“We’re All in this Together”

(Luke 4: 1-13) 1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” 8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

    and serve only him.’”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.

11 And they will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” 13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

I was in a conversation not too long ago, in which I was listening to someone share with me about her current troubles and frustrations with life.  As I responded with the typical, “I understand” and “I know how you feel,” I felt as though I seemed apathetic…like I was simply filling the silence with meaningless responses because I didn’t know what to say, which was not the case at all.  Because so many seem to respond to the heartache and woes of others in much the same way, I felt the need to explain to this person why I actually do understand her, and how much I do actually know how she feels.

Sometimes people need to know your story, to hear your temptations and even your failures, because they long to have that connection with someone else…to know that they are not alone in their trials and temptations.  In the midst of drowning in a sea of guilt, people find comfort in knowing there’s a survivor in the distance…someone with a lifeline…a way out. 

This description of Jesus being tempted by Satan is strangely comforting to me, because I love knowing that my Savior, the Word in flesh, in all of His perfection and divinity, He was tempted.  Not only was He tempted, but the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to be tempted.  Why?  Why would the Holy Spirit wish to test Jesus in such a way?  It’s not that there was ever any doubt that the Son of God would resist the cunning words of Satan, rather it was done so that we could and would have that point of connection with Him.  He was fully human, and because temptation is such a monumental part of our existence…we are surrounded by it, and at times we are consumed with it…Jesus had to experience it.  In Christ, we find not only our Savior, fully God, righteous and blameless in every way, but we also find a man, filled with compassion and empathy, tested and tempted, who we may always look to as our example of victory and hope.  He is our survivor in the distance, reaching out to us through the storm.

(Hebrews 4: 14-16, The Message) Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace that comes to us because Jesus understands our temptations.  He was victorious, therefore we too can be victorious!  Help us to remember that sometimes the best way to help someone else through their temptations and failures is to be transparent enough for them to see that we have also had our own share of tests.  Lord, we are all working toward the same goal…to one day look upon Your face.  May we always, “take the mercy, accept the help.”  Amen.

“I’d Rather Have Jesus”

(Luke 23: 18-21) 18 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) 20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

What is your Barabbas?  What’s the thing in your life that represents your willingness to trade just about anything to replace Jesus?  What do you continually release into your life that pushes Him into the corners of your heart and mind?  What is it…the thing that crucifies Him time and again?   

You already know what it is.  I am guessing it popped up in your mind almost immediately.  That’s the thing about sin…it’s a problem that we know we have in our lives.  Everyone has a Barabbas or two.  We’ve all compromised at some point.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  All.  That means every person — you…me…your parents and grandparents…even Mother Teresa and the Pope!  By our very nature, humankind has a sin problem. 

Jesus said (in Luke 9:23-25), “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”  He hadn’t even been crucified yet, but Jesus knew what was to come, and He also knew the burden that would sometimes come upon us as a result of following Him.  He knew the weight of the cross before He ever carried it, and He knew that in our human weakness we would at times get sick of that weight and drop the cross in the middle of the road.  That’s why He said to take it up daily.  Every day is a fresh start. 

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

We don’t have to start over from the beginning.  God is merciful.  We are able to pick up where we left off, never looking back at what we left behind.  His mercies are new every morning.  Each time the sun rises, both literally and figuratively, we have a clean piece of paper on which to begin writing the next chapter…brand new…but we still have to carry that cross.  Serving Christ requires a sacrifice of self…of sinful nature and the desires of our flesh.  We have to start crucifying our own selves…putting that “Barabbas” on the cross where it belongs…and stop sending Jesus back to His cross.  He’s already made that sacrifice, and once was enough to cover every sin…ever.  We have to stop trading Him in for what we desire in the moment.  Romans 12: 1-2 tells us, “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.” 

The choice is completely in our hands.  Because of God’s love and grace, we have been given the freedom to choose Him, or to keep Him at arm’s length with our sin.  So think about your own Barabbas, and you decide. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when my cross gets heavy, I know that you will help me carry it.  When I drop it, You will right there beside me…to help me pick it back up and keep moving forward.  I see my “Barabbas” for what it is.  Give me the strength and courage to choose You every single time.  Amen. 

It’s Not Fair!

