Easter Sunday… why bother?

This may step on some toes.  I pray that it steps on the right ones.  I also pray that everyone will honestly evaluate themselves in their current relationship with God and make adjustments to bring Him more into focus at the center.  Amen!

Church can bring out a lot of emotion.

For some, its pain.  Christians are sinners and even in corporate church, we make mistakes that can leave scars.

For others, its discomfort.  Jesus prayed to God that we would be united.  He knew how we would fight.  If it isn’t politics its church politics.  In my life I’ve seen churches split over chosen songs, dress codes, overhead projectors, hand clapping, instruments, and many other seemingly trivial issues.  So why bother?

Especially when very few churches get it right?  The church isn’t where the Christian goes to be built up… its where the sinner goes to put God first.  Think about that for a moment.  How many scenarios exist, where the person in the wrong shows up and dictates how the event is going to play out?  When the sinner shows up and bows humbly before the loving God… church happens.  Everywhere else is, sadly, people vying to be the next pharisee.  To me, its an issue with definition.  ‘The Church’ isn’t that big building.  It’s the loving God that sacrificed His Son for us, so that we might gain, should we choose to do so.  Our acceptance of that sacrifice doesn’t come with judgement or condemnation.  It comes with us loving back.  The Bible says that God is love.  Shouldn’t the church be love also?  It is.  And where it isn’t, it can be.  Why bother?  Because when it is done right… When God is the focus… the world begins to function just as God (it’s creator) intended it to.  The sick are healed, relationships are repaired, bridges are built, and love is shared freely.  Lives are strengthened and when we walk out that door, its a new world to face.  This may sound silly to some, and to those I claim its because you’ve been unfortunate in your church experience.

For those who don’t understand church, or for those who feel lost in one, or for those who have tried and left running out the back door:  I’d like to offer 10 simple rules to measure by.  If many of these don’t hold up well, something needs to change, as its not what God intended.

1.  Does your church consistently hold its values and beliefs in line with the Bible?  Do they do things because a church leader said so, because an established family said so, because their grant said so, or because the Bible said so?  (note the words ‘values and beliefs’.  Obviously, leadership will need to ‘lead’ in clerical, business, and logistical matters).

2.  Are the songs, prayers, and messages building up the members or are they praising God?  There is certainly scripture that gives validity to building up the members.  But what is the core purpose of worship?  “Worship”.  Reverence… adoration… thanksgiving.  That has to be first and foremost and consistent.

3.  Is your church growing?  Or trying to grow?  The issue isn’t about butts in the seats, its about souls.  Does your church’s message care and even yearn to save the lost?  Are you fired up and sent out on a mission after church?

4.  Is the money going to God?  Either in future planning, current budgeting, or missionary spend, is the church making the most of the money?  Are they following the Biblical examples to stretch each dollar, grow each cent, or are they effectively burying it until needed?

5.  Is the message consistent?  One simple example, I’ve seen over and over again:  Does your church accept an offering every Sunday, but they don’t have the time to offer communion as well?  What an odd priority.  With PayPal, credit cards, websites, donation boxes, and even snail mail to the building… collection is the one thing that can happen outside of corporate worship.  But when leadership justifies that it can’t… I see a red flag.

6.  Is the entire message taught?  Jesus is a loving Savior who gave up everything to get to us.  But He is also jealous and can be angered.  He keeps His promises, both good and bad.  (i.e. the floods came when promised just like relief comes when promised).  The life of a Christian is a hard life filled with self sacrifice, scrutiny, and persecution.  God hates all sin and we are not to judge.  Christians are supposed to look different from the world, not following it and /or adjusting our beliefs… etc.

7.  Is every member involved?  Another common malpractice I’ve seen quite consistently is a tiered version of church, where one group will be the leadership of the church and the other group will be the spectator.  Almost divided like classes, an entire group of people will go to church on Sunday, never serving in any capacity and never being asked to.  This feels eerily like how the Pharisees practiced their faith.  They were the ‘in’ crowd.  This isn’t God’s church.  He asked the fisherman, the commoner, the family-man.  ‘Leave it all behind and follow Me’. (he roughly said).  Jesus came to save everyone… so church is FOR everyone.

