Sunday, June 30, 2024

REAL Real Estate

Remember all those people, sitting on the mountainside, listening to this new Rabbi expound on what He called "the Kingdom of God?"

When Jesus first started teaching that day, what might they have been thinking? 

But don't we already have a kingdom of  God, Rabbi Yeshua?  But, now that you have started teaching, it sounds so different than what I expected--It's our faith, yes, but different...less about following the rules and more about, how shall I say it? Showing our love for God not only in what we say and do, but in our attitude as well, right? 

Did a hush descend upon the people when Jesus finished?  

Or, when they thought He had finished? He just talked about those who seemingly follow Him, but because they are false in their devotion and are motivated by self, He will repudiate them and send them away, calling them "evildoers." 

End of sermon, right? 

It's a natural ending--Jesus teaches the true aspects of the Kingdom and then warns His audience not to be deceived by those who will come and twist His words for their own gains, even if they do amazing things in His name, such as prophesying and driving out demons.  They may appear to be serving Jesus, but they are not motivated by doing "the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

He could have been done at that point.  But Jesus says something remarkable to wrap up His teachings on that hillside:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27) [emphasis mine]

With all due respect, Rabbi, your words?  Not only your words, but actually putting them into practice--acting on them, doing what you say...Wow.  Isn't that a bit presumptuous?  I mean, you are a knowledgeable rabbi, to be sure, but you are implying that your words are equal to the Torah.  Your commentary and the Torah stand together. Wow. It is hard to ignore the power of your words, and the truth that echoes through them is like a trumpet blown in a valley...

In fact, we have the exact reaction the crowd had to Jesus' teaching: 

"When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." (Matt. 7:28-9)

So, it wasn't just what He said, but how He said it...forcefully, and with authority.  Not as the people He described just a bit earlier who seek to deceive others; somehow, some way, the people sensed He was true to His words, that He had no hidden agenda and was speaking as a prophet. 

He was speaking God's words, in effect.  Just like the prophets of old.  

Now, this Rabbi made no claims of being a prophet until He reached the last portion.  There, Jesus is saying that His words are a firm foundation upon which to build.  He brought the Torah to the center of His teaching and then commented on it, and now He is ending His teaching with, The Torah is still front and center, but my commentary is an essential component of it.  I have not added to it but I have given it back its life and you, if you walk in this, will have new life as well.  

Jesus began His teaching with "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and now He's saying, 

You know what makes someone's spirit move into poverty?  The winds, the rains, and the storms of life that pummel the person year after year after year.  It's when someone is standing and watching all that they hold dear wash away--the death of a child, not enough money, not enough food, an angry spouse, a chaotic household--all of this and more will drive a person into despair. The sound of the rain that never seems to end; the raging water that has no mercy--where the good and the bad, the pious and impious, the great and the small--all are thrown into the rapids and their lives are knocked about against life's rocks, giving them a spiritual vertigo and making life terribly unsatisfying. 

But wait!  I have an answer.  The rains, wind and raging water will still come.  Our world is fallen, and the prince of this world will seek to create chaos and pain wherever and whenever he can.  But, guess what?  Implement what I have taught: Engage your heart, mind and spirit in exercising love, forgiveness, right thinking and intimate time with our Father, and you will be able to withstand all that the world throws at you.  

You will stand by your house, sopping wet, but you will still be standing, and you will have hope in the sun returning.

Hope in the Son.  

Hope because of the Son. 

That was Jesus' parting thought. 

Jesus commented what the Law was in the letter of it ("You have heard it said...") and then moved the Law into the spirit of it ("But I tell you...") 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Wolves, Bad Fruit and Powerful Deception

Recently, we have looked at the verses where Jesus discusses the narrow gate, the wide gate and the road that leads out from it that will destroy those who travel it, and false prophets--those who would act like sheep but will attack the flock as soon as an opportunity presents itself.  

Everyone listening to Jesus that day would recognize the ferocity of wolves and its predations upon sheep.  They probably have seen, either first hand as shepherds, or through stories, the horrors of what wolves do to sheep. Then Jesus switches metaphors and uses fruit as a way to think about identifying if this person is a false prophet or not.  Because good trees bare good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit, looking at the lives of people is a good indicator of the nature of their hearts. 

In harmony with Jesus' earlier words about not judging others, due to our own moral failures, He doesn't say, "Well, look at the fruit and let 'em have it with words they need to hear due to their reprobate hearts!"  No. Fruit inspection is just that:  Looking and evaluating as opposed to judging.

