Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Tolerance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tolerance. Show all posts

Monday, March 15, 2021

Don't Judge Me


In this sermon series, we are comparing the prevailing wisdom of the world to the way of Christ. So far, this has meant contrasting what Jesus said to what the world says. But in today’s message, we see that sometimes people misuse what Jesus said.

One of my pet-peeves is when people misquote someone on social media. Do you know what I mean? For instance, look at this meme of Abraham Lincoln that says, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.” Now this humorous meme illustrates a point about something that happens all the time. It’s just too easy to see a sentiment you like that’s been attributed to some famous person and you share it. And because some famous person said it, it must be true. Right? Not really.  

A more insidious form of false information is “fake news” where false information presented as “fact” is spread so widely people accept it as truth.  We are overwhelmed with so much information, who has the time to check every source and verify all the information we receive?  And so fake news is passed along and goes viral until everyone believes it's true.

Recently, I was guilty of sharing false information myself. I saw a supposed quote from CS Lewis’ book The Screw Tape Letters that was turned into a meme that seemed so fitting for our times.  Fortunately, a couple of my friends (gently) alerted me that (though the sentiment is good) this quote is not an authentic CS Lewis quote.  After checking, I verified that is not in CS Lewis’ book. 

Many people misuse Jesus’ words.  I will never forget being a young pastor of a small church in Griffin when a lady stopped by seeking assistance with her rent.  She told me a story of how she was down on her luck and needed some help.  Well, we were a small church with a very small budget.  We didn’t have the funds to help her, but my church treasurer worked at the local Salvation Army.  I told the lady my church couldn’t help her, but I had a contact at the Salvation Army who could probably help her.  I was in the process of calling my member to get her to help when the lady I was trying to help flew off the handle and stormed out the door shouting, “Jesus said do not judge!” 

Well, I wasn’t judging her.  I was trying to help her and probably could have if she hadn’t stormed out of my church in a rage while misquoting Jesus.  Jesus did say, “Do not judge,” but it doesn’t mean what this lady thought it meant and it doesn’t mean what most people in our world think either.  So let’s take a look at two things Jesus said. 

Matthew 7:1 & 12:33
7:1 – “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

12:33 – “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”

In Matthew 7:1, Jesus is preaching against being judgmental. Being judgmental is rushing to judgment without reason. It describes someone who forms a lot of harsh, critical opinions about many people. It describes the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who tried so hard to follow the Torah perfectly and criticized anyone who didn’t live up to their standards. Their judgements revealed their lack of love and compassion for people. They saw themselves as better than everyone else.  Jesus preached: Don’t be like that. Don’t be judgmental. If you spend all your time pointing out everyone else’s problems, you won’t take a good hard look at yourself and see all your own flaws for which you desperately need forgiveness and healing.

We live in a world that holds two values in the highest esteem—freedom and tolerance. First of all, we value freedom. I mean, this is America, right? We can live however we want. Furthermore, this is the 21st century. Most people don’t want to confine themselves to what they consider outdated moral constructs of the past. We are modern people who live modern lives. We don’t want anyone telling us the way we live is wrong.  That's the prevailing attitude of our times.

Second, we value tolerance, because there are so many difference people living different ways by different moral standards.  Who is to say who is really right and wrong?  So, we must learn tolerance. We say, "I’ll let you be you and you let me be me."  Ironically, the people who preach tolerance the most can be some of the most intolerant people you will find. They preach tolerance of their own behavior when it offends moral standards they consider outdated, but they want to “cancel” anyone who doesn’t live up to their own “new” moral expectations.  Tolerance, in our times, is a one way street.  

So, people take Jesus’ command not to be judgmental and make it, “Don’t judge me!” That’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus never expected people give up on thinking critically about what is right and wrong. Furthermore, he even taught that we should look at the way people live and make informed judgments about whether it is good or bad.  Since Christians live together in community, we are supposed to hold one another accountable.  This important work requires us to use good judgment and even tell one another when we see behavior that is unhealthy.