8.  How welcoming is the church?  This has to do with each and every member.  When a visitor walks in, how many people will they walk past before they are jubilantly greeted?  How long will they sit alone before someone joins them?  How long will they attend before being invited to a small group, a meal at someone’s home, or an event to get to know them better?  We are all some level of shy, awkward, and uncomfortable.  The ‘church’ (meaning God’s real and intended church) will bury those feelings behind the genuine excitement over seeing a new face to potentially join the mission with.

9.  Is the story current?  Is everyone still talking about the good ‘ole days?  Are you always hearing about the last pastor or some amazing family that moved on or has passed?  Churches doing the will of God will have new stories to tell.  New souls, new testimonies, new prayers answered.  It’s OK to reminisce on the past… but we can’t live in the past.  Just like your car, your stomach, and your wallet… that tank has to be filled again, and again, and again.  Jesus didn’t perform one miracle and then go back to heaven.  He spent a lifetime serving the Father and then finally gave up His life as well.  He gave it all!  Not just one thing, 15 years ago.

10.  Are children leading?  Jesus said we are to be more like children.  When the disciples tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus, He corrected them.  “let the children come to me”.  Why would the church not follow this example?  They may not be able to execute perfect exegesis of Revelations but they do know love.  And in many cases, they know love in ways that we have long forgotten.  Not only do they need to be trained, they need to be mentored and allowed to serve as any other member of the church.

No church is perfect.  But there is a clear distinction between those trying to be a perfect church and those trying to serve God perfectly.  If you don’t know the difference yet, I sincerely promise, you want the latter.   I want to encourage you to stand firm.  You will walk in and out of buildings filled with sinners.  When you find a place where the sinners are working with God to live a life of thanksgiving to Him… stick around.  I didn’t provide this list to shame existing churches or to start an argument over semantics.  This is for those searching.  I searched for over 20 years.  And I’m so thankful that I didn’t give up.  It’s far too important to abandon.  In some cases the church will be wrong.  In some cases you will be wrong.  I could easily write about all of the wrong expectations we bring into the church.  (and I might in the future :p ).  For now… encouragement.  Don’t give up.

An often overlooked scripture in the Bible is when Jesus told His disciples to wipe the dust off their sandals and move on when people didn’t receive the message.  Many, many Christians need to hear this scripture and stop trying to force God on people that aren’t ready for Him yet.  But I also find a broader meaning here.  This verse is about freedom.  We aren’t tethered to a location until success occurs.  We are simply asked to try.  Give it all you’ve got.  If it doesn’t work, move on.  Never quit.  There is never a quitting reference in the Bible unless its a tragic story.  Move on?  Yes!  Quit?  Never.  Jesus never quit.  Paul never quit.  Martin Luther King never quit.  Some of us find ourselves wanting to live life among those great and precious names, but only as long as things are going well. (reread point 6).  If you are a threat to Satan (i.e. if you are doing church right) life will not be going well.  He will attack.  But thank God you will be prepared with God at your side and a loving church at your back.

If you feel compelled to visit church on Easter Sunday… GO!  But think about why that is.  Think about what you may be missing throughout the year.  Consider why so many keep coming back week after week.  Talk to some friends that may be stronger in the faith.  Talk to someone at the church of your choice if you go.  One advanced step you can try in the privacy of your own home is to turn off all distracting devices (TV, radio, PC, etc) and speak to God.  You don’t need special words, you don’t need any scriptures.  Just chat.  Tell Him what is wrong.

God doesn’t want you in church… He wants you in heaven.  But the church is such a valuable tool, we often get the message lines crossed.  I don’t want to see you in church because there are some bad churches out there.  I want to see you accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior!!!!!  And that… will put you in search of a good church, serving Him.   God bless!

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Jesus Take the Wheel… Please!