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ (Matthew 20:13-15)

When I was a child, I was very disturbed by what I saw as injustice. If my sister and I were not treated equally or if I were held to different standards from the rest of my friends, I would protest to my parents, saying, “It’s not fair!” As they can attest, once I had it in my mind that I was being treated unfairly, it was very difficult for me to let it go. In fact, at one point my father jokingly recommended that I become a lawyer because of my tendency to argue the merits of my case.  However, from a young age I knew that I could never have a career in law because I would not be able to handle the flaws of our justice system (seeing the innocent wrongly punished and the guilty unpunished). Even to this day, nothing frustrates me more than when something seems unjust or unfair, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this.

I think part of the reason injustice elicits such a strong emotion from us is because we are made in the image of a just God.  There is something in us that objects when things are not as they should be. This world is broken and flawed, and when we are confronted with that brokenness our spirits declare, “This should not be!” And we are right. The world that we live in is not the world as it was designed to be. Someday God will restore the world, redeeming creation from the effects of sin, but until that day we must learn to navigate serving a just God in an unjust world.

So what does that look like?

In Matthew Chapter 20, Jesus tells the story of a vineyard owner and some day laborers hired to work in his fields.  The vineyard owner goes out at several times during the course of the day to hire more workers and when it comes time to settle up at the end of the day, he gives a full day’s wage even to those who only put in a couple of hours of work. Of course, the laborers that worked all day are incensed, feeling that they should be paid more than the latecomers.  The owner’s response is given at the top of this post, but basically he says it’s his money and he can do what he wants with it.

When I first heard this story, I found myself agreeing with the angry workers.  It just makes sense that those who work harder and longer deserve a greater reward.  However, this story is important in helping us understand that sometimes our idea of justice is lacking something from God’s perspective. What our human understanding of justice leaves out is the dimensions of grace.  God, because of his goodness and mercy, desires to give us over and above what we deserve. I am so grateful that this is the case, because I know that I don’t deserve half of the blessings that God has placed in my life!

In light of this fuller understanding of justice, I must change how I interact with others. If my desire is to become more like God, that means I need to shift my conception of justice from giving others what they deserve to extending mercy and grace to them. Sometimes that means withholding consequences they do deserve (mercy) and other times it means giving them what they do not (grace). This can be very hard to do, especially when that very person has wronged you in the past.  It’s hard to extend forgiveness when the person is unrepentant and can’t even bring themselves to apologize, but that is exactly what we are called to do.

We may not be able right every wrong or reform our government’s justice system, but we can bring something better than man’s justice into a broken world. If we are obedient, we can bring the light of true healing and redemption!  The prophet Micah sums it up so well when he tells God’s people to quit over-thinking everything and, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)  It’s that easy!

Prayer: Father, you have placed a desire for justice in our very being, and through the teaching of Jesus you have shown us what true justice looks like.  Though it may not always be easy, help us to be like the vineyard owner in the story.  Free us from the trap of unforgiving attitudes and help us to shower mercy and grace on everyone we meet.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

‘Tis a Mystery Indeed

(2 Peter 3: 8-10, NLT)  8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.

I heard a lot of “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching when I was growing up.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a lot of hollering and spitting about God’s anger and wrath toward the sinner — about how we are running out of time and living on the edge, knocking on the gates of hell.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have heard some wonderful sermons on sin and repentance in my life, and it is important to understand the repercussions of sin and how God feels about it.  Hell is real.  God does hate sin.  But even more than God hates sin, He loves us — and He is patient and kind for the sake of the world — for us.  It is His desire for all to be welcomed into His heavenly presence on that day when we will all face Him.  Why does God get so angry about sin?  Because of His great love for us.  He desires our love and adoration.  He longs to be in communion with us, and that sin is a wedge that we continually drive between Him and us.  No wonder He gets angry!  That must be so frustrating…

Yet His patience never ends.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He doesn’t turn His back to us or shut down.  We don’t get the cold shoulder.  No.  He patiently, and lovingly, waits.  He extends to us the courtesy of choice — even though we don’t deserve it.  He looks on us through eyes of compassion and His spirit continually reaches out to our hearts in every way — through the love and kindness of others, through healing and grace, through provision and blessing, and even through divine encounters with His own Holy Spirit.  He is constantly seeking us out — drawing us to Him.  And we are the prodigals.  All of us.  We come dragging down the road in our tattered garments — our filthy rags — and He welcomes us like royalty.  When we are weak and wallowing in sin, He waits with clean garments of praise and the oil of gladness, ready to cleanse and clothe us as His sons and daughters — making us joint heirs with Jesus. 