In Matthew 12:33, Jesus teaches, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” Now, Jesus is not really talking about fruit trees. He’s using an illustration. He’s saying, look at the results of a person’s life. Has their work produced good or bad results? Have they made the world a better place or is the fruit of their life all rotten?

I don't ever want to come to a place where we just accept as truth whatever "most" people say.  Let's always remember how to look deeper at the facts and evaluate and find the truth.

Use Good Judgment
Jesus expects you to use good judgment.  Don’t ever let someone bully you by throwing a misquote of Jesus up in your face.  Don’t ever feel guilty for using the brain God gave you to judge for yourself about a person or situation.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all you mind, and all your strength.  So use your mind.  And of course, you want to avoid a judgmental attitude where you think of yourself as better than someone else.  But you still need to make a good, informed decisions.

Don’t try to deny others the freedom to judge you either—especially when you know them to have your best interest at heart.  Isn’t it interesting, we usually want to throw around Jesus’ words “do not judge” when we ourselves are feeling judged?  Someone says something we perceive as judging us and we immediately want to retort back “Don’t judge me!”

Really?  Do you really want to deny others the permission to help you?  You know, sometimes people see things about you that you can’t see about yourself.  If you are a Christian, you have committed your life to follow Jesus—in community with other Christians who are there to help you and you are there to help them.  Part of the way we help each other is by seeing each other’s flaws and (not being judgmental, but) speaking the truth in love.  Are you open to letting someone else tell you a hard truth?  Are you able to prayerfully, carefully, and lovingly tell someone else the truth in a non-judgmental way?

Do you have the kind of close relationships with other Christians where sharing constructive criticism is even possible.  You know, you have to earn the right to share some things with people.  You don't just go up to a stranger on the street and start telling them all about their flaws.  You wouldn't want someone you don't know and trust to do that to you either.  So, you have to spend time getting to know people and tending the relationship ad building trust to the point that you can give and receive some deep accountability.  When you do, they may get mad at you for a day, but that will probably pass and they will receive what you share because of the relationship you have. And the same would be true if a true sister or brother in Christ came to you and told you something your didn't want to hear, but needed to hear.

Closing Meditation
As we close, I would like to lead you in a meditation to help you consider how you could let go of a judgmental attitude and be open to making the right kinds of judgments according to the Spirit of Christ.  So open your heart to God right now as you read.

Ask yourself, do you think you are better than someone else? What about the person who doesn't live the way you think they should live? What about the person who hurt you, betrayed you, or sinned against you?  Are you better than them?  Are you better than the younger generation (who just doesn't get it because they don't know how life works)? Do you think you are better than the older generation (who have lost touch with the modern world and still believe in outdated ideas)?  Are you better than someone else?  Who?

I invite you to repent of your feelings of superiority. You are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Take a moment to ask Jesus to forgive you and let go of your judgmental attitudes...

Now, ask God to help you have good judgment. Ask Him for wisdom to be a good judge of character—not as a way to feel superior, but—so you will know who to trust and who to avoid…

Now, ask God to give you humility so you may receive constructive that might help you grow as a person…

Finally, ask God to reveal any ways you may need to share constructive criticism with someone you love…

Closing Prayer
"Father God in Heaven, thank You for revealing Your truth for us today and for hearing our prayers.  Help us to follow the way of Christ that uses good judgment but avoids being judgmental.  Help us to have the kinds of deep personal relationships with others that enable us to hold and be held accountable and to grow to become more and more like Christ, Your perfect Son.  In His name we pray, amen."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave.  The evil powers of the world threw everything they had at Jesus.  The arrested him, tried him in the middle of the night before a kangaroo court, tortured him, and crucified him.  Judas betrayed him.  His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him.  They threw him in a tomb and thought it was over.  The darkness came.  It lasted all through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday morning.  But then, then the Light of the World rose up out of the grave!  The shadows were shot through with Light.  Darkness can never over come the Light!  Jesus said, I AM the resurrection and the Life. And he proved it.  Lots of people talk a big talk, but Jesus is the only one who said the big words, "I am the resurrection and the life..." and then also backed those words up with action.

