Judgement Is Not Your Job.

I have a question. One sort of spawned from reading this article by Beth Woolsey entitled, “3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin.

And that question is: why do we think we can stop other people from sinning, when we can’t even stop OURSELVES from sinning??

Ms. Woolsey takes us back to the story of the woman about to be stoned to death by the Pharisees, where Jesus says by way of condemnation of their methods,”… let any of you who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Thing is, Jesus WAS without sin. Sinless. And so by his own definition he was completely qualified to stone the woman; to throw the first stone.  And yet he didn’t. He showed her grace, and forgiveness and an acceptance the likes of which she had probably never experienced from anyone else. I think it’s pretty safe to say he had an impact on her life. And probably made a friend that day as well.

How much more then are we — as full and complete sinners who are living our lives an eternity away from the perfection of Christ — uniquely UNQUALIFIED to throw that first stone?!  How DARE we stand in judgement of others? That is a role reserved exclusively for the person of God!

Our ministries should not be focused on stopping people from sinning. We can’t do it. We aren’t qualified!  You know who is? God. The Holy Spirit. The changer of hearts and redeemer of lives. Not us. Not the pastors, not the deacons, not the lay preachers or Bible study leaders.

We. Can’t. Do. It.

What can we do? We can work to bring people into relationship with Christ. And then let Him take it from there.

Can I cure an alcoholic? Nope. Can I get a drug user to stop using? Nope.  Can I get a compulsive, self-destructive gambler to push back from the blackjack table? I can try. I can exhort, beg, whine, condemn, yell, plead.  But you know what? Until he wants to stop, until God works that miracle in his heart…it isn’t going to happen. I can’t shame him, I can’t bully him, and I can’t guilt him into changing.

What I can do is tell him that there’s a way. A way out. A way up. I can SHOW him that way, by the way I live my life, by the manifest witness of what God has done in my own life. AND THAT’S IT.

A great deal of what we know today as “church,” we got from Paul, not from Jesus.  Paul and the disciples were the Tiger Team, the Hellfighters.  They were sent out to make disciples of all nations, and Paul as the designated honcho oversaw the process. He was the project manager.

The thing is, his letters to the churches?  They are, without exception, exhortations to hold fast and to hold true to the path they have chosen – to people WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS!

To the people who aren’t?  To the gambler or the housewife, to the alcoholic or the bus driver, to the thief or the school teacher? It’s a different story.

The unsaved are NOT BOUND BY DOCTRINE! It. Does. Not. Apply. To. Them.

And therefore, we cannot hold them accountable to it!! It is utterly meaningless for me to shake a Bible in the face of “a sinner,” spout a bunch of religious rhetoric and hope to have any impact. Other than perhaps inspiring hostility and resentment.  That’s not the way we reach the lost.

As a matter of fact, the very act of attempting to put myself in a separate camp than ”those sinners” is in itself an act of sin!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   Romans 2:1-6

The law (the scriptures) is there to bring an awareness of sin. It’s there to help you understand how and why we need a savior. To get a glimpse of the eternal consequences for breaking the rules.  If I know that the speed limit is 55, and I go 70, when I get a ticket I can’t say, “well I didn’t KNOW!

But you know what else? It’s not my job to write tickets. It’s not my job to enforce the law. I can’t make that guy in the lane next to me drive any slower by shaking a fist or showing a finger. As a matter of fact, I may very well push the person to drive faster just to show me I’m not the boss of him or her, leading him into further violation of the law! And you know what else? I’ve sinned by even trying.

Matthew 5:22 says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Not very kind and gentle words, are they?  I can’t stop that guy from speeding, but I can guard my own heart. Instead of getting angry and cussing, I can step back, say a prayer for him or her, and let God do the work on that other person in His way and in His timing.

Because it IS His job…..not mine.  Not my job. Not my role.

My job is to love, to try and understand, and more importantly to live every day with the understanding that if God took the same attitude towards me that I am taking towards those over whom I am so quick to stand in judgement, I’d be in some deep doo-doo for sure!

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Challenging words. Especially during rush hour.

And He Will Heal Their Land. Maybe.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this one.  The time-worn favorite of the armchair evangelical who exhorts us to pray for our nation in that email you are supposed to forward to 25 friends.

