me that real fear can live alongside honest faith. Doubt can hold hands with genuine trust. In fact, both are essential to an authentic relationship with God. It comes down to this: God expects us to ask our deepest questions and to voice to our most troubling doubts. And… God promises to listen.
The psalmist knows that holding this tension between doubt and trust involves a good bit of patience. He concludes his prayer with this: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.”
Thanks to Lindsay P. Armstrong’s for inspiration in her commentary on Psalm 27 (Feasting on the Word, Lent Series C)
Pastor Rachel Larson is the pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She is spouse of Don Holmstrom, mother of Susanna Holmstrom, and caretaker of Dooley the dog.
My journey toward affirming my faith started in the summer after 7th grade when my class went to Luther Park Bible Camp for a week. I am still in touch with some of my counselors from that week. In 8th grade, my class was taught by the associate pastor, and in 9th grade, we were taught by the senior pastor. I remember showing Pastor Chet how to hold a softball bat correctly (he tried holding it like a cricket bat), and I remember Pastor Sjolie keeping me after class so I could hunt through the Bible to find the scriptural basis for the text of “This is the feast” (perhaps to test if I would be seminary-worthy a few years later?). Other than that, confirmation was pretty uneventful, and I made public affirmation of my faith in September, 1988, at the same church where my mom and her mom were confirmed.
Fast forward about 14 years. I was on internship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Richland Center, Wisconsin, in 2001-02, and I was tasked with teaching 8th grade confirmation. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging! I had a class of nine or ten very active, very honest, very loud kids, wrangled in cooperation with one of the adults of the congregation. We went through a lot together—9/11, the sudden death of one boy’s Lenten mentor, one student leaving mid-year because of personal issues. We had a lot of fun interpreting key Bible stories in ways we all understood. When illustrating the day of creation when God created the stars in the sky, one student drew Brett Favre in his Packer uniform—particularly painful for me, a diehard Vikings fan! At the end of the year, the Mountain Dew Code Red ban was lifted, hot dogs were grilled, and we played five-a-side soccer on the church lawn.
It has been a delight to stay in touch with those young people throughout the years. Some have struggled more than others, but they are all certain of the vocations to which God has called each of them—graphic artist, neuroscientist, cake decorator, computer engineer, occupational therapist, to name a few. They are all living out their faith in different ways. They all knew that their confirmation day wasn’t their graduation from the church, but rather the beginning of a new journey of discovery and continued faith formation, a journey that will never really end. It’s the same for all of us. We learn how to hold a softball bat, how much caffeine is in a bottle of Code Red (a lot!), why <insert quarterback name here> is the best QB in the history of <insert your favorite team here>, how hard it is to lose the Wilmers in our lives, and how the Holy Spirit guides each of us in our journey of faith.
Andrea Toven is a radio broadcast engineer and head of electronic component sales for Smiling Dog Systems. She and her husband Shane, an applications engineer for Linear Acoustic, live in Laramie with their four-legged children Callie, Leo, and Norman.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…So God created man in his own image; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27
Consumption is a part of everyday life for the American. We are constantly assaulted with messages that tell us to consume the latest in products, technologies, and services. The economists suggest that through consumption, we better our country. Environmentalists tell us our old light bulbs just won’t do anymore, so buy the latest in green technologies. We even consume social media now, so instead of writing a letter or talking to an old friend face-to-face, we consume electricity, smartphones, and “social” websites to arguably communicate less effectively.
Surprisingly, when it comes to an area where we should consume, we replace consumption with service. Christ invites us to a restful Sabbath every Sunday, where we are to consume His Word, His very body and blood, and to hand over all burdens to Him. Instead, how many times have you replaced consumption with service and work on Sundays? I know I have on several occasions, which only leads to burnout – the total opposite of restful consumption.
But, I recently discovered that leading a life of everyday consumption results in something far more dangerous: the failure to create. As Genesis points out, God created humans, along with everything else here on earth and in the heavens. Furthermore, God made us in His own image and likeness, which means we too should be creating. Though all of our creations derive and rely on God’s creations, this should not stop us from getting our hands dirty working in the earth and with its materials.
