Monday, June 29, 2009

Poltical Ramblings

I don't pretend to be a politician. As a pastor, I don't believe in advocating political positions with my congregation. However, I do think about political issues quite a bit, and make a good bit of effort to think about things and be informed. And, these days, this blog is the only place where I can share them.

In honor of my friend Steve, I am going to take the quick hits approach of thoughts on certain issues.

Iran
For the most part, I think we are handling this issue perfectly. I am not sure either candidate would be ideal for the United States. But the continued protests in favor of democracy can only add to the USA's power and credibility in the Region and the world. Especially if we don't meddle in the whole situation.

Mark Sanford, Dick Cheney, Megan McCain, and the future of the Republican party
It has been interesting to watch the Republican dialogue since the election of President Obama. There is a strong movement of people like Megan McCain to loose the Republican party from a conservative moral agenda. I believe this is a mistake. Right now, in America, there are two kinds of populists that are driving political dialogue in our nation. One kind of populist is what we see on the left. This is the pro-union, pro-health care agenda, that advocates for marital and reproductive freedom. On the right however, the Republican party's base is rooted in a socially conservative agenda. If the Repulican party moves away from that to focus on conservative economics, they will never recover.

Nothing hurt the Republican party and the conservative movement more than the fall of Ted Haggard. Of course, on the right this was followed by the Larry Craig gay sex incident, David Vitter's carousing with a hooker, and now Mark Sanford. A Republican party that does not in some way claim a moral high ground is a party that has failed.


Health Care
I am not against having health care for everyone. However, I do not believe that the approach we are using is really going to get us anywhere. Right now, I don't see how we have the money to pull it off. Personally, I think we should have some sort of emergency coverage for everyone for emergencies, while leaving the rest of the medical care for people to find support for.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sermon 6/28

Persistent Prayer

Scripture

 1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'"
6 Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"


 

Sermon

The story starts with a woman and a judge. The woman was a widow. We all know what a widow is. A woman whose husband had died. Yet it is hard to understand what it meant to be a widow in ancient times because our culture now affords women a lot more opportunities than the women had in the time of Jesus. There were no death benefits. Women had a hard time inheriting any property that their husband might have had. If your husband died in the time of Jesus you were almost guaranteed to be poverty stricken, and even more you may be in danger of starvation.


 

However, there were laws and traditions in place where family members of the husband would help take care of the wife of their dead family member. There were traditions where people should help those widows and orphans that are in desperate need.


 

Yet this woman was knocking at a judge's door. She was knocking at a judge's door asking for justice. Somebody owed this poor widow something and she was going to get the help that she needed to support her family one way or another. So, first thing in the morning she waited outside the judge's front door and asked for the judge to take her case and rule in her favor. She followed him to work. She shouted outside his courtroom. She followed him on his way home, begging for the judge to do her justice.


 

The woman was doing the only thing that she had in her power. You see one of the interesting loopholes in the middle-eastern male-dominated power structure is the chivalry that is generally shown toward middle-eastern women. You see, because of the powerlessness of women otherwise, women often are given the right of free movement and protest in middle eastern societies. If a man would have stalked the judge like this, he would have been told to go away, beaten, and possibly jailed. But a woman…..well it would not be right for this judge to jail a woman for wanting justice and help. This is even true in the middle east today. In the most hostile war torn places, women are allowed to move freely and get groceries and do things. But about any man who does the same risks death. This is why the martyrdom of the woman in Iran dying on YOUTUBE is so powerful. The flipside of having to wear a burka is that a woman should never be treated like she was, even if she was at a protest.


 

Perhaps all of this was lost on the judge at first. Now the judge was perhaps the worst kind of judge that you could imagine. He was most likely a political ladder-climber. He said this about himself. "I neither fear God or regard man". This is very significant. In a Jewish mind a judge's job is the fear God enough to bring about his justice on earth. And secondarily a judges job is to care enough about his friends and neighbors to make sure they were treated fairly according to the law. He denies relationship as a priority for a judge. In a Jewish mind, judging was all about preserving the covenants between God and people, and the covenants people made before God with one another. This judge did not care about either of this. Like I said, I think he was a mover and a shaker seeking political advancement and possibly wealth. He did not care about justice. Especially about justice for this insignificant widow.


 

Yet, this widow kept coming to him. He looked out the window, she was on the front curb. He went out to eat, and she stared at him from outside the restaurant. He walked out of his office, she was sitting in the hallway. Holding up a sign that said, "Give me justice". Screaming into his window for the judge to rule in her favor. Begging on her knees for the judge to hear her plea.