Christians are an Easter people.   Just as Jesus overcame the grave, Christians find hope and resurrection in all circumstances (with God’s help). Though this is not the way we would choose to celebrate Easter, we celebrate it anyway.  And it is a celebration!  Jesus is alive!  Christians are an Easter people and we always find a way to have hope, and life, and joy and peace when none of these things should be possible.  And it drives the Devil crazy!

For nearly 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus.  Who was he?  How did he have such a tremendous impact on our world?  How can the people who call themselves by His name be so determined and so able to rise up above the disasters of this life?  How can following this man--a man who was not educated or powerful or wealthy or of a high standing--lead people to find light in the darkest times?  Who is this man and how is he still relevant today?

And so people in our world, non-believers--have try to rationalize it or explain Jesus and the Christian movement away.  They have speculated this or that about Jesus.  However, if we really want to know about Jesus, perhaps we should listen to what he said about himself.  He told us exactly who he is and why he came and why it matters.  Using seven statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

I AM the bread of life.  In other words, I am the only one who truly satisfies our soul.
I AM the light of the world, the one who overcomes darkness.
I AM the gate, the only way into God’s sheltering presence.
I AM the good shepherd, the one who knows everything about us and takes care of us and even lays              down his life for us.
I AM the true vine, the One who makes our life fruitful and sweet.
I AM the resurrection and the life, the one who rises from the grave and gives us eternal life.

Today, I want to share the last “I Am” statement Jesus made.  And this is a very important message to which you need to listen and take to heart.

John 14:6
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."

Living in a Pluralistic Society
First, I want to look at the last part of Jesus’ statement, because we must come to grips with this first.  It is very important.  Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except thought me.”  That is a hard statement for many to accept. 

America is very diverse and that can be a very good thing.  I love food, all kinds of food, and I am grateful in America I can enjoy Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and many other varieties as well.  (You can tell I love to eat!)  And it's not just food.  We have benefited greatly in our country from a variety of ideas, points of view, backgrounds and histories, and philosophies.  And since there is so much variety, we have learned to be a tolerant people who are gracious and allow people the freedom to think and act and even worship in a variety of ways.  This is all good and we should cherish it.
However, along with diversity there comes a danger.  There is the danger that we begin to think, in our quest for tolerance, that all ways are equal and that truth is relative.  In our quest to to get along with everyone, we may begin to believe that everyone is right about everything (for to say someone is wrong would be to offend them or to say some ideas are wrong would be "intolerant").  Is the truth relative?  Does every individual get to decide for themselves what is truly true?  Can my Truth be different from your truth?

In his classic distopian book 1984, George Orwell’s tackled this question when the lead character, Winston Smith, is arrested for thought crimes by the thought police.  The interrogate, O'Brien, tells Wintson Big Brother controls what is true.  Winston argues that 2+2=4.  This is true.  It cannot change.  O'Brien says disagrees.  He argues that if Big Brother says 2+2=5 and society gets enough people to believe it then that becomes the truth.  What do you think?  Does can the truth be changed?  Can 2+2 eve equal 5?

With some things there are is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, not with your soul, not with God, not with the purpose of life, and not with eternity.  Jesus is either the only way, the only truth, and the only life or he is not.  You must decide.  Regardless of whether you accept it or not, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Your assent or disagreement to this truth does not change the truth of it in any way.  You do not determine the truth about Jesus.  He is the Great I Am.  He is who He is regardless of what you believe.

Jesus is The Way
You cannot be a Christian by default.  What I mean is, you are not a Christian merely because you were born into to a Christian family or live in a Christian community.  Nor is being a Christian simply adhering to a certain set of beliefs.  Following Jesus is a lifestyle. 