As I purposefully left a stressful career eight months ago to pursue a life of creation, I have noticed how artistic our Lord Jesus Christ truly is. Creation is a very powerful, spiritual tool and Christ wants us to create because it brings us closer to Him. See, those of the world view art and creation as expressions of individuality and talent, advancements in the human condition. But a Christian artist realizes that art is much more than personal accomplishment. A Christian creator recognizes that what starts out as an idea in one’s imagination soon takes on a life of itself, where words convey much deeper ideas than the author realizes and paint strokes end up creating a dynamic piece of life instead of remaining merely paint on a canvas.
Furthermore, I view creation as a window into the infinite world of God’s omnificence, omniscience, and omnipresence. When I see something that strikes me as beautiful or meaningful in God’s physical creation and it causes a light bulb to go off in my brain, I’m pushed to grab this small idea floating in the invisible air and to make it into something physical. However, as I perform this minute act of creation, Christ starts revealing deeper connections and intersections between the artist, participants with the art, and Christ Himself. More importantly, the artist is immersed into the love of Christ and reminded of the true control that Christ has over His own creation, which any worthwhile artist would have to admit lacking the complete picture of a creative idea at any given time. By being reminded of Christ’s complete control, the artist can faithfully move forward with the creative work and experience the honor of being an instrument for God.
So, I encourage you to create something this week. And even though our mere attempts will always be dancing cave shadows of Christ’s true creations, I promise you will experience a greater connection with the one true creator!
James Greening is the Parish Secretary for Trinity Lutheran Church and a wannabe poet, artist, musician, and anything else that sounds interesting. He is made a better man by his wife, Kacey, and together they are always on the hunt for a new adventure in life.
As a young boy attending worship, I sat on the front pew next to my Aunt Frances, who played the organ and piano at the small Baptist church.
The pastor was Clyde Majors, a seminary graduate serving his first parish. (Dr. Majors would become a learned and highly regarded professor in a Baptist college.)
Clyde Majors was a very good preacher but an even more memorable song leader. He conducted the congregation in singing each hymn. As the organ played the introduction, he would stand at the front of the center aisle. And then, his hands tracing the air in graceful flourishes, everyone joined in singing, especially Brother Majors himself, whose head was lifted high as his voice boomed throughout the nave.
Because of him, I became fascinated by the hymns and songs of the Church. “Love Lifted Me” and “The Old Rugged Cross” I found thrilling. Later, when I joined the Lutheran Church, I discovered a whole new set of wonderful hymns.
Inspired by what I heard, I started writing hymn texts myself. Later, my friend and colleague Chad Winterfeldt set the words to music.
All this is to say that a time of worship can be inspirational in many different ways. Through the preaching, singing, and praying, through the artistry of paintings and stained glass, through the lovely delicacy of candle flames or through the simple act of sitting in a pew surrounded by friends in faith, we are inspired—inspired to live the Christian life.
A recent hymn text I wrote, “Our Graceful Day,” speaks of this inspiration.
Our graceful day comes with the Son,
Our Holy Christ, the Risen One!
And death itself has been denied
By Love enfleshed, the Crucified.
The Spoken Word brings forth the earth
And fills this life with holy worth,
And lifts the hopeless from the dead—
Let us rejoice that night has fled!
We merit not the gifts received,
If ’tis not so, our faith’s deceived,
And we would be most surely lost
And in the restless waves be tossed.
We lift our hands in prayerful praise,
For it is God who fills our days
With love and peace and endless grace,
Forever held in God’s embrace
May you experience “love and peace and endless grace” as you worship.
Don Holmstrom is a pastor of the ELCA, having served most recently at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, Minnesota. He also writes novels, hymn texts, and musicals for youth. He’s a native of Texas, husband of Rachel Larson, father of Susanna Holmstrom, caretaker of Dooley the dog.