 

It got to the point where every time he dreamt, the dreams would end with him coming to her for justice. Every time he went anywhere, he felt like he always had a shadow. This judge got toe point where he could not take it anymore, and he granted the woman's request. Not because he thought she was right. He did not care about right or wrong. Not because he cared. He didn't care about anyone but himself. He granted the woman's request simply because her persistence wore him down. It got to the point where he knew he would never have a moment's peace, a day of peace and quiet, a night out on the town with friends, until this woman stopped bothering him


 

So he went into his office one morning. He went into court. He called the woman's case, and he ruled on the woman's behalf. It was the only way he could get away from this annoying difficult woman that drove him crazy. So he ruled in her favor.


 

This is the parable that Jesus told. A parable that Jesus told because he wanted us to "keep praying and not lose heart." Jesus wants us to pray for our desires and needs. To pray, and keep praying, and to pray some more.


 

We find a similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount. In the passage that we skipped over last week. The passage on prayer in Matthew 7 says this. Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened to you. And when we read Matthew 7 in the English language, the depth of the meaning does not come to us. Because Matthew 7:7 describes a continuous action from the present into the future. It would be better translated…start and continue asking and it shall be given….seek and continue seeking and you shall find….knock and continue knocking and it shall be given.


 

Prayer is about persistence. It requires persistence and boldness. Most of us live our lives trying to be self-sufficient and polite. If we are going to pray the way God wants us to pray we have to put that pride aside. And we need to come to God and ask him for help, and ask him for justice, and ask him to rescue us, and ask him to come to our side and support us in our time of need. God wants us to pray shamelessly and emptying ourselves of pride like that each and every day. Just like the widow did with that judge we talked about earlier.


 

However, the Scripture is clear. God is nothing like that wretched judge. The judge did not care anything about that poor, poverty-stricken, powerless widow. God loves us and cares for each of us because we are his children. The widow's cause had nothing to do with what the judge cared about. If we are disciples of Jesus, we are walking with him, standing up for him, living our lives to serve him. God is intimately involved and affected by our case. The judge did not fear God or really value people. God places infinite value on people like you and I. In otherwords, Jesus contrasts the justice making and justice keeping of the judge with the widow, with the righteous, loving and holy justice making and justice keeping of our Father in heaven.


 

When I first discovered that this was a contrast instead of a comparison it rocked my world. Because when I first read this I tried to put God in the place of that judge. I believed that what this taught was that if I nagged and pleaded with God loud enough for long enough he might just care enough about little old me to bend down his ear and hear my request. So my job, in my mistaken view, was to beg and plead until God relented.


 

This false interpretation led me to think of prayer as something like the strategy that some of us used to get what we want from our parents when we were children. You know how it is, you know your parents are going to say no to giving you what you want at first, but if you keep begging, and if you keep manipulating, your parents might give in just to get you to shut up.


 


 


 

The truth is though, God in his infinite love is not annoyed with our constant asking, seeking, knocking and begging. As a matter of fact, this is the kind of prayer that Jesus wants us to pray. He is not annoyed by us. He suffers with us. Reaches out to help us. And while we may wonder where his helping hand is, he is active working to bring things together for my benefit, and your benefit, and our benefit and the benefit of his kingdom. And he encourages us, like a parent nurturing their wounded child to just let it out as God listens to our prayers, and pats our backs, and continues to love us and love us even more than we could even think or imagine.


 

God wants us to be tenacious prayers. Persistent prayers. Stubborn prayers.


 

I wish I was as persistent in prayer as I am in the rest of my life. I am the type of person that has been accused at times of being….how should I put it…..stubborn. Most of my accomplishments in life have been accomplished not through skill or talent or ability, but through persistence. And we all know that stubbornness and persistence are pretty much the same thing. Stubborness is just persistence that seems less useful or annoys us more. Persistence or sticktoitiveness is just stubbornness we admire. Anyway…. I am the type of person that believes that if I fail at first, it simply means I have to try harder, work harder, and push harder and eventually I can push hard enough to come out on top or at least break even. My wife will tell you that if I can find no other solution immediately available to solve a problem, I usually believe that I should just apply more force and effort and it will fix about anything.


 

Most of us have a stubborn streak about something. Maybe it is in our marriage. Maybe it is about an unwillingness to change despite all the signs in front of us that encourage us that we should. Maybe it is in our work. Maybe it is in our unwillingness to forgive our neighbor.


 

Imagine what would happen if we put that persistence to work in prayer. Think about what could happen. When I was pastoring in Montana in the 1990s we had a challenge in our church where the preacher encouraged us to get into groups of three and pray for one another weekly. Some of us took him up on the offer. My prayer partners were Joey and Doug. Doug and Joey and I prayed for those in our lives we wanted to come to faith in Jesus. We prayed for other needs. And Joey and Doug made it a matter of prayer that God would send me a wife to share my life with.