It happened yet again.  Driving home last night I noticed a car behind me, but I couldn’t see his headlights or even most of his hood.  According to all of my mirrors, the driver was in my back seat.  When this happens, I slow down.  Not for the sole purpose of being rude, but for safety first.  There were barely inches between us while driving 50 MPH.  If I had even tapped, ever so gently tapped, the brakes for a pedestrian, deer, someone turning, an active crosswalk, or any of the countless issues that would require a break tap, this guy would have hit me.

Slowing down generally solves 2 issues.  It makes the eminent wreck safer (if he hits me, it will be at a slower speed) and second, it usually causes them to realize they were tailgating and they will back off.  Once they back off, I resume normal speed.  Yesterday, I let off the break and cringed as I’ve never seen anyone THAT close to me without actually hitting me.  His reaction… BEEP!  Followed by flashing lights and hands thrown in the air.  I continued to slow until I got around 20 MPH.  Then he started swerving.  Left and right, lights flashing, hands waving, horn blaring.  For 2 miles he did this.  Never once did he back off.  He was so close, he didn’t hit me, but I would be surprised if an index card could have fit between our cars.  I finally turned and he whipped around gesturing and flew off.

The last thing I saw was his Jesus fish on the trunk.  Some of you are thinking, he probably borrowed (or in this case stole 😉 ) the car.  Unfortunately, I’ve been in the passenger seat of other Christians who drive the same way.  And this is yet another, of many, reminders to me how important it is that Christians understand that if we don’t look like Christ… we aren’t IN Christ.

Consider the following statements in lieu of such a silly thing (like driving styles) and then make sure to expound them across all areas of your life as often as possible:

  • The Bible spends extremely small amounts of time on Jesus while he was in ‘church’.  I call it the Bible camera.  While Jesus did go to the temple to learn and even preach, the action was mostly outside of the religious walls.  So the camera was mostly tuned in when Jesus was living among the real world.  The story we see of a man who sets a Godly example to EVERYONE.  strangers, dinner parties, while traveling, interrupting public conflict, even while sleeping in a boat.  The examples we have of how to act like Christ (in order to be Christ-ians) are while He lived his normal life.  This extends to us.  Crowded airplanes, sporting events, kid’s baseball, restaurants, DRIVING, and how we handle politics (mmmhmmmm!  zing to almost all of us on those last 2).
  • Entitlement and Christianity are polar opposites.  Come on.  You know the verses.  Turn the other cheek.  Go the extra mile.  And many other examples let us know that picking up the cross of Christ means dropping the expectation of equality and fairness.  The cross wasn’t fair.  Jesus didn’t deserve that.  Most of life won’t be fair.  We aren’t here to experience fairness.  That shouldn’t be our fight.  We are here to show the world that Jesus loves them.  Somehow, some “Christians” have convinced themselves that they can show love and the finger at the same time.   (notice the quotes?)  The Bible could not be more clear.  Love is the greatest command.  Sacrifice is required to love.  Elitism is the opposite of love.
  • The right thing requires effort.  How easy are your decisions?  Its so easy for me to get mad at the jerk acting like a jerk from jerkville.  Its much more difficult to try and understand where he is coming from.  Why was he in such a hurry?  Was his life filled with turmoil?  The hard option is understanding and forgiveness.  If we aren’t facing difficult decisions in our lives, perhaps we aren’t making very good choices?  This rule isn’t meant to be 100% universal, but think about it.  We have eleventy billion cliches explaining the road less traveled, the merit of all things lies in their difficulty, problems are opportunities in work clothes, etc. etc. etc.  We aren’t even talking Christian logic here.  This is worldly universal.  Ask any athlete.  Ask any philosopher.  Talk to any doctor, lawyer, or architect.  Life, in and of itself, isn’t easy.  Living a good, honest life is doubly difficult.

Prayers and peace to each of you.  May we all learn to lose more and more of ourselves while we take on the lifestyle of Jesus Christ.  The more we look like Him, the more His message will reach those who need to hear the story of love, forgiveness, and redemption.

Who do we Worship?