2 Chron. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. “

We see this verse again and again when it’s time for the National Day of Prayer, “See You At The Pole,” or a variety of other times and events when people need to feel like they are DOING something.

However, like so many other things in modern day eschatology, I think we tend to skip over a lot in this verse and focus on the “easy” stuff.

Keep in mind that praying is only ONE of the things that the verse exhorts us to do.

Another is to humble ourselves, a third is to turn from our wicked ways.  Understanding that “wicked” simply means “un-Godly.”  We tend to think of wickedness as those “evil” things like adultery and murder and stealing.  But in God’s eyes, “wickedness” is anything we do outside of His will.  Anger, strife, jealousy…delusions of self-sufficiency.  Even “good” things done with the best of intentions, if they are done based on our human (and thus flawed) intentions might ultimately be considered “wickedness.”

Isaiah 46:6 – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

It is hard to truly understand “humbling” ourselves when we’ve never really lived under a King.  We’ve never had to physically kneel before a throne, before a man who has the power of life and death in his hands, and whose very words become law the moment they are spoken.  Humbling ourselves means giving up everything that isn’t of God; giving up the demands that we get to live life like WE think it should be lived.  It means giving up being mad at God when I don’t get my way or don’t understand my circumstance, and committing myself absolutely to accepting His sovereign authority over my life. “Seeking His face” involves a lot more than invoking his name like a spell from Harry Potter that will magically fix things.  It means daily, moment by moment, wanting to know more about WHO God is and what than means to my life.

It’s easy to say we will pray every day.  It’s easy to say that if the rest of the country would just straighten out and clean up their act…

However, is it as easy to say that we will pray…AND seek His face AND humble ourselves AND turn from our wicked ways? It’s about more than praying for our leaders, it’s about changing the way we live our lives in a very real and personal way.  ONLY THEN does this scripture promise that God will heal our land.  Prayer is certainly a great place to start, but I think it’s a lot taller of an order and a lot more work than most people want to think.  Myself included!!

I think it’s important to remember that the context of this verse is God speaking to Solomon just after the completion of the Temple.  God is actually speaking in the past-tense here.  Because the people, after they had already endured droughts, plagues and disease, humbled themselves, turned from their wicked ways and turned their face towards God, He heard their cry and restored them as a nation, complete with a fantastic new temple.

However.  Comma.

God IMMEDIATELY goes on to warn Solomon that (based on Israel’s history I’m sure) their new-found providence is still very conditional (I paraphrase slightly here):

IF, and I repeat IF you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  then AND ONLY THEN I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.’ (vs 17-18)

And then he drops the other shoe….

“BUT!  If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

“As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’

“And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’ (vs. 19-22)

And you know what’s sad?  We see in Isaiah 64:10-11  that that’s exactly what happened:

Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned {by} fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin.

So what we have is a pretty clear “Either/Or” proposition. God says that either you humble yourself, acknowledge HIM and ONLY HIM as your God, or your land will be made desolate and your people scattered.

No middle ground.  Not a lot of ecumenicalism or mutli-culturalism there.  Doesn’t seem to support the whole, “we all worship the same god, just with different names” thing.  Kind of “intolerant” and “divisive” isn’t it?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Heb 4:12 NASB)

It’s almost like God KNOWS the wickedness of our heart, the darkness of human nature, and our nearly inevitable tendency to follow our own hearts rather than His will.  Almost like a theme, running throughout the Scriptures, as if some things never change.

Something to think about.  And tell 25 of your friends.

A Mildewy God?

I am a bit disturbed by what I see as a growing trend.  Time and again in the news I am seeing stories of people flocking to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary in a water stain under an overpass, or the face of Mother Theresa in a cinammon roll, the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a grilled cheese sandwich, or some other saintly figure in a mud puddle or a paint spill or a rust stain on the back of ’78 Impala.

You know what that is, right?  Idolatry.  Plain and simple.  Flocking to an image of a water stain on a concrete wall, stacking candles, incense and flowers all around, and then PRAYING TO THE IMAGE is idolatry.  I happen to think that praying to anyone but God is idolatry.  Praying to the Virgin Mary, praying to "the saints", praying to your dear departed Uncle Chuck, all of these are putting someONE or someTHING before God.

God’s word clearly states: 

Exodus 20:3-4, "You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. "

Judges 10:13,  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.