What's the difference? Judging is taking a stance of distance from the person. Let's look at one parable where Jesus address this very problem: 

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Boom.  The Pharisee distanced himself from his fellow man, based on a self-imposed level of righteousness that the other man could never live up to!  

So, what is Jesus saying?  Judging is about disconnecting from each other, based on personal definitions of righteousness.  Notice that the Pharisee blathers on about what he does but the tax collector submits himself to God based on who he is, and he is all too aware he has fallen short of what God demands. The heart of this man echoes these words: "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:17). So, he prays, knowing God is there, despite his failings, and loves him deeply.

So, what is fruit inspection all about?  Discernment.  The people Jesus is warning us about those who style themselves as prophets, healers, teachers and whose motivation is to destroy you.  Maybe not literally, but whose deception and betrayal may cause you to walk away from God altogether, having been deeply wounded by someone claiming to be a teacher or healer, in God's service. 

Distancing yourself from people like this is wisdom, not condemnation. Jesus is not saying walk away and distance yourself from anyone who you suspect has moral failings; He is saying walk away from anyone who claims to be doing something for the Kingdom of God, but is actually doing it for the world's kingdom.  

Face the truth of what the fruit is showing you. 

Look at the next verses after the ones in Matthew 7:15-20, where identifying the fruit is a way to recognize what kind of person this is:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matt. 7:21-23)


These are people whose moral failings have so permeated who they are that they are not only living lives where they have deceived themselves, but they want to deceive others.  In fact, they are very persuasive--they even have a power that "verifies" their claims:  They prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles--all honorable kingdom work, right?  But where is their power coming from?  You guessed it--not from the Kingdom of God's King, but from the prince of this world.  So, instead of humbly confessing their brokenness and need of a Savior, (like the tax collector in the parable) their pride has poisoned them.  They don't distance themselves from humanity; they prey on it.  

Earlier Jesus refers to such people as "dogs" and "pigs": “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matt. 7: 6).  You are a pearl to God, and He wishes you to never be subjected to that kind of abuse, that kind of treatment.  Notice that Jesus is saying don't give the sacred to the unsacred.  Is that judging them?  No: because the fruit of their lives will reveal their canine or porcine nature and thus,  you are to avoid them.  

Let God do the judging in His own time. You, in the meantime, cut a wide berth from them as you pursue the life in the Kingdom of God. 

Let me illustrate this with a story.  I served in a small community church who was looking for a pastor, because the current one wanted to retire.  We had one man come and preach, but we were not impressed.  Then, one day, a man showed up and very quickly he became our pastor. We were so desperate to fill the position, we were not very discerning or asked the right questions and just let him jump in. (Red flag #1). 

The new pastor requested that the retiring pastor not be involved on the board, but he could attend the church. In other words, there would be no transition, no mentoring--just a quick removal from the position that the retiring pastor had held for years.  The new pastor even intimated that it might be best for this pastor not to attend the church for awhile, and come back in five months. (Red flag #2)

The old pastor was devastated but we soldiered on.

The new pastor had one good year in him and in that year he preached the Word with strength and conviction.  He lead a Bible study, but seemed to not like being asked questions--he just wanted to teach. (Red flag #3)  One of the couples who was hosting the study grew increasingly upset, but we soldiered on, despite some legitimate concern for his attitude.  

The new pastor stated he wanted to do a radio ministry, and at a board meeting, one of the elders asked him how much it would cost.  The anger in the pastor's eyes was very evident (at least to me) and he said that this is what God wanted him to do as well as the church. When I found out how much it would cost (and this was a little country church) the pastor still seemed undeterred and wanted to move forward. (Red flag #4) 

He didn't disclose to us when we hired him that he was a prosperity gospel adherent, and a fairly intense charismatic; for some, that wouldn't have been a problem, but this was a non-denominational church, so we were uncomfortable with his increasing insistence on this kind of theology. He accused us that our church was not growing because we didn't speak in tongues. (Red flag #5) There was already such a church in town, so the people who came weren't looking for that kind of church.  

But after one year, when all the sermons he had learned from other pastors had been preached, his preaching grew more erratic and not biblical. (Red flag #6)

He didn't visit the sick in our church and would dismiss their illnesses by saying, "I never get sick." (Red flag #7)

He didn't visit a family whose father attended out church and had passed away. (Red flag #8)

He wanted to just show up, preach and go home. (Red flag #9)

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  The bad fruit was there, but because he was doing some good in our church with several people there, we ignored it, figuring we might be misinterpreting what we were seeing. 