Much longer than I prefer to write, but am hopeful will spark some inner debate with individuals or outer debate within our churches…

 

I just couldn’t do it.  Smoke filled the air.  Lights beamed down.  Some were solid colors, others were strobe.  The room lit up to match the musicians jamming on the stage.  Twirling drumsticks, spotlights…It was a rock concert.  And for a rock concert, it was good.  But I went to worship.  And, while I believe some there were worshiping, others were being entertained as part of the mission statement of the event.  And I wondered, where did all of this come from?  When did worship become a rock concert?  And… is that wrong?

I know a lot of worship leaders who share in one sentiment as they plan the worship experience for the church:  “They are gonna love this!”.  Let’s dissect that phrase for a second, but I promise to stop after the very first word.  “They”.  Who are we worshiping?  Let me ask another way.  Who is worship for?  Ah, now we get a different set of answers.  I’m certain most of you will claim we are worshiping God.  But when I ask who is worship for, we get a wider variety of answers.  Is it for us?  So we can recharge/refuel before going back into the world?  Is it for us?  So we can hold each other accountable/bear witness/pray for each other?  And there is some truth in that worship has a reciprocal way of benefiting us as well… but only as God sees fit to return our holy worship into healing and answered prayers.  Let’s investigate just a tad…

“Sing to the Lord” – 1 Chronicles 16:23.  Sing to who?  Us?  Each other?  Ourselves?  Sorry, it says to sing TO the Lord.  The music, the songs, the lyrics, it’s for Him.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  I want certain songs, I want certain styles, I want specific times, places, and arrangements.  At times, I think each one of us has forgotten the ultimate purpose of worship.  It’s not intended for us.  There is an episode of The Office (U.S) version in which the boss Michael Scott wants to throw a birthday party to celebrate one of the employees.  He is so excited and can’t wait to enjoy his favorite dessert, mint chocolate chip ice cream, even after the birthday girl tries to explain she is allergic.  He is too consumed in the details to understand how useless his celebration will be when it’s all done to his liking and not in honor of the birthday girl.

Sound familiar?  I like this song.  The preacher doesn’t like to let out late.  The Adam’s family is offended by this topic, etc.  That would be but a tiny portion in a plethora of examples of us celebrating God on our terms.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” – John 4:23

This verse interests me.  It assumes there are false worshipers.  People who are worshiping, but not correctly.  It also says that we will worship, who?  The Father.  Also, on a side note… The Father is seeking worshipers.  He wants people to worship Him.  He doesn’t just like it when it happens… he is seeking it out.  Can we worship around laser beams, espressos, and the most recent pop songs?  Perhaps.  But there is a true worshiper that seeks to worship God in the way He is seeking to be worshiped.  And it’s all about God.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12.

And while I think I could quote another 60+ scriptures quite easily, I’ll stop here.  This one cuts to the meat of the matter pretty quickly.

Worship is a sacrifice.  It is giving up what we want and what we enjoy and giving to God what He wants and what He enjoys.  Yet building after building, town after town, worship leaders just can’t help themselves.  I truly believe they mean well.  But they structure the worship service into 2 things that are both completely wrong.  1.  The church members and what they like.  And 2.  Getting the unbeliever into the building.  (Think of the movie, Sister Act 2 where they stop with the boring old singing and start with new instruments and lively songs and all of the sudden the community comes in off the streets to enjoy the concert).  Is that a problem?  YES!  People are using flair, panache, and other techniques to lure in people.  That isn’t the type of fish God wants.  Our bait is the love of Jesus.  Our “lure” is the cross.  When we start trying “tricks” or “gimmicks” we stop worshiping God and we start off on our own agenda. It boils down to conformity.

Not only are we to sacrifice as our way of life to conform to God, the same verse explicitly prohibits conforming to the world.  Yet again, oh how many times the phrase has been uttered; “We can’t reach the lost if we don’t make worship fun and/or exciting”.  Translation:  How can we conform to the lost to reach them?  Here is the true sad part.  Jesus reached the lost by being completely different from them.  He was Godly, and no one had ever seen that before.  They followed a man of God.  If we would stop trying to act like the world, in the name of God, we might actually be able to offer people something they can’t get anywhere else.

