Judge or Sinner? Pick a Side

There really isn’t a third group.  Jesus ate with sinners.  He spoke to those that followed Him (fishermen, children, diseased, depressed, hopeless).  They took one glance at this man and followed Him.  Then there were the religious elite, the pharisees.  He often rebuked them as their judgement was in error and had no place in a gospel built on love and forgiveness.

So where is the third group?  Where is the group we all think we belong in?  Where would we be sitting if Jesus walked into the mall today and there we are?  Most of us admit we have sinned at one time way back when, but we really dislike the connotation of ‘sinner’.  The pharisees were far worse.  Hypocrites, self righteous, pious.  We don’t want to be lumped in with them… but we certainly don’t find ourselves at the tax collector’s table either.

So who are we?  Maybe we could argue we fit in the middle?  That almost sounds like being lukewarm, which promises we will be spat out of grace should that be the case.  I can tell you who you are, but you may not like it.  It’s both good news and bad.  Lets start with the bad.

You are the sinner.  We all are.  We are human.  We have fallen.  We have a diabolical enemy with an army of demons that literally want to drag us to Hell fighting over our souls.  We make mistakes, we goof, and sometimes we just plain choose to do dumb things.  We are actively sinners.  All of us.  The pharisees are simply the group of us that lives in denial.

So, the good news?  We are the ones Jesus came to save.  We would find Him at our table.  He would come into our home.  He will heal us.  He will free us.  He will forgive us.  He will lift us up and allow us to join with Him in the place He has prepared for His children.

Two groups of people.  One followed Him, touched Him in faith, carried their sick to Him, washed His feet.  Sinners, all of them.  The other group nailed Him to the cross because they felt superior to Him and those He came to save.  They also feared Him.  Jesus came to us in our mess.  He meets us where we are.  He did it before and it cost His life.  He does it still.

Why did the pharisees hate Him?  He came to save us.  Our group.  The little guy.  They thought he belonged at the cool table.  But He choose the outcast, the lonely, the forgotten.  The pharisees pass judgement and then claim they are holier than any other.  Do you recall the simple scripture that addresses judgement?  Here it is in all its tricky, complicated, pieces for us to sort out and argue over… “Do not judge.”.

Sounds like a wonderful test to me.  Which group do you belong?  Whose sins are you worried about?  Yours?  Or those of another?   Does Jesus live in your home?  Or do you grind your teeth at the thought of others worshiping Him?  Those people who do it all wrong.  They meet on the wrong day, they sing the wrong songs, they interpret God’s word differently than you.  How dare they enjoy His presence… His blessing… His gift!

The good news about being in the ‘sinners’ group is that we have each other.  All of us, in it together, needing grace, knowing what stumbling is like, knowing what shame feels like, knowing what judgement feels like.  And as we yearn to be more like Jesus, we can sense what forgiveness feels like as we embrace each other, sinners all the same, and love each other the way He taught us to.  There is simply no room for judgement.  We do not wish to be judged and we do not judge.

What replaces judgement?  Prayer.  We pray for each other.  We pray for the pharisees.  We pray for our enemies, for those who wrong us.  We pray for those who need grace, love, healing, and hope.  We do life together.  Helping each other.  We embrace the words spoken as Jesus prepared to return to heaven.  “let them be one”.  We unite in our sin (not as a badge of honor, but as a common ground of understanding).  And much more so, we unite in our need for grace and humility.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I love those traveling with me who withhold judgement.  We have a common enemy that would use that against us if we let him.  Something great happens when we accept what group we are in.  It’s not giving up… we always strive to improve and make God proud every chance we can.  But knowing our place disarms the enemy.  He can’t hold our past hostage over us any longer.  When we know our place, we know we are forgiven.

When we know our place, we know we are loved and the lies of the enemy sounds as hypocritical as the judgement cast down from those told to not judge.  We all need forgiveness.  Some of us need to forgive.  Some of us need to invite God into our mess.  He will come.  Just as you are.  Just where you are.  One of Satan’s biggest lies is that we have to meet some criteria to be worthy of forgiveness.  What a tremendous lie that is!

Don’t be that monkey in the middle who thinks that only the other two sides get to play.  Jump out and claim your place at the sinners table filled with grace, love, forgiveness, hope, eternal promises, and have a seat next to our heavenly brother, Jesus.  He has been waiting for you.