By the time we found out that he had lied about a great many things, sold our sound equipment and pocketed the money and "borrowed" money from a struggling single mom, his fruit was painfully evident.  But the church closed its doors and he left. Sadly, we saw the wolf in sheep's clothing way too late. 

His good works were now tainted with all of his lies and manipulations.  Was an evil man?  No.  We learned a lot about the Word, but his fruit revealed a man who never should have been in leadership.

That, I believe, is what Jesus is getting at:  We can assist a fallen brother, but do so in a manner that does not involve judging him.  But we must not endanger ourselves either. But a broken brother (as this man was) who is prideful, (as this man was) not humble and who used the church for his own ends (as he did) should have never been a leader of any kind.  He had a lot of personal work to do, and yet, in our eagerness to have a pastor, we ignored the red flags and allowed him to guide us.

He hurt a lot of people along the way.  

He had been severely abused by his father, and had served in Viet Nam.  He was very intelligent, but he was also very manipulative and knew how to deceive people.   

He claimed that God had taken all the bad away and he was fine (Red flag #10). 

We are all on a journey of healing and being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, but that takes time. If someone is emotionally broken, the restoration process is not accomplished by one prayer in one moment. Naming and claiming a healing is not healing.  Healing is a process for most of us; God does deliver some people very quickly, to be sure, but they still have work to do, as we all do. I've seen that most people need time, love, care and accountability to others in order to heal.  

The key here is Jesus' words, "I never knew you. Away form Me, you evildoers!" (v. 23)  Do we truly know and serve Jesus with a humble heart or do we use His name for our own ends?  Do we allow accountability in our lives from trusted believers, or do we operated as a lone wolf, accountable only to ourselves and our claims of having a direct line to God?  

This pastor once told me that God told him what to do and he then told the church what to do. That is not biblical model.  We are a community of believers, loving, praying and confronting (if need be) our brother or sister in a spirt of  restoration.  

I am claiming this brother did not know Jesus?  No.  That would be judging him, for only God can truly know and see into our hearts. 

But, in light of what Jesus teaches here, the Kingdom of God must be lead by humble men and women, who want only the best for the body of Christ and are discerning because they are led by the Spirit. 

Those who follow them in the Kingdom of God must also be discerning because they are led by the Spirit.   

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fruit Inspectors

Interesting to note, in the previous verses, Jesus uses active verbs:  ask, seek, knock.  Why be so active in this Kingdom of God?  Because as Jesus explains, you have a heavenly Father who longs to give you "good gifts," and because you should do to others what you would have them do to you, those gifts are not selfish or designed for you only.  If you are blessed with abundance--money, compassion, time, wisdom, to name a few--then share as your Father shared with you.

Makes sense, right?  Because maybe next time, you would like someone to share their gift with you.  

But then Jesus makes an interesting observation about all of this.  He talks about it in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Hmmm.  Doesn't this contradict the rather expansive idea of the Kingdom of God? That the poor, the broken-hearted, those who are hungry and thirsty, all have a place at the table, and yet here it seems Jesus is narrowing the access.

No.  He is narrowing where you get your information.

Consider the next passages with that in mind: 

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:15-20)

The "narrow gate" is outlined by Jesus in His sermon.  His words, His teaching are "narrow" compared to all the other teachings that will vie for the audience's attention once they leave the hillside after Jesus' sermon is over. The Kingdom of God, while Jesus is speaking, feels to near, so possible, so beautiful.  But once off that hill, back into the religion of the religious leaders, and suddenly, all that possibility recedes and is replaced with burdens, to-do's and a rather joyless relationship with God the Father. 

The gate that religion proposes is wide open and with a push of a large gate, you 're in and on the road.  But then the restrictions start coming and the road grows longer and longer.  The do's and don'ts take over and that width seems suffocating.

It just seemed so wide and free at the beginning and now?  You are on a road destined for destruction. Width and easy gates are not invitations to intimacy with God:  they are shackles described as "freedom."

But where does the invitation to go wide and go home comes from?  Jesus moves into the next part of the teaching:  "false prophets" dressed as "wolves in sheep's clothing."  

False prophets will tell you all about the freedom that awaits you--how their revelation is from God and here what's you need to do in order to gain heaven.