 


 


 


 


 

Even after I left Joey and Doug kept praying for this. They prayed for this for 5 years. Other people, without me knowing, also made this a matter of prayer. And then just at the right time, in the right place, Jennifer walked in my life. Because there were friends and family who were making this a matter of prayer. Persistent prayer. And even when I gave up at times. They kept praying. God honors persistent prayer. God blesses stubborn, tenacious, not growing weary or giving up prayer. As a matter of fact, persistent prayer is really what prayer is all about.


 

One of my favorite preachers is a teacher and pastor in the Deep South. At one point there was an issue of racial injustice in his community. He went to the meeting of believers to become informed about the what was going on, and what he could do to help others in need in Jesus' name. At one point, it came time for an old African-American preacher to stand up and speak. He read the parable we are looking at this morning and then commented "Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, you knuckles bleeding, you really do not know what prayer is." (Craddock, Luke, p. 210). This is a good one word summary of what Jesus is teaching here.


 

My friends, I long to be a part of a church full of prayer warriors. People who pray for their friends, their family, their church, and themselves with persistence and vigor. People who start praying, and never give up praying for those things that they need to pray about. People who pray day and night for God to intervene in unexpected, and miraculous ways.


 

This morning, as we talk about persistent prayer, I have some challenges for you.


 

First, I want to challenge you to find 2 prayer partners you can pray with as prayer triplets on a weekly basis. Preferably people of the same gender, although that is not completely necessary. Get together with these people, even if you do not know them that well, find times to get together, and then the three of you gather together once a week or at whatever interval you choose to pray with one another. You will have to be bold enough to ask others to join you. Have the courage to do it anyway. And as you pray together, keep a journal, and keep track of what you have prayed about and how God has answered your prayers.


 

As you pray, I have three items I want you to pray about on a consistent basis.


 

First, pray for those in your circle of families and friends that do not have a relationship with Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit would draw them unto himself. Pray that God would give you opportunities to share your faith with them. Don't give up when you are praying about this. Be persistent.


 


 

Second, pray for your church. Pray for its pastor especially. I need lots of prayer. Pray for the church leadership. Pray that we as a church truly seek God and do his will. Pray for your friends in the church. Especially pray for the church's health. It's unity. It's spiritual growth and its numerical growth. It's financial health. Pray persistently for this church, and its witness in this community.


 

Finally, pray for yourself. Many of you have health concerns. Of course pray for those. But also pray for wisdom. Pray that God would continue to change your heart. To renew your soul. Pray that God would give you love for those you ignore. Pray that God would help you know him better and serve him more. Pray that God would help you love him more, and trust him more.


 

Pray for your church. Pray for your friends and family. Pray for yourself.


 

Pray. Pray. And keep praying. Don't give up praying. Don't give up hoping. Don't give up waiting upon the Lord. His hope, his deliverance, his answer, his direction is just around the corner. Just over the horizon. If you will just be stubborn enough to keep praying, if you will just trust enough to not give up, there is a blessing waiting for you. For me. For us.


 

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sermon on 6-28

Decision Time

This morning we are finishing up our Sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Like many other sermons you have heard preached over the years, Jesus ends his sermon by laying out a few clear decisions that God is setting before them. So instead of reading the Scripture passage first and then going through the rest of the service this morning we are going to look at the Scripture passages as we go along through the sermon.


 

The kind of decisions we are looking at this morning are not just any kind of decision. The decisions we are looking at this morning are decision like when I was talking swimming lessons when I younger and I went to the YMCA and went to swimming lessons. Swimming lessons were important to my parents because my mother was a competitive swimmer in her younger years, and because we lived along the Umpqua River with a drift boat tied up in the river at the end of our back yard. My parents wanted to make sure we started learning how to swim if we were going to be on the river. At least those are my assumptions.


 

Now when I had these swimming lessons the lessons progressed to the point where in order to graduate from the level that we were on we had to get on the diving board, walk out to the end, and jump off in front of the swimming teacher who was treading water below. When I look at that tall diving board now, I do not think it is so tall. But looking down from it right then, it looked like we were jumping off of into this huge abyss. Different people had different approaches to the diving board. Some just got right on top of the board, ran to the end of it and jumped. Others never even got on the board. They were too scared. But many of the people approaching the diving board were like me. They walked out to the end of the board, looked down at the instructor, looked back at the stairs, looked at the other kids. And then they thought about what they were going to do. This is the way I remember my own experience. I remember walking out to the edge of the diving board, and it was like time stood still. And everything went in slow motion. And I stood at the end of the board for what seemed like an eternity. And the instructor was yelling "JUMP" and the kids were yelling "JUUUUUMPPPPP!" And I just stood there. And a time came where I had two choices. Either jump off into the water, or to step back, walk down the diving board, and try another day. I either had the leap and trust, or turn my back and quit. Maybe I would get another opportunity to jump the next day, maybe I would not. But at that moment I had to make a decision. Jump or not jump. Trust or not trust. Have the courage to step forward, or walk away. But I could not ride the fence. I could not just stay at the end of the board forever. I had to make a decision.