But know this, and never forget, that even in all of His patience and graciousness, there will come a day when God will have to judge us according to our choices.  It is an appointed day, and it’s timing is a mystery to all.  Do not mistake God’s kindness for weakness.  His judgement will not waver or change.  Yes, He is patient…but time is ticking. 

For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

This is why it is so important not to take advantage of God’s patience.  We don’t know that appointed hour when He is coming back for us.  Therefore, we must be ready…

So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.  (Matthew 25:13)

And really, that is all He wants from us — for us to keep our hearts pure, and for us to willingly remove that wedge of sin that has been driven between Him and us.  He wants us to choose the eternal life that He sacrificed so greatly to give to us.  It’s life or death, friends.  What do you choose today?

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, simply put…I don’t want to be caught unaware.  Help me to never take advantage of Your patience and grace, but to instead be vigilant with my choices.  I choose You, God, today and every day.  I want to live for You, having full confidence that when the day of judgement does come, I have nothing to fear.  Amen.

“Let the Ruins Come to Life”

(Amos 9:11, NLT) “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.  I will repair its damaged walls.  From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

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Ruins…crumbling stone, splintered wood, shattered glass, smoldering ash, scattered debris…they’re all images that come to mind when I think of ruins.  In my mind I see greatness that once was, now broken and defeated by time, defeat, and neglect. 

We all go through periods in our lives where we feel the weight of our choices and sins.  We have battles that we lose, and we take big hits in life that damage our walls and weaken our foundations.  Unfortunately for some of us, the foundations and walls eventually give way under the pressure we’ve created, and everything comes crashing down around us in great heaps of unrecognizable rubble.  With one wrong decision, everything we worked so hard to build is reduced to mere garbage — something to be cleared away and forgotten. 

If this is you right now, I want to tell you…don’t give up on your dreams just because you made a mess of things.  Maybe you feel like a pile of junk right now.  Sin tends to do that to us, doesn’t it?  Especially when we are so obviously broken.  There is no more hiding the cracks and smudges behind spackle and paint.  When you’ve gone so far, when things seem to be broken beyond repair, and it’s all just out there for all the world to see your ruins, there is nothing left to do except to either walk away…tail tucked, shoulders slumped…or stand tall and prepare to do some work.  Let me encourage you today, go for the latter.  Square those shoulders and lift your hands to heaven in surrender. 

We are all God’s children, loved and adored equally.  Just as He dotes on and blesses the righteous, He wants to pour out every bit of grace that it takes to restore the former glory of your life.    God the Father has promised to never leave your side…and He won’t.  As much as God adored King David, even when he had adultery and murder in his heart, don’t you know that God loves YOU just as much?  Whatever you have done, whatever you have said, no matter the magnitude of how any of it has affected your life, God’s grace is BIGGER…and He will bring you up out of the ashes…He will rebuild what you have lost.  You have simply to humble yourself at His feet, just as David did. 

(Psalm 51: 10-12, NLT) 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

11 Do not banish me from your presence,

    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

    and make me willing to obey you.

When we confess and humbly bow before the throne of grace, our God will restore…every time.  His grace never runs out, His love never fails, and His kindness is what will lead us into repentance each time that we fall.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for your endless love and grace.  I know that when I come to You with a broken and injured spirit, no matter the cause or sin, You will respond to my humility and regret with healing and restoration.  Because of Your love, I am whole.  Because of Your grace, I am made new.  Amen.

“Just Walk Away”

(2 Timothy 2: 23-24, NLT) 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.

Part of being a parent to a teenager is having pointless arguments.  As with every stage of life that children go through, the teenage years are proving to have some very frustrating moments.  My son will be fourteen years old this fall, and let me tell you…some of our conversations can be MOST aggravating!  I will find myself getting sucked into these merry-go-round exchanges with him, and after a few moments spent in a quickly escalating debate, I stop and think, “Why am I doing this?”  Then I simply say to him, “No sir.  This is not up for debate or argument.  You are not on trial, and this is not a discussion.  Accept it and walk away.” 

Just like these annoying and pointless exchanges that I have with my son, all of us can become easily enticed into engaging in foolish debates and arguments with others.  Sometimes it’s with other Christians who simply see and interpret things differently, and then other times it’s with people who don’t believe in anything at all…or in things that are contrary to our own faith and values. 