This isn’t meant to be condemnational.  I know that many church leaders mean well and have tremendous hearts.  But what I hope some will take away from this is that God didn’t use a metaphor when He expected us to remain apart from the world.  Not separate!  But apart.  Different.  Holy.  With the Spirit in us.  Loving the sinner and still condemning the sin.  Honoring the FULL word of God.  Exemplifying the Savior.

I see it in almost every church I walk into.  A capella worship is no different.  You can over-amp the choir and lose the message just as easily as a rock band.  You can decide that the Lord’s supper is time consuming and only do it once a month or twice a year.  But allow me a little jab here, because let’s be honest, it’s deserving… we always have time for the collection plate, don’t we?  Keep your reasoning… you can’t explain to a non-believer why we do communion so quick, or so little, and yet there is always time to ask for money.  What’s worse, if we believe we should be molding and ‘updating’ worship around the “times”, why don’t we use paypal, billpay, drop checks in a drop box, etc.  The one and remaining constant in most of our churches is how we ask for money, rather than the living God.  (and while you may want to refute that, try telling the unbeliever that witnesses it first hand and doesn’t understand all of the rationales that we have created over the years).

Whether its intentional or not, I can tell you why we bump communion from many of our churches.  It’s because, deep down, we aren’t there to “truly worship”.  Like the “true worshipers” John spoke of.  When men and women get together to discuss the how’s and why’s of church and decisions are made based on what people like or who will be offended, or any other structure, there is a grand danger of NOT coming to a conclusion that will be a true sacrificial worship to God.

I would like to encourage us to drop the microphones, the laser lights, the fog machines, the drum kits, the fancy bulletins, the projectors, and even move the podiums off the stage.  Let God fill the stage.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God, what is God’s (Mark 12).  Is the church not God’s?  Worship is God’s.  What is pleasing to Him?  He wants humility.  He wants the broken.  He wants us to know our place and to serve Him.  He wants us to remember the life and blood of His son.  He wants praise for Him.  Our God is a jealous God (Exodus 34) and He wants our worship for Him and Him alone.

What has caused me to write this, isn’t that we have various worship styles that I don’t like.  Rock concerts isn’t the topic or the issue.  What has caused me to write this is that I don’t believe very many churches go through the exercise to make sure their offering to God is complete.    As quoted above in Romans, God doesn’t want our money as an offering, He wants us to give of ourselves.  We are the offering, a living offering which requires our whole being..  And that doesn’t start by demanding worship styles, caving to secular structure, or worrying about what society thinks.  More and more churches are choosing the easy path (the wide one) and deciding that it’s better to blend in than stand apart.

People followed Jesus because they never saw anything like Him before.  He was a man of God.  That is what we need to bring people into our churches.  They need to see Jesus.  We need to be Jesus.  He offered himself up as a sacrifice and refused to adopt the traditions of the people.  He worshiped God as God demanded.  Rather than contemplating the legality of the drums or the societal objection to the pitch pipe, open up the heart to God and give to Him your all.  And equally, exercise the arms of the church.  The arms of the church have 2 purposes.  1.  To lovingly accept and embrace all who are willing to come to Jesus.  And 2, to firmly hold back and refuse any who would falsely preach against God’s undeniable word.  (acts 13).

One thing we tend to forget in the church, is that we are still at war.  The enemy is deceitful and full of trickery.  And while his fate may be determined, ours has not yet.  We can choose to seal our fate now in the decisions we make.  But the choice to follow Christ is not one balanced around some entertainment with friends.  It is a sacrifice and God expects much from us.  It is not our job to make the gospel palpable for non-believers either.  It is our job to share the love of Jesus with them.  They will make the decision for themselves if they want to make such a sacrifice or not to follow Him.

This is not a treaty to promote throwing out the baby with the bath water.  We have some sound and reasonable acts of worship that should not be torn down.  What this is meant to be, is an exercise that challenges us all to drop the man made worship outline on the floor and start from the ground up, asking, are we doing this for God or ourselves?  Is our outreach based on entertainment or the milk that a new believer needs?  Will I get what I want, or will I give to God what He wants?  Do I look like non-believers?  Have I shown them Jesus?  Have I let go of my pride and truly sacrificed to show them what our Savior is like?  Am I doing this for God?  Do they understand they have to make sacrifices too?  Do they know they HAVE to leave the their lives of sin and conform to the Lord?  Is your message constant and consistent with God’s never changing law?