 

I also remember a similar decision. When I liked a girl in high school. I would get out the phone and I would look at the phone. And look at the phone. And look at the phone. Then I would start to dial the number 263….hangup…..263 49….hangup…26….hangup. Over and over. But there came a point where I had to make a decision. Either I call. Or I stop calling. There comes a point where you have to make a decision.


 

Encountering Jesus creates one of those crossroads moments. Where you either step out or step back. Where you either leap or you crawl back. And at the end of Jesus' sermon it is decision time. And Jesus really confronts us three decisions here, each one of which builds upon the other. Let's look at each of the passages and challenges, and what they are telling us.


 

Matthew 7:12-14

13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.


 

Decision:

When we listen to Jesus, we must chose between the way of the world and the way of Jesus.


 

Look carefully at this passage, and see what it says. First, notice how clearly the two ways are being compared. One way is narrow, the other is wide. One leads to destruction. The other leads to life. One is found by many. The other is found by very few.It is obvious that there is a very clear decision in front of any person who lives. Are you going to chose the way of Christ, or the way of the world?


 

You will notice that the way of the world sounds very attractive. It looks easy. The gate is broad and spacious that leads into it. The crowd is all heading in that direction. You don't have to ask questions. You don't have to think. You really do not have to take responsibility for anything that you are doing. Just go with the flow. Don't stand for anything. Don't believe anything. Just live.


 

There are a lot of us that live this way. There are a lot of those around us that live this way. But the Scripture is clear, that if one chooses to not become a follower of Jesus destruction is ahead of them. Whether it is on this side of eternity or the next.


 

You see, it is easy to live our spiritual lives the way many of us have approached credit cards in the past. You get a card. Everybody seems to have one. The interest is low on the cards. As a matter of fact, for 15 months, there are no interest payments. So you spend, spend and spend some more. You are sure you are going to have time to pay the card down. Then it gets out of control. Interest accumulates on your card. Your grace period runs out. Now you owe more than you can seem to pay, and the interest just keeps making it harder and harder to pay off. What seemed easy and comfortable has now become destructive.


 

Living a life that is not following God is the same way. At first it seems fun and freeing. Sooner or later, either in this life or the next, you will discover that the way you chosen has all of the sudden become difficult. Your sin begins to find you out. You live and live and you wonder what any of it all matters for.


 

The way of Jesus is the opposite. You choose to offer your life to Jesus, and follow Him. At first it seems challenging and hard, and at times it can even feel a little lonely. But as you grow and as you learn the way of Jesus you find hope and purpose, meaning, spiritual power. All of the sudden things begin to mean something. They matter. And you begin to see value in people and things you never noticed before. It is like you all of the sudden are given new eyes. But you have to choose Jesus over the world. You have to chose the narrow way over the broad way. You have to choose what is right over what is easy. You have to chose the True One over the one who bribes you and sounds to good to be true.


 

Matthew 7: 15-23

15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'


 

Decision: Jesus asks us to choose between false religion and Christ


 

The first decision we are asked to make is between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. But it is not long before you choose to go the way of Jesus when you find another crossroads standing before you. You have to choose between false religion and the way of Christ. The way of the world is tempting. False religion can be more so.


 

When I read this passage it is confusing for me at first reading, and I think it was confusing for those who first read it. This talks about Christian leadership, whether it is talking about deacons, trustees, pastors, or leaders in homes or other kinds of Christian leadership. Or at least that is what I first thought. Actually, this passage talks more about followership than it does about leadership. It challenges us about what we look for in leaders, and why we look for it in them. The passage says we will know leaders by their fruit. Ok. That makes sense. Then it talks a lot about what we can look for in false prophets. They say "Lord, Lord". That means that they always have the words that make them sound spiritual. They say that they have told others about Jesus. Cast out demons. Done wonders. In other words, these false prophets can play the religious game well. They can make church life look easy, spectacular, fun. You can find a large church with a good reputation. And yet miss Jesus. You can do your devotions day and night, and yet just be going through the motions. You can be all sorts of religious, and not follow Jesus at all.


 

God's word says it is those who seek the will of the Father that have true faith. God's word said it is the good fruit that accompanies true faith. Being a follower of Jesus isn't about following some sort of tradition. It is not about impressing everyone with our holiness. It is about being an apprentice of Jesus. It is about living a life where you want to do what he wants you to do, and you start looking more and more like Jesus. You demonstrate more the fruit of the Spirit. You do more of the will of the Father.