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Wassup God! [High Five]

College was fun.  I remember days when walking across the campus I felt like I knew almost everyone.  I went to a small school and most of us enjoyed large friendship circles.  The manner in which we greeted varied from person to person.  Hugs, handshakes, high fives, shouts from too far away, running up and scaring the unsuspecting person, waving, etc.

The greeting depended on the person and the mood.  With most people, they would ask, “how was your weekend?”.  And the general consensus is that they didn’t really want to know but it would be rude not to ask.  So the universal answer was, “fine, how was yours?”.  They too were obligated to answer in one positive or up beat word and move on.

The exception were your true friends.  These were much rarer.  When asked how your weekend was, you could freely answer… and then some.  And we would often joke about the silly social structure where everyone asked but most didn’t care.  My friends and I decided that, just for fun, we would unload all of our deepest, darkest, most terrifying secrets, hopes and dreams on the next person to insincerely ask.

We never did… but we laughed out loud every time someone brought it up.  “hey!  how was your weekend?”… “sit down, this will take a while… you don’t have any plans, right?  Where should I start…”  Can you imagine?  😉

How do we greet God?  Public prayers are interesting.  It seems a very popular opening is the “Dear God…”.  Which to me, sounds like a letter.  And the last time I used “Dear anything” in a letter the contents were equivalent of a “to whom it may concern” document.

It just doesn’t seem right, if I’m addressing my friend, I would not say, “dear friend”  as an opening.  I usually just call them by name.  Then we get the formal prayers.  “Almighty God in Heaven….”  Nothing wrong with that either.  But how natural feeling is that?  Do we greet anyone else with a name, descriptor AND location?

My starting point of choice is, “Father”.  But if I’m honest with myself, that stands out too.  I don’t call my father on earth, ‘father’… I call him dad.  Most times, I just start talking and don’t really call anyone anything.

The point is that I think its a good exercise to think about our relationship with God.  In short, have you prepared enough during the good and restful times, that you can communicate properly during the desperate and painful times?  Do you struggle sometimes to address Him at all?  Perhaps nothing important is going on?  Maybe you feel like you bug Him too much?  You have already asked for this once before?

The quick Bible reference for today is, “pray without ceasing”.  I’m going to take that literally.  Your next sentence to God shouldn’t start with a long proclamation and greeting… because you should have been talking to him just a few minutes ago.  Building God up is part of any good prayer, but I hope you get the point in that we should always have the phone off hook (so to speak).

I was talking to my wife on the phone.  She put me on hold when someone else called and when she came back to me… we just kept talking.  She didn’t have to identify herself again or undergo any assumed pleasantries.  Is God different?  Allow me to share one way that I approach God when things are not going well…

I throw myself at God.  Not because I need to.  Not because I deduce it logically.  But, because it is the only option my body, mind, and soul instinctually know.

Red light and danger signs with alarms start going off… what is our instinct when that happens?  I need safety.  I need comfort.  I need love.  I need compassion.  I need someone that understands my side… my perspective.

I leap straight up and into His arms and do not let go.

This is like falling to your knees, crying or laughing…  You don’t plan on it, you respond to the momentum in your heart.

Do you know what God does when you jump into His arms?  He holds you tight and protects you.  (2 Samuel 22: 3-4).   When you shout God’s name, there is never the chance of an awkward moment where He doesn’t hear you but everyone else does.   When you approach with an arm up in the air… He won’t leave you hanging.  That is right.  I firmly believe God is a high fiving type of Lord.  Sacrilegious?  Not according to the Bible.

We are made in the image of God.  Our traits come from Him.  His joy is in us.  He went to great lengths to save us.  Maybe a high five is too specific.  Perhaps He will have a secret handshake involving the chicken wing or a 3 pointer fade away?  Silly?  I think its silly to think that God loves us enough to give up His Son and then wouldn’t physically and visibly welcome us to the Kingdom with an expression of affection.

In all seriousness, I think the high fives and other expressions will come later.  When I first meet my Lord, I believe we are going to hug.  We are going to shed tears.  He is going to claim that I was worth it, and I am going to thank Him and praise Him.