2 Kings 17:12, "They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing."

our-lady-of-grace1Praying to the Mother of Jesus and asking for her help or intercession is making her as God ("Mediatrix").  Praying to Saint Peter or Saint Theresa or Saint Bob is putting a PERSON in the place where JESUS belongs.  And it is therefore idolatry.

And the question I have is….why?  Why pray to anyone but God?  The way has been opened for you, "the veil of the Tabernacle was torn in two" so that ALL might approach the throne of God! 

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a {mere} copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; …Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer {any} offering for sin.  Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  (Heb 9-10)

Jesus tells us quite clearly in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "  Not through Mary.  Not through Peter.  Only through CHRIST.

The again in John 14:13-14, Jesus tells us, ""Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do {it.}  "

Jesus quite clearly not only gives us permission to go directly to Him, but requires us to go to Him and ONLY Him.  If you are praying to anyone, or anything else, you are praying to a false god.  An idol.  A substitution of the real thing.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hbr 4:13-16 NASB)

And here’s there other thing.  Our God is an AWESOME God.  Our God is the one who spun together the entire universe.  Psalm 104 talks about his kind of God: 

"Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a {tent} curtain.  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind;  He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. "

Does this sound like the kind of God who would be content to manifest himself as a mildew stain an a basement wall, some calcification under a runoff spout, or an odd shape of woodgrain on a toilet door?!  Come ON. Seriously.  I think it’s safe to say that an image seen in some dusty, shadowy dampness in a culvert is NOT OF GOD.  Which really leaves only two other options, doesn’t it?  Either you are trying waaaay too hard to see something that’s not there, or, the image comes from somewhere else.  Somewhere, or someone.  Someone who would love nothing better than for you to be distracted, entranced, and preoccupied with all manner of flashy, showy spiritualistic other things than focusing exclusively on the one, true God.

I remember hearing a story once of some missionaries in, I believe it was Ethiopia, who were shown what was believed to be one of the original stones used in the ephod of Aaron as commanded by God, described in Exodus Chapt. 28:

And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, [like] the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

 I had always pictured some kind of art class project with a name etched into the top like a pet rock or a paperweight.  However, the stone the pastor described was transparent, a deep blue color, and the stone had an image of a lion, for the tribe of Judah.  They were able to x-ray the stone, and came to discover that the image of the lion itself had a three-dimensional quality and was actually made up of Hebrew words, almost like a hologram!  This seems to jibe with the description given in Exodus.  The stones were made by "Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman."  Cunning indeed!

Now, I admit I heard the story second or third hand, and I can’t find anything on the ol’ Internets to back it up, but that story has always really resonated with me.  If this is the kind of amazing detail that God’s people put into carving individual stones,  I can only imagine what God did when he "carved" out the 10 Commandments: 

But if the ministration of death, written [and] engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which [glory] was to be done away:  (2 Cor. 3:7)

I can’t imagine they were really just a couple of rough-hewn stone slabs with chisel marks.   They were so magnificent that they imbued power to the very countenance of Moses!  I suspect that these may very well have been what gave the ark of the Covenant its power once they were placed inside.  What I wouldn’t give to see those tablets, maybe get them in front of an MRI or mass-spectomoter!  When I look at Revelation 2:17 in light of the above story, it takes on a much greater level of significance:

and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Imagine God creating a stone which only you can read.  Each stone unique, different, magnificent, and waaaaay high-tech.

So with all that in mind, how is it that so many people allow themselves to be mystified by a patch of frost, a discoloration of some concrete, or a scuff mark on a linoleum floor?  Folks, when God wants you to know that He’s there, trust me, you’ll know.  There’ll be no squinting, and turning your head this way and that, and if you shine the light just so, it sort of maybe kinda might look like Jesus when he’s asleep underwater…

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  (Matt. 24:30-31)

Doesn’t say anything about toast or mildew.  God does not do things halfway.  He is not a tame lion.   He’s got a flair for the dramatic.   He’s a God of burning pillars and parted seas, not potato chips and grilled cheese.

More even that the aspects of idolatry, and of diminishing the majesty of God, chasing after images and totems can lead you down a dangerous path, one which is based on deception.  If you are so quick to find solace in every "religious" icon you stumble across, if you are so ready and willing to believe that spirits are speaking to you through these manifestations, you set yourself up to be easily deceived by those claiming to speak for God, or AS God, but who are really agents of deception and betrayal.