 

Don't be deceived. Being religious does not make you a Christian. Being a believer is about a relationship, not about religious traditions. Don't mistake having a saving relationship with Christ with belonging to a church you feel good about, being a good American. Religion can't save you. Only Jesus can.


 

24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." 28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.


 

Decision: Jesus asks us to move from simple agreement with him to faithful action


 

I want you to look at this Bible passage again. As you look at it. I want you to notice how similar the wise and the foolish man are. They both build houses. They both experience rain, flood, and wind. In other words, both their lives can be a little stormy. The only difference between them was that one of them built their house on the rock, and one of them built a house on the sound. The only difference is the foundation. I also want you to notice something else that is similar. They both heard the message. What is the difference? What is the foundation? The wise person put their faith into action.


 

You see, there is this idea out there that a life of faith is really about agreeing with the right ideas. It is about having the right ideas about Jesus. About life. About what is true. About what is right. About what is wrong. That true faith is about having the right philosophy and right worldview.


 

The truth is, true faith is lived faith. Love is not just a good idea. It is an action. Truth is not an idea. It is something you live. Believing means that you not only agree with a truth, but that you base your life in trust of that truth.


 

Jesus did not come to earth to establish a fan club. Jesus came to earth to make disciples. Believers so committed to the way of Jesus that they have chosen to make themselves apprentices of Jesus. Learning what Jesus teaches. Doing what Jesus asks. Going where Jesus asks. Listening---YES. But living what we know the best we can.


 

It is fun to see this kind of faith in you as a church. When you go beyond the call of duty to offer support to Barbara Allen at the death of Pastor Fred Allen. When you check in on your fellow church members. When you offer words of encouragement to one another when you are discouraged. When you chose to take the step to do the Back Yard Mission Project. Daily decisions to act. To care. To live a life of worship of Christ instead of just showing up to worship on Sunday morning.


 

And this is good news. Because it means that Christianity is more than a religion. It is a movement of God is the world where he can use you and I in our everyday lives to make extraordinary differences in one another's lives. Our faith is a shelter in a time of storm because we are used to listening to our Lord and acting, and that habit God uses to bring us help and hope.


 

Yet, I sense many of us are at a time of decision in our lives.


 

Maybe you are a person that has come to church most of your life, or considered yourself a Christian most of your life. But your faith makes no difference in your life. If that is the case I encourage you to come forward this morning and pray about that. You can pray with me, or you can pray on your own.


 

Maybe you are a person that has put more faith in religious activity that you have in a relationship with Christ. Maybe your traditions have become more important to you than living in love and grace and hope. Maybe you have come to church most of your life, but you have never committed your life to serving Jesus and knowing Jesus. I urge you, this morning, to have the strength and the courage to come forward in our invitation, and commit to trusting that Christ died and rose again for YOU so that you can follow Him.


 

Or maybe you have been keeping God at a safe distance in your life. And today you are standing at a crossroads. You have been going down the broad path, but you have the opportunity this morning once again to pass through the narrow gate. To trust Christ for the first time. To say Jesus, I want you to be my savior, my master, and my friend. Do you need to do that? Do you have the courage to do that? I hope you do.


 

You stand at that diving board. We are crying out for you to jump in the water. Jesus is waiting in the waters of faith to catch you. Will you jump my friends? Will you jump?

Monday, June 15, 2009

From Sojourners

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.

- St. Augustine

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sermon 6.14

The Opposite of Love

Scripture

 1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
6 "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.


 

Sermon

Perhaps a generation or two ago if you were to go up to try and discover the Bible verse that people know the best, people would say, "For God so loved the world" (John 3:16). Today, when people do this kind of survey a certain other verse comes to the forefront. What is the verse? The verse is the first verse of our Scripture passage, "Judge not that you be not judged". A rapper who was shot in the 90s named Tupac Shakur was best known for the tattoo that was on his right shoulder. What was that tattoo? "Only God can judge me", with a huge cross beneath it.

Perhaps one of the most common objections to people not coming to church is the fear that when they walk through the church doors they will be judged. People say this in a number of different ways. When they are being polite they say things like, "I am afraid if I walked through the doors of that church the roof would fall in." or "church is fine, but I am not sure it is the place for me". When people are angry they say things like "the church is full of hypocrites" or something similar.

We as Christians also know about judgment because it does not take very long before those outside of evangelical Christianity angrily judge us. If we have moral convictions that stand in conflict with mainstream behavior we are judged and labeled. If you are pro-life it is not very long before you are labeled anti-woman. If you believe that homosexuality is immoral you are a bigot. If you refuse to cut corners or cheat at school or at work you are judged to be self-righteous. If you help the poor in Jesus name you are labeled as a liberal.