God is God and He deserves reverence.  God is also Jesus.  Man.  And He understands weddings.  He attends parties.  He laughs.  He loves.  He has joy.  How is your relationship with Him?  I’m not at all asking anyone to drop the reverence from their relationship… but I also think that we are family.  Our God Father and Jesus Brother know us on an intimate and personal level.  Lets get to know them.  Lets speak to them with love.

Lets speak to them often.  Consistently.  Thoroughly.  Without ceasing.  Talk to God about your dreams, your sins, your life.  Praise Him for who He is and what He has done.  And then… talk about basketball.  Talk about boys.  Talk about women.  Discuss politics.  Facebook Him.  Tweet Him.  Instagram with Him.  He is most certainly a rare and good friend worthy of your full story.

‘A Mighty God Seeks Weak Prayers’ – The Devil.

If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. – ‘The Circle Maker’

Consider a few scenarios:

Someone in a wheelchair approaches and asks if you could open a door for them.  No problem, right?  Most of us would be happy to.  What if a healthy adult man stopped short of the door and asked for the same help?

What if a child asked for help tying their shoes?  No problem, right?  What if they keep asking when they are 16 years old?

How about when a beggar asks for money?  While this may not be as black and white of an issue, lets contrast that to someone who clearly doesn’t need money.  If the man on the street corner wore a suit, held a briefcase, cell phone attached to one hip and designer sunglasses snugly donned across the bridge of his nose.  Would you give your money to the second man?

We don’t mind helping people who can’t help themselves.  In fact, for many of us, we enjoy helping them.  But all that changes when people ask for things they can do for themselves.  Consider your prayers to God.  The almighty God.  The maker of the world.  The creator of mankind.  The superior being who allowed His Son to die on the cross.  God.  You have His attention.  You have approached His throne and He allows you to ask for your heart’s desire.  What would you ask?

Perhaps lets look at it from another direction.  What miracles did Jesus perform?  Were any of them trivial?  Did Jesus change deserved test scores?  Did He snap His fingers and change His clothes?  Did money grow from trees?  Jesus didn’t conjure up mediocrity.  He didn’t see fit to perform underwhelming miracles.  No flying and no light shows.  Jesus fed, healed, restored, resurrected, and created faith with hope.  He did the impossible.  At least for us.

We don’t have that power.  But God does.  My favorite conversation between God and man in our Bible can be found in Genesis 18:  16 – 33.  God informs Abraham that He is going to destroy the evil and corrupt towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham asks God, essentially, if He thought this through:  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?”  God agrees to spare the entire city if only 50 good people are found.  But Abraham doesn’t stop.  He wants to know how specific God is being.  ‘what if only 45 righteous are found…. would you kill all those people for just being 5 short?’  6 times, Abraham asks God to reduce the number down to 10.

And God agrees that if only 10 righteous people are found, that He will spare the entire city.  Abraham approached God, spoke boldly, and changed the thoughts of our maker.  This is how we should pray.  We are to pray with faith.  Faith isn’t found in the easy or the common.  Faith is born in the impossible.  Faith is knowing God can make things happen that His creation isn’t capable of doing.  When you combine creation’s faith with the creator’s love… impossible happens.

There are many reasons why prayers go unanswered.  Asking God for something that He already blessed you with the ability to obtain is one of them.  Look at our examples in the Bible.  Consider Abraham.  Remember Jesus, His son, with whom He was pleased!  Pray big!  Pray bold!  The fight isn’t over yet.  The war for souls wages on.  God is listening.  What would you ask of Him?

Praying to God with Time and Solitude

I started falling asleep to the tv in high school.  With the right volume and show running in the background, I could finally clear my mind and find rest.  With marriage came improvisation.  Now I sleep with earbuds and find it much more difficult to doze off.  When I do sleep, it’s not restful.

I’ve noticed my new stressful sleep is often linked to whatever I’m listening to. There is something happening psychologically when the sound is shot directly into the ear.  It’s like it’s bypassing layers of filters and getting implemented into my subconscience.  It’s become enough of an issue that I’ve tried to remove them and just fall asleep without any artificial aid.

Now I struggle with the lesser of two evils.  A chance that my favorite shows will help provoke stress induced panic attacks… or face the deafening quiet and my ever-wandering, also wakened mind?