Wait a minute.  Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God, and if He is who He says He is, then there is no other way.  The road and gate are Him, and once you enter by His gate and walk down His road, there is no other way.  Yes, compared to all the other "ways" out there vying for your attention, His way and His road do seem rather narrow, yet if He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then it is narrow:  the focus is on Jesus and on Him alone. 

Jesus is warning His audience that amongst the sheep are individuals who will exploit your desire for a quick and easy answer, with little or no effort on you part.  Just ask the person and BOOM! here's what to do.  Easy breezy.

But all along, Jesus is talking about intimacy with a loving God, so that when you go into your secret place to listen for and to Him, you will know He cares deeply for you.

But we like to short-circuit that time, that effort, and land on answers with little work. 

I once asked a Jehovah's Witness why she went from being a Baptist to joining this church and she said, "They have all the answers."  She could look in their little books and find what she was looking for, in an easy to read format that seemed so right.

But the road to destruction always seems so right until you are far along it, and then realize you are now trapped.

Jesus wanted His audience and us to know how to discern false prophets. He described them as "ferocious wolves."  Not a flattering description, but Jesus did not play nice when truth was at stake, and when someone's life (spiritually and otherwise) was at risk.  

So, how do we know?  Look at their lives--their "fruit."  Jesus says that good fruit comes from good trees, and bad fruit from bad trees. But, how do you know the good from the bad?

Not by observing each other, (we are all fallen) but by observing Jesus and His way of teaching and living out His message.  Every thing He taught, He did. He never flinched when following His own words, because His words came from a heart that sincerely loved God and people.  He never asked His followers to do anything that He wouldn't do or hadn't already done.

A dear lady in my church decided to move to another state and go to a university run by a man who preaches prosperity gospel.  I know of this man's ministry having read one of his books, because a pastor I served under was a dedicated admirer.  So much so that he donated to his university so that he could be blessed and have his own.

I didn't think much of it until I received a letter from her, trying to raise money for a very expensive missionary trip, that was part of the program in this university.  The cost seemed exorbitant, after I looked at airline tickets, cost of living, etc.  I then went online and found the university's tax returns and the leaders' ones as well--all are public record.

Not only was his university was millions of dollars in debt, so was he. 

I was stuck by the incongruity.  Here is a man who preaches God wants us to be prosperous and blessed in all of our endeavors, yet he is in tremendous debt.  Why isn't his prosperity message playing out in his own life?  In his university?

I sent this woman all of what I found with a letter sharing my dismay about how his teaching didn't match his message, and how this huge amount of money for this trip might be used to offset the dire finances of his university. 


I was saddened.  I was once lured away from focusing on Jesus' teachings to that of a pastor's, so I get it. I explained to her I know what that's like: going to someone with all the answers, lured by finding myself part of something exciting and miraculous.

But false prophets know what people want, and sadly, it's easy to get lured into their territory. 

I was spiritually very wounded when I finally ventured back into Jesus's territory and I was seeking to spare her the pain. 

I saw her many months later at our church, when she was visiting, and she looked away.  I am grieved I hurt her, but I couldn't just stand by and say nothing.

We are all at risk for substituting Jesus for a person standing in front of us with "all the answers."

But the gate is narrow and so is the road.  Why?  So you and Jesus can walk through it and start down the road with no one slipping by or trying to push you out of the way. 

The gate and the road are wide enough for just two. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Ask, Seek, Knock: The Verbs of the Kingdom of God

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount has a certain flow to it.  The previous section talked about judging others, failing to see what is wrong in our own lives and seeking to tell others what is wrong in theirs.  Jesus warns us to not expect the profane to appreciate or value the sacred--they will destroy what you brought to them and then turn on you.

Then Jesus moves into this portion in Matthew 7:7-12: 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Jesus is giving us the Constitution of the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount.  How do we live in this new Kingdom, whose values seems so diametrically opposed to how we think and how we act? 

Think of our Constitution. Picture yourself living in the colonies in 1776.  It's one thing to say that the monarchy is not a government that honors the God-given rights that are ours; what the king gives, the king can take away.  We, listening to the Fathers debate on the failures of Parliament and the king, might have given a hearty, "Hear! Hear!"  But we would have that niggling feeling that if we don't have a king, then what do we do? 

After the Declaration of Independence was sent to Britain and we fought in the war that resulted, we faced the daunting business of running this new Republic.   We all remember the Articles of Confederation didn't quite make for a smooth-running government and its ability to handle the nascent nation's issues; hence, our Fathers wrote the Constitution and it as guided us ever since.  It explores what the government can and cannot do, and what we as citizens can do when our rights are threatened. 