In the very beginning, Christians were not even called Christians.  The term “Christian” was not used until later.  At first, people who followed Jesus and believed he rose from the grave were called members of “The Way” because Jesus said, “I Am the Way…”

The Christian life is a life of action.  Jesus and His disciples lived the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere they went, the brought healing and hope and love.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We live the way Jesus lived.  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor as our selves.  We listen to guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and do and say as He leads.  Just as Jesus only did what the Father told him to do, so we seek only to follow God’s will for us as well.

And this is the way it is supposed to be.  It brings God’s perfect Kingdom to earth, more and more.  And as we live this way we find healing and hope and incredible fulfillment because it is the very purpose for which we were created.  There cannot be another way.  Jesus is the way.

Jesus is The Truth
Now it could be possible to do all the right things, but to do them for the wrong reasons.  There are many in our world today who have accepted that you are to be kind and loving and a good neighbor and a good citizen.  There are many who even volunteer or give generously to charity.  Some do all these things without believing in Jesus.  (Every person—whether Christian or not—should be eternally grateful that Jesus so fully ushered in the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor” that even those who are not Christian still accept this beautiful Christian principle as true.)

However, it is a dangerous thing to divorce the Way of Christian living from the Truth of Christian living.  For when you separate the Way from the Truth (the way you live from the reason why you live that way), your best virtues slowly erode away.  It is not long before you start asking, “Well, why should I care if COVID 19 kills some old person or someone with asthma or diabetes? I am young and healthy and the coronavirus won’t hurt me.  Why do I need to practice social distancing?”  Or you might think, “Why should I obey the law if I’m cunning enough to break the law and get away with it and not get caught, I will have an advantage over everyone else and I will get ahead.”  I mean, if there is no God and we are just animals and it’s just survival of the fittest, why should a person accept the foolish notions Jesus taught—things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest love is shown when someone lays down their life for someone else”.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is the Truth, then why would you follow Jesus' way?  It might all start to look like just a bunch of foolish nonsense.

Jesus is the Truth!  His truths have been admired by people from all religions throughout all time.  These are not the words of a madman or liar.  They are the words of someone more divinely inspired than any  spiritual leader who ever lived.  Could it be, they are the words of the Son of God himself.  That is what Jesus claimed.  He said, "The Father and I are one." (John 10:30)

So if you accept that Jesus us the way, you must also search to know the Truth He taught and the Truth He still want to teach you today.  “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), for it is a tremendously powerful force when you live the right way and you know why you are living that way.

Jesus is The Life
For those who follow the way of Jesus because of the Truth of Jesus, Jesus is also the life.   He is eternal life, for when these bodies we inhabit eventually wear out, we will be given a new body and live in a new heaven and a new earth God will create.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we will rise too!  It is an amazing and liberating understanding that there is more to life than just the few years we live in this world.  There is life after death!  And the promise of God is that all the wrongs and decay and suffering and sickness and sorrow of life in this broken world will be wiped away.  What a wonderful, glorious hope we have!

However, we are not just waiting to die so we can go to heaven and start real life. No. When Jesus is the way and the truth to us, he is also the life right now.  We begin the new life as soon as we start tof follow the way and truth of Christ.  And to the extend we surrender to His Truth and live out HIs Way, we begin to experience the abundant life He has planned, right now.  There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than living out the ways and truths of Jesus, for that is the purpose for which our Creator designed us.

I want to invite you to claim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for you right now.  Would you allow me to pray for you?

Dear Father in Heaven, please help the person reading this today to claim Jesus as their Way, their Truth, and their Life right now.  Help them to surrender all that they are and all that they have to You right now.  Forgive them of their sins.  Save their soul.  Renew a right heart with in them--one that truly desires to follow You completely and obediently.  Help them to know how much You love them so they will love You completely and seek to love their neighbor.  For I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.

Cling to the hope of the resurrection.  Even in darkness, even in social isolation, even with fears and anxiety looming around, even in sickness, even in the face of death itself, the glorious hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave and we will rise with Him!