Self-centered judgment is not constrained to religious life. It permeates all of our lives. It even runs through about everything we watch on television. Judging what the phenomenon of reality tv is about. It is why Reality TV is so popular. Voyeurism allows us to watch people and judge them. Especially celebrities who we suspect think they are better than us. It is what the Miss America pageant is about. At least it was when people watched it our house. We sat at our tvs, ate junk food, and nit-picked how poorly dressed or poorly spoken these women are that place themselves up for us as models of beauty. And every once in a while my aunt would yell, "I don't know what that woman is doing up there, she a horse-faced blonde." For some reason my aunt had a thing against skinny blondes in bathing suits. Anyway…

Watching sports is not all that different. We watch, we say what we would have done, we yell at the TV when someone made a bad throw or a poor tackle. In fact, if you sit in a group of people watching a game you will probably hear some balding, overweight man jump up and yell, "I could have made that tackle!" It might even be your pastor. Television news does the same thing. People pick a side, and they look for every little thing and every little way to judge people.

Being judgmental is a part of our sin nature. From the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve judged God as unloving and not looking out for what was best for them, judgementalism and sin have been entertwined. From the time Satan tempted us to try and play God in the Garden of Eden by judging God, we have been easily seduced into doing the Devils work by judging and accusing one another.

And because being judgmental is actually playing God in people's lives, it can be very seductive in religious folks' lives. It can come across feeling very spiritual, righteous, and holy. As a matter of fact, judging one another is one of the most destructive things to God's work here on earth. This is because choosing to judge people is the opposite of loving them.

The minute we judge someone we can easily slap a label on them, never get to know them, never get to understand them. The minute we judge someone we can place ourselves in the "good camp" and others in the "bad camp" and never treat them with courtesy, never have to actually care enough to be involved in their lives. We even can excuse ourselves from associating with them. Once we judge someone we can place them on a list of less valuable. Jesus teaches that each person has intrinsic and eternal value. When we judge others, we demean the one that Jesus has created and come to die for. Once we begin to judge others, we contradict the message of Jesus that says there is no such thing as a hopeless person or a lost cause. When we judge others, we judge Jesus as a liar, when the truth is that Jesus is THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE. Judging others is sin. Very subtle and insidious evil.

This command to not judge is an integral part of Jesus' message. It is something that we need to understand. It is something that we need to live. So, this morning we are going to look at this oft-quoted and even more misunderstood passage. We are going to look at what the command not to judge means, and how it is misunderstood. We are going to look some more at why it is important not to judge. And that we are going to try to get to how a non-judgmental life looks in our everyday lives.


 

  1. What does it mean to judge someone?

This may seem like a simple question to start with, but it is worth investigating.

I think it is easier to start with what judging is not. And you have to look no further than the last verses in this passage. The text talks about not throwing our pearls before swine, and about casting what is holy before dogs. In other words….

  1. Choosing not to judge others does not mean we have to sacrifice discernment or good judgment.

Just because we are told not to judge does not mean we need to sacrifice and the common sense that God has given us. We are called by God to make good choices. To discern what is wise from what is foolish. What is smart from what is dumb. What is God's will from what is not God's will. That is our responsibility as apprentices or disciples of Jesus. When we are told not to cast our pearls before swine, we are told to exercise GOOD JUDGMENT in our relationships with others without JUDGING THEM. There is a difference between being discriminate and discerning, and being damning.

So let me quickly run through what Jesus command from not judging does not refer to:

  1. Choosing not to judge my neighbor does not mean that I should not have moral convictions.
  2. Choosing not to judge my neighbor does not mean that I should avoid making difficult decisions in my life, at my job, with my family, or at school.
  3. Choosing not to judge other PEOPLE does not mean I should not use my critical thinking skills, even though that might lead to disagreements with other people
  4. Choosing not to judge does not mean that we will never need to compassionately and humbly confront others about anything. Though it does mean that we may need to learn compassion and humility before we confront others
  5. Choosing not to judge does not refer to having wisdom and discernment in our dealing with people and with situations.

If a man were to run into this church on a murderous shooting spree, it would not be self-righteous or judgmental for you to evacuate as quickly as possible. If a person has a history of abusing children, it is not judgmental to not allow them to then work with children. That is just good common sense.

Some of you have to spend your work time evaluating people. You are a police officer that has to deal with dangerous people. You are a banker that has to evaluate if someone should receive a loan. You are a supervisor on a construction site that has to hire and fire employees. You are a trucker that has to do decide who to drive for. These kinds of decisions, in and of themselves, are not what we are talking about when we are talking about being judgmental.