When this happens, instead of getting deeper and deeper into dispute, we need to be mature enough to realize that many times it’s better to just walk away.  You know…agree to disagree.  Witnessing to others on behalf of Christ has a lot more to do with what we do and how we make others feel, rather than what we attempt to prove to them.  We can’t bully and argue people into accepting Christ, nor into feeling and believing the same things that we do.  We must instead love them, choose our own actions and words wisely, and have self-control over our attitudes and reactions. 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”    – Maya Angelou

While feelings shouldn’t govern our every move in life, they are still an integral part of who we are — what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  So we must always take them into account.  We have to be selfless and mature enough to realize that the feelings and opinions of others do matter, and that respecting someone does not mean you have to agree with him or her. 

Our Christian faith, our relationships with Christ, and greater than all  — the love of Christ — should be the driving forces in all that we do.  So when you are tempted to make that snarky comment on social media, to defend your stance in a spirit of indignation and offense, think about how it might be interpreted first — how it might make someone else feel when he or she reads or hears your words.  You might think, “I really don’t care what anyone thinks!”  Well, you should!  It should absolutely matter, because you are not just a representative of yourself in this world.  When you carry the name of Christ, as a child and ambassador of God Almighty, you are representing Him through your words and deeds.  How you make others feel is as important as any Biblical stance you might take on the many controversial issues that come up in conversation.  Let go of your offenses and your pride, and just let God use you to be a light.  All of that other stuff can be worked out individually, as people grow and mature in Him.  Let the Holy Spirit take care of conviction, and you just love the stuffin’ out of everyone that you can.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I thank You that where I am weak, YOU are strong.  When I get sucked into arguments and disputes that could be detrimental to my Christian witness, help me to be aware enough to bow out gracefully.  I pray that my life would be a positive light in an ever darkening world, and that Your love would evident in all that I say and do.  Amen. 

Reset!

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Ever had a day where nothing seemed to go your way?  If you are breathing, I am going to assume the answer to that question is “Yes!” It’s just a fact of life that you will face some unpleasant circumstances, whether trivial (waking up and discovering that you are out of coffee) or more serious issues (health concerns, relationship problems, etc.). Some circumstances we are able to change, but others we have to simply endure. The most important factor in dealing with difficult situations is our attitude.

Our attitudes form the framework or lens through which we view our circumstances and greatly influence how well we are able to cope with things that we cannot change.  As a parent, I sometimes have to remind my son that he is going to cut the grass, clean his room, or participate in some family activity whether he wants to or not.  It falls to him to decide whether he is going to do it with a good attitude or bad. As he matures, he is learning that some of the things he fought the hardest end up not being that big an issue when he just accepted it and pushed through.

The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of this kind of thinking.  His letter to the Philippians, written while he sat imprisoned, gives us a glimpse at how he approached the circumstances of his life.  We see that:

  • Attitude has little to do with circumstances (v.11) — Your attitude is not determined externally (by fate or fortune), but internally (by you!)
  • Attitudes can change, just like circumstances (v.12) — You are in control of your responses, which means you have the power to change your attitude when it stinks!
  • Attitudes can be improved, if we learn the secret (v.12) — Good attitudes don’t just happen, it is a learnable skill.
  • Attitudes have a source for their strength (v.13) — No matter what happens, God will sustain us and give us victory!

This is not new or ground-breaking information but occasionally we need a reminder. It is not unusual to find ourselves stewing in negative thoughts and feelings and needing something to help us get out of that feedback loop.  In our family, we offer each other the chance to call for a “reset” when we’ve been speaking, acting, and reacting in a negative way. It’s our way of giving someone an out — an extension of grace.

God offers each of us the same grace. So, the next time you find yourself with a stinky attitude, just pray — ask God for that “reset” — and determine that you are going to have a better attitude.  It will make all the difference in the world!

PRAYER: Father, thank you for being the source of our strength.  Circumstances change but you do not. Help us to control our thoughts and maintain a positive attitude. Let your Holy Spirit comfort us in our frustration, and give us an eternal perspective.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen!