The quiet is loud.  I hear every breath, every squeak and creak of the house.  Some nights I’d swear I could hear the cats blinking.  The heat kicks in. The bed cracks, the house settles, the ice falls in the freezer, it’s like a riotous prison!

Worse is that I have no control of my mind.  It wanders into ludicrous places leaving me captive to further pondering when I should be watching sheep jumping fences with cartoon Z’s over their heads.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Why is this so difficult?  To simply stop.  To stop being a receiver for all the world wants to feed into us?  God wants to speak to us, to feed us Godly things, but how often do we truly give Him the platform to do so?

When I was very young, before the crux of a tv to fend with, I would pray as I lay in bed and would often fall asleep talking to God.  I remember explaining to a Sunday school teacher, when learning about confession, that I was such a horrible person that I couldn’t finish talking to my Savior without falling asleep.  I felt real guilt that I didn’t finish and assumed I really let God down.

I still remember the man’s response.  “Don’t you think it pleases God that He was the last thought on your mind as you fell asleep?  Don’t you think He knows you were trying and actually communicating?  For many husbands and wives, their favorite time of day is to crawl into bed at night and talk until they fall asleep.  If anything, I would say you are doing it right.  The Bible says to pray without ceasing… and going up until the dreams kick in is pretty much following that to the letter.”

But I’ve saturated my senses with decades of noise.  I need noise to block out other noises.  The lack of sound is more audio than I can bear… or so I am deceived into believing.  How devilishly tricky!  Such a simple thing.  But look at the magnitude of what it costs.  Precious moments with the only thing worthy of my time.

The Bible speaks a bit about prayer.  It mentions solitude and private. There is a reason.  Imagine trying to take a written exam on a plane that is crashing… weird and silly, right?  Also impossible.  I think this is close to what we do when we try to fit God in over the tv, radio, tablet, computer, internet, smart phone, and any other manner of distraction we throw into our lives.  It’s simply not possible to do.  Way too many bumps, spirals, swerves… and of course the unfortunate crash at the end.

Communicating with God can happen in quick bursts, in thought, surrounding your entire day.  That shouldn’t change.  But GROWING in God, living IN Him, emblazoning His name on your life… that requires real prayer.  Biblical prayer.  Worn knees.  Teary eyes.  Devoted time.  Sincere and uninterrupted talks with time specifically included for listening.  And here is the part I think we most will cringe at if you allow your self conscience unassisted access to you true and unfiltered habits… frequency.  Is this just something you do around Christmas and Easter?  Is this more of a once a month thing?  Do you think corporate prayer covers this?

No one in history has had more justification to exempt Himself from private prayer time than Jesus.  And let me explain what I mean by that.  He was actively doing His Father’s will.  He was followed by thousands and healing them and saving them.  He was DOING the task at hand (in mid-sacrifice mode). Nothing was more criticle to US than seeing this man.  So it might be excusable for Him to say, ‘do as I say and not as I do… I’m here for you, once I’m gone, you should pray better’.  And yet, with such a massive and important, and time bound mission, He still separated Himself and prayed (Just like He wants us to do).  It wasn’t that we weren’t worth His time… it’s because we were worth His prayers.

So let’s use this as an example of how frequently we should specifically set aside private time to pray and listen to God.  To follow scripture and to put it simply, this should be the most important thing we do in our lives.  And… the closer we want to be to God, the more we need to do this.  It almost sounds like a paradox, but it isn’t.  The more stressed we are, the more we need to pray.  The busier we get, the more time we need to set aside to pray.  The more angry, the more sad, the louder life gets… prayer isn’t meant to be another bullet point on the list… it’s what makes the list doable.

Nothing makes me happier than when people stop what they are doing to pray over something.  I had lunch with an amazing friend the other day and he did this.  He could have asked me to pray later and I would have agreed and maybe even remembered to. But instead, He put God where He belongs.  Front and center. It’s important.  Prayer is important.  And when you see prayer and use prayer as a gift from God, then the scripture to pray without ceasing is no longer a command we follow… it’s who we are.  We belong to Christ and we pray forever!  We don’t fit God into our schedule… we live out God’s schedule.