You are a teenager or a young adult. You are invited to a party where there is a lot of drugs, and a little booze. You know people are going to get in trouble. You are not being judgmental by choosing not to go.


 

  1. What judging does refer to….

The word used in the Greek for judging when Jesus says, Judge not…or you will also be judged by the same standard is the word krino. Say it after me: krino.

Krino is the Greek word from which we get the English word CRITIC. The word is also translated in the Bible as condemn. To pass a final verdict on someone. Again, the temptation to judge someone in the way the Bible commands us not to is an attempt to play God in their lives. We may recognize sin in others, but when we do, we need to recognize that person as a fellow sinner, not as someone who is less or more righteous than we are.

When we are commanded not to judge, we are commanded not to do the following things:

  1. We are commanded not to have a critical spirit toward someone.
  2. We are commanded not to see that person who we see sinning as a lesser person than ourselves.
  3. We are commanded not to create a hierarchy of holiness or righteousness in the church
  4. We need to not spend our time comparing ourselves with others
  5. We need to not spend our time trying to figure out is good and who is bad. Who is in and who is out. Who is one of us, and who is not really good enough to be one of us.

Again I repeat, when we harbor the kind of critical, self-righteous attitude that creates a holy huddle, and everyone else as sinners unworthy of our hope, time, resources, and attention, then we stand against Jesus. We stand against the cross. We stand against the gospel.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Because the next thing I want to look at is why we should not judge.


 

  1. Why does Jesus want us to stop judging others?

Before I get into the points on your outline, I want to tell you a story about myself, and a friend and a mentor of mine. When I was younger I really discovered what it meant to follow Jesus at a church in Ashland, Oregon. I was loved into the faith really. The pastor and the assistant pastor there at Mountain View Baptist Church took me under their wing. They supported me and loved me. And because they did I am here with you today. They taught me a love for the word of God and a passion to help people grow in their knowledge of Jesus.

Yet there was a darker side to life at Mountain View Baptist Church. It was legalistic and judgmental. Wearing shorts on any occasion was immoral, and anyone who wore them had moral issues. Listening to any contemporary music was considered a betrayal of our Christian convictions. Boys who wore earrings were shouted down from the pulpit. Boys and girls were not allowed to swim together. Dancing was never acceptable. Regular beatings of your children were required to be the kind of parent's God wanted. Only the King James Version of the Bible could be read in worship. School textbooks were protested.

I left that church after my mom graduated from college and I entered 9th grade. But later I reconnected to my pastor friend. I was asking if our church kids could sleep at his church on our way to San Francisco, CA. He told me his story. He told me how in his life became more and more legalistic, and he became more and more judgmental. As the faith he taught became more and more legalistic, and it got to the point to where he could not live up to his own judgments and legalisms. And somehow, he was not quite clear how, he stumbled in his faith to where he dropped out of the ministry, almost lost his family. He sold insurance for a couple of years. And then he started to be mentored by another pastor in a different denomination. At first he just wanted to get his life together. The key to him putting his life back together was what he learned in those mentoring discussions. "It is all about the love of God, Clint, and us sharing that love with others."

Why stop judging others?

  1. One reason is that it blinds us to our own faults and our own need for God's grace.

Verses 3-5 put it this way. It says that we should remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our neighbor's eye. It is a comical picture really. The Greek word for speck refers to something super small and very minute. The Greek word for plank has to do with a foundational support for a building. If you wanted to modernize the metaphor Jesus uses here you might say remove the telephone pole from your own eye before you help your neighbor with the speck of sawdust that is irritating his own eye.

You might think this means for instance, that before you judge someone else for not giving enough to the church, you should make sure that you are a good giver. Some Bible commentaries try to get away with this. I think this is too narrow a reading of the passage. We tend to be less judgmental of those sins we commit ourselves, because we don't want to be judged for those, and more judgmental of people who commit sins that we don't struggle with.

I think what the Bible is saying is that we need to really look the sinfulness and pride that fills our whole lives before we take the time to judge the one or two little things we do not approve of in our neighbors life. It says that it is easy to get all focused on what is wrong with our neighbor, their problems, and their sin, and totally ignore the sin that is in our own life.

  1. Another reason to stop judging others is that it weakens our relationships with God and one another.

Look back at my former pastor's story. His legalism nearly destroyed his relationship with his children and his wife. His judgmental attitude and the repercussions of it did cost him the church that he served. I am convinced this is because when we judge we are acting like we want to take the place of God.

Look at verse 2 for this. It says that the same way we judge others in the way that God is going to judge us. In other words, stop judging because God is our judge and we are not called to be one another's judge. When we pass verdicts on one another we are forgetting that we have been saved by God's grace and not by our own power.