“Forgiveness: The Heart of the Matter”

(Mark 11:25) But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Forgiveness and self-care are not two things that we usually relate to one another.  I always considered forgiveness to be more for the person who wronged me than for myself.  Someone asks for your forgiveness because he or she is full of remorse and in need of your grace to get past it — so you extend that grace and that person feels better about everything.  Right?  That’s what I always thought.  However, as I have gotten older, and have grown more mature in my my spirit, I have learned that grace and forgiveness heal us all, from the inside out.  When we extend or receive grace, it is like a soothing balm over a festering wound.  It instantly coats that painful outer layer, shielding it from further injury and stimulating the beginning stages of healing.  Just like a wound to our skin will start to regenerate new skin from the inside of the wound until it is a completed process of healing, a wound to our soul also needs to heal from within.  It takes time, but the process will never be able to begin without that protective covering — without grace. 

I have a very passionate personality.  I feel everything very deeply and with much intensity.  It may take me a bit to come to trust someone new, but when I do, I love with my whole heart.  However, just as we all have our faults, one of my biggest shortcomings in life is that I feel things on the opposite end of the spectrum just as strongly.  I wouldn’t say that I hate, but I do tend to struggle with unforgiveness and resentment when I feel that I have been wronged, yet never receive an apology.  That kind of injustice just sort of burrows itself into my soul and begins to take root — sprouting bitterness and anger.  But who do you think is damaged by that root of bitterness, bearing its rotten fruit?  It certainly isn’t the unapologetic party!  It’s me!  I’m the one who suffers with the burden of it.  I’m the one who thinks about it every time I see that person.  It’s my spirit that becomes embittered and hardened because of this unforgiven transgression. 

There is an old African Bantu Proverb which says, “The bitter heart eats its owner.” And so true it is!  Bitterness will eat at and erode your heart and soul until you have nothing beautiful left inside to give.  The biggest part of who we are as Christians must be love, for that is the foundation for our calling and commission.  When we allow a root of bitterness to grow, when we hold back forgiveness because we are waiting for an apology that we’ll probably never get, we are slowly emptying ourselves…and you can’t pour from an empty cup, can you?

So forgive, as God the Father has forgiven you.  In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”  When we hold onto bitterness, we are allowing the enemy of our souls, Satan:  Father of LIES, to rob us of our joy and satisfaction.  It just doesn’t matter if you ever get an apology.  Forgiveness is for you, that you might enjoy the freedom of grace, both internally and externally.  Don’t let the thief drain you dry.  Keep that cup filled with every good thing that Jesus has to offer you — filled to overflowing — so that those sweet, living waters flow from Him, to you, to others, and back to Him, in a beautiful exchange. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for this reminder today that there is freedom for me when I am able to forgive others.  Help me to keep my cup filled to the brim with the beauty that is found in You, so that I can easily and faithfully love others the way that You have called me to.  Amen.

Hypocrite?

(Romans 2: 1) You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.

Hypocrisy is not a fun subject to contemplate and discuss.  It’s just uncomfortable, because no one wants to be called a hypocrite, and we should always hesitate before pointing the finger in the direction of others. The word itself gets thrown a round a lot, and the meaning is often misunderstood.  Growing up in the church, I heard it over and over, being used in reference to church people who struggled with sinful behaviors.  I would hear people say things like, “He’s in the bar on Saturday and on the front pew on Sunday!  Such a hypocrite!”  Well, that always made me angry.  Being an avid reader and a word/book nerd, I knew that wasn’t the correct definition of a hypocrite, and I couldn’t stand hearing it.  I didn’t like the misuse of the word, which I found annoying, but mostly I just didn’t (and still don’t) like the harsh, judgmental attitude behind the use of it.  So, I just want to take a minute to address hypocrisy…because I think it’s important to know what you’re saying…and, because maybe just you shouldn’t say it at all.

The word “hypocrite” is defined as: (via dictionary.com)

1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

In short, a hypocrite is someone whose actions do not line up with his or her mouth.  This is a person who is talking a whole lot of talk, but walking very little walk…if any at all.  If I am constantly condemning others over sin and mistakes, yet I am continually making the same sinful choices…then I am a hypocrite.  Please don’t mistake this with a person who is struggling to repent.  I have seen so many people who have come to know Christ, yet walked away from the church because they have felt judged and condemned, labelled a hypocrite by friends and family, because they were having trouble walking away from sin.  Well, friends, it’s just not that easy for everyone.  Sin is habitual and addictive, and when you’ve spent a lifetime separated from God by sin, it’s not always so cut and dry.  No one is perfect, and we all sin, don’t we?  Romans 3:23 tells us, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” 