Scary question time.  Does my church look any different than the rest of the world?  Non believers have seen people sing, pray, dance, etc.  Many have sat through sermons before.  In short, they have seen it all.  Everything but Jesus, that is.  Does your church look different than anything else they have seen before?  Is your church the body of Christ serving God?  Will the fruit of your work yield more soldiers for God who yearn to sacrifice for Him, or when the harvest comes, will they just want one more song?

Christ didn’t gamble on us

Perhaps it may help to understand the mind of Christ when He came to earth.  Or, to be more precise, where His mind wasn’t.  A quick glance in Isaiah 53 can clear this up for us.

“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.  Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we counted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This was written in scripture quite some time before Jesus came to earth.  In fact, this was the scripture He came to fulfill.  The point i want to make today is very basic.  Jesus didn’t come to us on a bet.  It was NOT a gamble.  He and God didn’t have a disagreement about mankind.  Jesus didn’t leave heaven exclaiming, “You’ll see!, they will change!”.  He didn’t come to earth, first with a goal of saving us, and the cross was merely His backup plan.  The sin had already been committed.  The cross was already the ONLY plan Jesus had.  And if you are sitting there thinking, “Well, duh!”.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Jesus still came.

We sing about Him on the cross and how he could have called 10,000 angels to set Him free from his torture and death.  But we rarely realize that this was not Jesus’ first introduction to the plan.  The cross wasn’t an ‘uh-oh’ moment for Jesus.  The cross was His destination all along.  He knew, from before birth in the manger, that His life here was about pain, humiliation, backstabbing, manipulation, and death.  All from the folks He loved and wanted to save.

He still came.  In other words… humanity did not disappoint.  God knew blood had to be paid, and who better to handle that?  Like clockwork, we found out Jesus was better.  He was holy, he was pure, he was unwavering in His faith.  And we knew very quickly He had to die so we could get on with our corrupt lives.  We all performed God’s plan to perfection that day.  Jesus showed up, prepared to die.  And the sinners showed up, prepared to kill the innocent Savior.

This isn’t revolutionary, but I hope a change in perspective might help with the magnitude of what Jesus did for us.  His trip to earth wasn’t a mission gone south.  The cross wasn’t the result of poor timing, missed opportunities, or misinformed planning.  The cross is EXACTLY what was planned in response to our refusal to honor God.  And we made it possible.  In fact, we carried it out.  He knew.  He knew our hatred, our greed, our corruption, our pride, and He still came.  He also knew God.  He knew God didn’t bluff.  He knew God loved mankind in spite of our actions.  He knew God wouldn’t send him here with a hidden agenda or with a secret plan B.  He knew His mission was the cross.  He knew when He carried it on His bloody back, He knew when He was adored by cattle and wise men in the barn.

So my question for today is… now that we KNOW what He did for us and what we did to Him.  What will we do today in response?

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Greetings Sinner!

Good morning sinners!

Or, would you prefer to be addressed as something else? Something a little less blunt and honest? Lets face it, you most likely read that greeting and hung your head down knowing you have a checkered past that you regret, or you got angry because you are living in denial. We are all sinners. Some of us have just forgotten about that. Some of us don’t want to be reminded as it’s in our past.

There is a movement that I have noticed among Christians that seems to have lifted a passage or two out of our Bibles.

“Do not judge” Matthew 7:1

Whew! It’s still there. What a powerful and complete thought in three blunt and irrefutable words. Why not judge? Well we don’t even have to turn the page to find out why we shouldn’t judge. It’s the very next sentence. If you judge, you will be judged. And that verse is extremely threatening because each one of us deserves the cross for our sins. Some of us have dropped to our knees and made life sweeping changes at the thought of Jesus taking on our sins and redeeming us from our fate.