"For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many…Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matt. 24)

Putting your faith in anyone, or anything except the Lord Jesus Christ denies the sovereignty of God and results in you serving and worshipping a creation, not the Creator.  Do not be misled!  Trust that God wants you to talk to HIM, revere and worship HIM, not a grease spot or a paint smear.

Thoughts on Malachi

My studies took me to the Italian prophet tonight.

The book of Malachi is essentially God slapping the Israelites right upside the head because of their shallow, insincere, and downright insulting attitudes towards Him.  The sad/scary thing is…I saw waaaaay to much of the modern Church in these passages.

Through Malachi, God rebukes His people for the crap they are bringing Him as offerings.  A harsh word? Not really.  They were bringing junk, garbage, crap…and offering it to the Lord of Lords, King of Kings.  To say that He was a little put off is putting it mildly.

God asks if they would ever give such poor offerings to their local governor or magistrate?  The answer would be heck no!  Because they’d end up in shackles or picking up garbage around the village square on trash detail if they tried.  But with God?  Eh, whatever I’ve got lying around ought to be good enough…

God’s chosen people were offering tarnished trinkets, their lame and blind animals, rotten fruit and stolen goods as their offerings on the altar of Jehovah in the temple.  And then they seemed to be confused and surprised when God condemns them for it.

It seems a lot like the father of a clueless teenager who can’t understand why he’s in trouble when you told him to mow the yard, and then he only did half of it and quit to play X-box with his friends instead.

Then I thought about the kinds of “donations” I’ve seen people give to the churches at which I’ve been a member.  Heck, let’s be honest here, the kind of donations I have given to my own churches.  Stuff left over from the garage sale.  Stuff I found in the back of the closet or the attic, some of which doesn’t even work.  I pawn it off on the church figuring, “Maybe somebody can fix it, and anyway, it’s finally out of MY house!

I know for a fact people have used church donation drives as a convenient way of getting out of paying the dumping fee at the county landfill.

What does that say about us?  That we’ll give stuff to God that even WE don’t want anymore!?

The words of the prophet Malachi make it pretty clear that God WILL NOT BLESS YOU OR HONOR YOUR PRAYERS if you come before His altar with this attitude.   As a matter of fact, these token gestures of piety really anger our Lord, and He actually promises a curse for those who continue to do it!  I, for one, was very convicted about my peevish frustration that an 11:30 service “takes up half my day” on Sunday, instead of being able to get in at 9:30 and be out before noon so I can “get on with my day.”

Sound familiar to anyone?  Hmmm?  To think, I begrudge God two hours of worship.  I can’t spare two hours out of “my” day, to go with a willing heart to lay my offering on His altar.  I should be frustrated and disappointed that that’s ALL I get, wishing it were more, not less.  Like I said, Malachi has been hitting a little too close to home!

Malachi also makes it clear that tithing isn’t optional.  This kind of surprised me, because I’ve always heard tithing presented either in the form of a plea from the pulpit, or as a personal decision between me and God.  According to the words of God in Malachi, failing to tithe is “robbing God.”

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you!”  Malachi 3:8-9 ESV

It is also clear that God views the marriage covenant between a man and a women as every bit as important, binding, and sacred as His covenant with Israel.  We see here again the archetype of the marriage, and foreshadowings of the NT teachings of the “Bride of Christ.”  God promises the same sort of anger and retribution for men who deal with their wives “treacherously” as those who bring corrupted offerings to His temple. Interesting.

I ‘ve also come to see Malachi as actually a pretty powerful book about…fatherhood, believe it or not.

Despite the harsh language, it’s actually a book of love.  Huh?  Yup.  Read it, you’ll see.  When I read this book of the Old Testament, I heard a frustrated father scolding his clueless children for their disobedience.  I have BEEN that guy, frustrated nearly to tears, stating for the leventy-zillionth time what should be obvious, self evident truths to children who just stare at me in bemused surprised like I just told them the sky is green.  He threatens them with terrible consequences, but he ALSO promises great rewards.  He lays it out, in plain and simple language.  He is setting boundaries, house rules, complete with punishments and rewards, in such a way that they can’t come back later and say, “Wull… I didn’t KNOW!  You didn’t tellll me THAT!