Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Don't Judge Me!

I am pretty sure I read or hear this phrase at least once a week. It is usually in the context of someone saying something about someone else's sin (or just a specific sin in general), which ramps everyone up to the point of insults and false accusations. A sad picture, definitely, but it causes me some heartburn every time I hear it because that phrase is used as a trump card even though they are not using it properly. Let me explain.

First, let's understand where this phrase even comes from. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says "Judge not, that you be not judged." People rightly then give Jesus the authority He has and apply this Scripture to attack people who they think are judging: "See, Jesus said not to judge!" The problem lies in the fact that Jesus didn't actually say that. If we keep reading the rest of His statement, we see that He actually meant something other than simply "don't judge." He continues, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). Notice what Jesus is doing here. He is not saying not to judge; He is saying that if you do, you better be willing to have the same standard placed on you. In essence, then, Jesus is condemning hypocritical judgment, where I hold you to a higher standard than I hold myself, where I let myself slide on issues that I condemn you for or in areas of life where you struggle but I don't.
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Jesus then illustrates this hypocritical judgment powerfully: "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?" (Matthew 7:3-4). In other words, before you go around pointing out others' faults, understand that you have major issues too (see this funny movie short). So according to Jesus, having anything in your eye is not good, and everyone has something.

Jesus then gives His solution to the problem: "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" (Matthew 7:5). So notice again what Jesus has just done. He has not said not to judge; every one of us must make "judgments" every day about people and issues and food and about everything. No, Jesus has said not to judge hypocritically. The standard you hold for someone else should be at least the standard you hold for yourself. But don't miss this about His illustration: Jesus doesn't want anyone to have anything in their eye! He wants us to flourish, and having a piece of sawdust in your eye is a constant irritant, let alone having a 2x4 in it. You can't live the life you were meant to live with that foreign body in there, so He wants us to be able to see clearly enough to help others have clear vision too. This means that it is actually a loving thing for me to humbly help you see sin in your life, as long as I am open to receiving the same correction in every area of my life as well.

Here's where this leads us, though. What is that standard of judgment? Is it the shifting sands of the culture? Is it my constantly changing feelings? Is it what I like or don't like? If it's any of those subjective things then we are in trouble because what I think is a speck might be a plank to you and nothing to someone else. What we need is an objective, outside authority that sets the same standard for every person. And we have it in the Word of God. The One who created everything has the right to say how everything goes. He also understands the best way everything works. So why would we not want to submit to that? But since none of us (me included) can reach that standard of perfection that He demands, we are in danger of His wrath and need rescue. Even one sin separates us from Him. But thankfully, Jesus lived the perfect life I couldn't live and died the death that I deserved for my sin, then didn't stay dead but in His resurrection defeated the enemy of sin and death that I can't defeat--all in order to bring us into full relationship with the Father. Praise Him!

So the only answer to your speck and my plank is Jesus. We all have sin in our eyes that we can't wipe away. Only the blood of Jesus can wash us clean. My hope in humbly pointing out your speck is to direct you to the only One who can help us both, to the One who lived up to that standard in my place and who has an abundant life in store for us when we turn from our sin (our "specks") and turn to Him in faith and obedience. I pray that you would do that today--all of us.

(Trevin Wax also recently wrote an outstanding article on hypocrisy here.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Church's Worship Gathering

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Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

A worship gathering/service is meant to be a corporate expression of our constant praise and wonder for an all-consuming, awesome God who has come to us and offered us salvation by His grace in Jesus Christ. Every element of a gathering should direct our hearts toward exalting King Jesus in a reverent and awe-filled manner. Prayer should lead us to depend on His power, singing should lead us to praise Him in His glory, fellowship should lead us to point one another to Him, and preaching should lead us to deeper trust in Him.

The worship gathering should not stop, though, since Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I do not mean we should indefinitely sing and preach and pray. But an effective worship gathering should not leave the congregation with only a warm and fuzzy feeling but should lead them to worship through greater obedience the rest of their lives in response to the mercy of God in the gospel and to His unshakeable Kingdom. This does not mean that we aim a worship service at the lowest common practical denominator; rather, we lift all people to the glory of God and magnify Him in order to bring our eyes up to Him. We should call people—through singing, welcoming, praying, and preaching—to a higher level made possible by the Father’s acceptance in the Son’s sacrifice with the Spirit’s power.

What an attractive idea.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Needing the Presence of God

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I love to spend time with people. And in most cases I receive life-giving encouragement and am built up by people. But they cannot sustain my life, and my life can function without them (though not very well, since we were created to be in relationship with people).

Not so with God. Jesus said in John 15:5, "Apart from Me you can do nothing." He is not overstating His case here. Moses understood the gravity of God's presence as well. In Exodus 33:15-16, Moses said to God, "If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" Moses knew that if the real presence of God did not go with the people of Israel, they were doomed. And he knew that the only distinctive characteristic between Israel and the rest of the world was God's presence and covenant love. So he was desperate to stay with God and not move until God moved.

So why, today, do we go on about our lives and our ministries without stopping to consider whether God's manifest presence is with us or not? Why do we barge ahead without first praying and searching God's Word to determine His will? And here's the problem: we're good at manufacturing a pseudo-presence of God that looks and feels very similar. Few know the difference, yet after a while we start to see nothing of eternal substance happen and people begin to get run over by the enemy. But we're "doing church!" That's the problem. We have played some game without expressing our dependence on God to move then joining Him where He is moving.

Let's be a people who desperately waits for God and His presence to move before we move, who expresses that dependence in wholehearted devotion and radical prayer, and who walks in the power of His real presence in us as we live for His global mission. Apart from Him we are victims of the enemy, but with Him we are victorious over the enemy.