How can we expect to have healthy relationships with people when we come to them as fault finders? How can we hope to help people when we come to them as aloof and self-righteous? How can we have loving relationships with people when we make it impossible for them to disagree with us without being thought less of?

How can you have a healthy relationship with God when you think you are already righteous and you know everything? How can you walk humbly before your God when you are playing God in the lives of others?

Do you want a faith that seems powerless and useless? Do you want to have a form of righteousness where you have a whole bunch of reasons why you are a good person, but yet God seems far away and your friends seem distant? Be a judgmental person. Because being judgmental will leave you feeling alone and tired, and more vulnerable to all sorts of temptation.

  1. Judging hinders our church and our witness to the world

We have already discussed what people's greatest objection to the church is. It is that they feel judged by people that call themselves Christians. I will admit there are several places where I do not feel comfortable attending church. Because when I walk into the church I know that I am going to be judged instead of loved. And I am a preacher. If we want to be a church that God uses, we need to be a church that when people walk through the door, they are overwhelmed by acceptance. And they know that they can come to church and be honest about their pasts and the mistakes they have made and not have people wag their finger at them or shake their heads in disgust.

The minute we as a church become judgmental, people outside and inside the church see God as the kind of God who sees people as hopeless instead of a God who has a great plan for us. The minute we become judgmental we communicate that God is like a sheriff hunting us down for breaking the law instead of a loving Father waiting for his runaway son to come home.

A man named John Ortberg tells a story about feeling like he needed to have someone in his life where he could confess his sins to and open his heart to. He made an appointment with his friend. And he laid out the struggles he was having, some of them not very pretty, and waited for his friend to disown him. His friend said, "John, I have never admired and respected you as much as I do right now!"

That is the kind of church I want to be a part of! The kind of church that has as its goal journeying together to be more like Jesus. Our spiritual lives are not graded on a curve, where we try and be better than the average person. In fact, we should forget this idea that God is up there grading us at all. God is our Father, calling out to his runaway children, urging them to come home. He doesn't want to place a pass/fail label on us. He just wants us to bear the labels "forgiven" and "born again".

  1. Judging someone is the opposite of loving them.

As I have mentioned before, we need to not judge because judging someone is the opposite of loving someone.

When we love someone, we value them as the unique people they are. When we judge someone we place a label on them, put them in a category, and see them as someone other and less than ourselves.

When we love someone, we want and hope for the best for them. When we judge someone we look for the worst in them.

When we judge people, we try and get them to meet our expectations to make us happy, and get angry when they disappoint us. When we love people we accept people for who they are and hope that God can transform all of us into the people he wants us to be.

When I judge someone I make them my enemy. When I love someone, I see them as someone like me.

III.    So how do I learn to be less judgmental?

  1. Learn to be transparent, open and honest about how God is working on you.

You don't have to be therapeutic or dramatic about this. We don't need everyone bearing their souls and sharing everything about their lives with everyone all the time. But, be honest about the sins you struggle with and how God is helping you with them. Don't try and hide it. Don't try and impress people with how holy you are and how good you have been. Be honest about how God has worked through your faults, and continues to change your character.

  1. Take time to walk in another person's shoes

Once you learn a person's story, it is much easier to understand where they and have sinned and struggled and why they have done so. Remind yourself when you are feeling judgmental that you are who you are by God's grace, and not because of anything you have done. And seek to understand why your friend or neighbor may struggle with the sins they struggle with.

Remember that Christ came to save sinners like you and me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Up Movie Review



When we watched the previews to the movie "Up" we expected a fun movie about a curmudgenly old man, an overweight child, and a dog. This movie was so much more than that. Contrary to PIXARs usual direction, it was a tour de force about grief and loss, and how to overcome those losses.

If you do not like sad movies, do not watch "UP". I never cry with movies. I have been crying off and on since I watched it. It is sad and beautiful at the same time. There are several light sections in the movie, but overall the movie is a very heavy, weighty movie. The child is somewhat sad and lost. So is the old man. The "UP" situation forces them to work together.

This is not the best movie for young children. The early grade school girl kept crying through the movie and saying, "Mommy this is the saddest movie ever!" and "Take me home!".

The dog in the movie is adorable. As is the bird. The dog character actually reminded us a lot of our dog. He makes the movie worth watching in my opinion, and is in many ways the comic relief.

There is a lot of big lessons about grief, change, and loss to be gained. It would be an interesting movie to show to older adults and talk about the implications of it afterward, especially in relationship to younger people.

Also, this is my first modern 3D movie. Last time I tried to watch a 3D movie it was a black and white movie about some creature from the deep. Technology has come a long ways since then.

If you have watched it, I would love to hear your thoughts.