The Sermon on the Mount is, in effect, the Constitution of the Kingdom of God.  The people, sitting on the hillside that day when Jesus began to speak, probably were wondering if Jesus was just another rabbi with some nice ideas that they would enjoy and then would go home to face the same life, the same problems. 

Jesus was advocating a new way of living:  in a Kingdom that looked nothing like the world, with none of its values and promises.  Whatever the world said was OK, the Kingdom said the opposite. Whatever the Kingdom said was the way to live, the world would scorn and revile those who thought this way.  

In other words, the Kingdom of God was God invading the world with a new way of living, offering it  to the prisoners who were under the sway of evil and to put on notice to the evildoers that their days were numbered. 

That's why the Kingdom is so simple:  It repudiated what the religious leaders in Jesus' day had allowed for minimal piety in themselves but demanded utter compliance to those who were already burdened by life's demands, and offered a new and living way because it was based on the new and living Way--Jesus Himself. 

So, "How do we live in this Kingdom You are advocating, Rabbi Jesus?"  is an excellent question.

The answer is simple. 




Be active in the pursuit of God, not just doing rote rituals that you tick off your "to do" list and you move on. 

Good fathers give to their children what is essential for the children to thrive; why wouldn't God?  But here's the key element: Ponder how Jesus categorized the relationship between God and us: Parent and child--the most loving and endearing of relationships. This relationship is deeply woven into the fabric of creation: from human babies and their parents, to animals caring for their young, that kind of love is beautiful, sustaining and inspiring.

Love is the foundation of the Kingdom.  

The Kingdom of God could not be built on anything else.  

In asking, seeking and knocking, ask yourself this:  Is what I am going to do for someone the same thing I would like to have done to me?

If I would like someone to open a door for me when my arms are loaded sown with groceries, wouldn't someone else want the same?

I would not like to be yelled at for having failed at something, why would I turn around and yell at someone for their failure? 

When I am praying, am I looking out for the best in my request, or am I being selfish and not thinking about what the Father believes is the best for me? 
The Kingdom of God is sustained on love: for ourselves and for our neighbors. If God wants the best for us, then He wants the best for my neighbors, too.  They are His children, too.  

Jesus took the Law and the Prophets and remolded them into the Law of Love. 

The Kingdom of God is this love in action, when His children operate by love alone.

The Kingdom of God isn't easy, but if we ask, seek, and knock, God will answer our pleas for guidance and wisdom.

He will also supply the love we lack, by giving us His Holy Spirit.  His Spirit is the only way we can live out the principles that Jesus has laid out for us. 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Don't Judge Me!

Here we go with our next section in evaluating the Kingdom of God, in Matthew 7:1-6:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

"Do not judge!"  Yes, this is a verse I have heard non-Christians quote, more or less.  It's as if you cannot say anything negative about well, anything, especially anything that is popularly accepted.  

I had a fellow instructor at a community college where I taught who used to say, "Suspend judgment!" as if that was the highest moral stance you could exhibit.  

But is that what Jesus is saying, that we should never examine closely and carefully a situation and make an assessment about it? An evaluation of it?  A determination of its moral aspects to deem it right or wrong?

Well, if we are not to judge, then Jesus Himself did not live out His own teaching.  In chapter 23 of Matthew, Jesus excoriates the Pharisees with His "seven" woes: about how they make others carry heavy loads and will not help them; how their religious practices are for show; they make people unfit for heaven as they themselves are; they teach people how to be as unrighteous as they are; that using God and His Temple to enhance an oath is wrong; having a slavish devotion to the minutiae of the Law while overlooking what God really requires--"justice, mercy and faithfulness"--is unacceptable; that having a morally respectable persona while hiding a corrupt heart is wrong and that acting as if they would have supported the prophets, when in fact they plot to kill the ones God sends, is reprehensible. 

Jesus levied a lot of judgement on that group.  

What's the common denominator here?  Hypocrisy.  These leaders wanted others to live a moral life, and condemn those who, in their estimation, did not do so.  Yet they themselves fail to uphold God's moral code. 