And for those of us that know Jesus personally, we get that verse. We get Paul. The Christian murderer who went on to proclaim Christ and who has become a saint in the eyes of many new believers. We understand the prostitute. The woman whose death-sentence was being carried out until Jesus gave permission for any perfect person around to finish her off. With no one able to meet that criteria she walked away a new woman with a simple command, “sin no more”. Why no more? Because Jesus knew what his cross meant for us. It was a dividing line that bridged a massive gap between yesterday and today. Yesterday we lived in sin and today we live in Jesus. The cross did that. His sacrifice for us did that. Jesus allows us to live a new life, innocent of our past.

So all we have left to tidy up this gift of salvation is our hypocrisy. Our ability to thank God for forgiving us from our past and then turning to our neighbor and condemning them for theirs.

And here is the really hard part. We all know people we would love to forgive right now. Or at least allow God to forgive them… but we know deep down that if we did that, we would have to allow forgiveness for others, and that would put them all on the same playing field. And, if we are brutally honest (which is the only kind of honesty) that makes us sick. We want to forgive one person while claiming another person is irredeemable.

“That all of them may be one”. John 17:21. Jesus’ final prayer to God before being executed. We are one in our sin. We are one in our forgiveness. Jesus wants us all to be one in Him. He knew then, that evil would tempt us towards division.

I’m not proud of my sin. I’m actually proud of very little in my life. But I find great pride in my future. I am happy and secure in God’s promises for me. And the thing I’ve noticed in my short life as a forgiven Christian, is that I’m not looking at the sins of others, when I’m looking at God. I’m not judging others, when I’m trying to improve my own life.

I’m not much on challenging others or calling people out. But I thought this verse was particularly helpful to me today. I can imagine the rebuttals, and the exceptions, and the what-ifs being hurled directly, indirectly, or even under the reader’s breath. But this verse speaks for itself. Lets try it out:

But….

Do not judge.

You are forgetting…

Do not judge.

How about…

Do not judge.

But…

Do not judge.

This person…

Do not judge.

The Bible also says…

Do not judge.

Aren’t you judging us right now?

Do not judge (besides, it’s a loving reminder :p)

I like it when it’s simple. Jesus knew the minds of people. If only one person stood before the prostitute with rock in hand, ready to stone her to death for her sin, and Jesus gave them a chance to admit sin in their own lives… they could have easily justified throwing with full force. Our minds are tricky that way. We can rationalize a lot of things. But this was a community of believers. They looked around at each other and their minds began to fact check. That guy knew me when I was a teenager, I can’t throw this in front of him. She saw me after prom, I can’t throw in front of her. All alone we can summarize a quaint, perfect, existence for ourselves… until we remember we have a past. And then we catch a glimpse of those we have wronged ready to cast blame at another.

As a community of believers, we have strength in sobering up to our true pasts and current selves. As one, the one unit that Jesus prayed we would be, we can’t honestly cast stones at each other. It’s far too easy to judge. The enemy uses it as a sucker’s game to lure us in and we just keep dropping money until, before we know it, we are broke. The high road is to follow the scripture. “Do not judge”. Period. Amount of anger does not matter. Level of depravity does not matter. Humiliation suffered does not matter. There isn’t an asterisk in the ancient manuscript that points us to all of the exceptions where it’s OK to judge. Its simply never allowed. Instead, we have bigger fish to fry. We have sin in our own lives that needs forgiveness. We have enemies to pray for, possibly the very ones we are tempted to judge. We have service to provide. We have a world that desperately needs to see the love of Jesus in each of our hearts.

A judgmental heart is accompanied by an idle mind. One that has the time and energy to put towards work against the will of God. Harsh? Perhaps. But let’s be honest, we’re all sinners. And we need each other focused on God and leaning on each other in the spirit of love. We need each other judgement free, so that we can confess to each other, work with each other, love one another, and be one with each other.

Let me try one final analogy. Eternity isn’t the time where we start learning to get along. I would go so far as to say that it will be a required trait to have mastered BEFORE we leave this side of life.