Most Christians are very familiar with Romans 1 and use it to exclude and condemn homosexual behavior. But Paul isn't finished yet; he sees that behavior as part of a larger constellation of behaviors which are the result of not retaining the "knowledge of God': 

"Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Rom. 1:28-32)

Then Paul says: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:1-4)

Wow. Just like the Pharisees who taught God's laws but didn't live them, we too know God's expectations for moral behavior and yet we do "the same things." Judgement was not what led us to repent; it was God's love. So, how do we, who know what God expects, expect to lead someone to Him by judging them?  

Judgement never converted anyone. 

The love of Jesus does. 

Once someone joins us in the family of God, we sometimes behave towards them as if God is still judging them for who they are, and therefore so can we--wrong.  How quickly we forget that they are forgiven, not perfect. 

Just like us.   

Hypocrisy undermines this judgement stance because everyone, and I repeat everyone, falls short of what they know they should do, but do not, or act like they do when they don't.  My sin may not be as apparent as the gay couple who walks into my church, or the man who is clearly hungover on a Sunday morning, or the woman who comes wearing clothes that are sexually provocative, but my sin is still there. I may sit in the pew looking like Mrs. Respectable, but I have been merciless to those who need mercy and faithless to God and His desire to renew a right spirit within me. 

Sin doesn't have to offend someone to be sin. Sin is sin.

So, does that mean I can never judge anyone? 

Well, if you are going to engage in any kind of moral eye surgery according to Jesus, you must first examine your heart and see what sin is there.  Perhaps when you realize the sin you have in your life, your brother's plank becomes only a speck.  Your clarity of vison, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, gives you an accurate assessment. Now, you and your brother can commiserate about how blinding sin can be.  Both of you can discuss how to help each other to not allow sin to blind you in the future.

No judgement.  Just commiseration, prayer and a realization that we all struggle in different way but we still all struggle. 

Jesus does ask us to be discerning, not judging.  You don't get to stand on a corner and call out the pigs and the dogs.  You need to understand that pigs and dogs are not going to embrace you and thank you for pointing out their rather unsettling qualities and lifestyle. Just expecting your faith to be celebrated and adored by those who do not know Jesus is not realistic--they do not have (yet) the heart of Christ. They trample and tear what you have because they do not have the Spirit of God in them.

You discern their spiritual condition and then ask the Holy Spirit for the right time, words and attitude.  

Whatever theses people are, you cannot judge them--that is not your prerogative.  It is God's.  Your role, as a member of the Kingdom of God, is to wait on the Holy Spirit to guide you in either engage with the person, or to guide you away.  

Not every need is for you to address. We are to be good and faithful servants by listening and doing only what He asks, and in an attitude that reflects the Master. 

A final word.  Recently, I saw a young woman with a sign and a baby stroller near the entrance to a Walmart parking lot.  I was leaving and I noticed she was using the sign to cover her face.  I wanted to keep going, but God asked me to turn around and go and talk with her.  I try to be discerning every time I see someone looking for a handout; many a time, I drive on by.

But not that day. 

I had a lot of groceries and ask God to not allow everything to defrost. I parked and walked over to her.  It was a warm day and her baby was in the stroller, with a bottle tilted to her mouth, propped on a pillow.  The baby was far too young to navigate the bottle that way. The young woman wanted money.  I told her we have a women's shelter in town and they would provide a safe place for her and her baby.  She said she needed money to get back to Oklahoma City.  Her husband was in Portland, Oregon and didn't get the job he was promised.

I again brought up the shelter and how money wasn't going to solve the problem; she needed to be in a safe place with her baby. She said churches don't do anything for her--they only give her food. (!) 

I would have driven her and her baby to the shelter in a heartbeat, if she had asked me. I realized that her plea was rehearsed, to keep on insisting for money for gas, despite not appearing to have anywhere to live. 

The longer we talked, the more uncomfortable I got.  I just pictured some abusive boyfriend/husband having schooled her in how to insist that money was the solution to her problem and would demand her takings at the end of the day.  She had a thick accent and it was hard to understand everything she said, but I sense her agitation when she realized I wasn't just going to give her money. 

I wished her well and walked off.   

I prayed for her on the way home and fought the disgust I felt. (I think disgust is the precursor to judgment, because then you feel justified to say unkind things.)

The Kingdom of God is about motivation--are we true to the Spirit's guidance or are we hiding something and acting super-spiritual to hide it?  Are we really loving others in Jesus' name or are we acting like we love them but we want to change them into what we think is right, instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to do the transforming? 

The Kingdom of God is not an easy place to reside in, but it's where we find Jesus and the power He gives us in order to live there and to be its emissaries.  

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