Let me propose a notion then, that we just stop using the word hypocrite altogether.  Why?  Because the examination of the human spirit can only be done by God’s Holy Spirit.  In Jeremiah 17:10, the Lord says:  “But I, the Lord, search all hearts, and examine secret motives.”  He sees it all, knows it all, and reveals it all in His own time and way.  Luke 8: 17 tells us that, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”  His timing.  So if you think someone is a fake, phony, hypocrite…fine…think it.  Then pray about it.  Lift that person up in prayer, because that is how to deal with it in love.  The Holy Spirit will take care of conviction…that’s not our job.  Our job is to love.  And no, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hold one another accountable!  Of course we should!  In love, and with graceful words, we should privately have those kinds of conversations with one another…because that’s part of being a family.  However, don’t backbite and judge.  You just don’t know a person’s heart the way that God does.  You don’t know their struggles, their pain, their circumstances, and on that front pew is the best place that anyone (no matter what they’ve done) could be every week! 

When we enter into relationship with Christ, we begin a journey toward holiness and sanctification that is never quite completed.  We become more mature as the years pass…as we learn from mistakes and turn from old habits and ways…but we are never fully righteous until that day when we see the face of our Savior.  Until that day, we must keep on keepin’ on, and we can’t be tearing one another down with our words and preconceptions about each others’ lives!  Romans 8:1 reminds us of something that we sometimes forget:  “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  There is always grace, friends.  Always.  And we must be just as willing to give it as we are to receive it!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I am so grateful for the truth of Your Word.  I love knowing that through it, I am able to receive gentle, loving correction.  So I ask You now, Lord, to forgive me of the times when I have been so quick to judge and to turn my nose in the air when I have seen people in the midst of struggle with sin.  Help me to remember the “log” in my own eye, before I point out the “speck” in someone else’s.  Help me to love others the way that You have loved me.  Amen.

That’s YOUR Problem

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders.

“I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” They retorted. “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.”

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has heard about Judas. His story is so infamous that his very name has become an insult. To be called a Judas indicates that you are someone who cannot be trusted…someone who will stab others in the back…a traitor. And this is not an unfair assessment. Judas was a man of weak character (see John 12, which tells of his greed and theft from his companions). He sold out his teacher and his fellow disciples, and his betrayal lead to Jesus’ arrest and death. But for all of his failings, he was not beyond feeling guilt and remorse when the realization of what he had done finally sank in.

Judas tried to take it back. He wanted to fix it. He tried to return the money, and confessed his sin. He proclaimed Jesus’ innocence, but it was too late. Events that had been set in motion that could not be stopped. And it was his inability to make it right that caused Judas, in despair, to take his own life. It’s a sad tale and although Judas’ sin will forever be remembered, his story is not an uncommon one. Many of us have found ourselves dealing with the consequences of words and actions that we wish we could take back, but could not.

What struck me, though, was the difference between Judas’ response and that of the priests. Judas realized his mistake, and tried to make it right, but could not. The priests, on the other hand, could not care less about the anguish that Judas felt or the fact that an innocent man was going to die.

“What do we care? That’s your problem.” — That’s cold.

But what truly blows my mind about their response is not their apathy towards Judas and their complicity in a murder plot. It’s that at the end of it all, they were more worried about the impropriety of putting “blood money” in the offering plate…money that they themselves had paid to have Jesus betrayed and murdered! They were so blinded by their own hypocrisy that they could not see the absurdity of their “dilemma.”

In my heart, I want to think of them as monsters. It would be so much easier if we could just dismiss them as evil, twisted or wicked creatures. (And the things they did most certainly WERE evil, twisted and wicked!) But the reality is that they were just humans, like you and me. The reason that they were able to reach such a level of depravity is because they had trained themselves to ignore the pricks of their conscience. They were practiced in the art of self-deception and skilled in the mental gymnastics necessary to justify their actions. And this is a crime of which we have all been guilty.

When confronted with our own wrongdoing, it is a natural response to try to defend ourselves. We deny and deflect. We try to explain why it wasn’t really as bad as it seems:

No one ever uses it or would even notice that it was missing…

He had it coming…

She started it…

Everyone else does it…

The problem is that as long as we keep lying to ourselves and others, we remain willfully blind to our sin. We are just hypocrites, trying to fool everyone (including ourselves) that we are not.

The only way to break the cycle of sin and deception is to be more like Judas. I never thought I’d find myself encouraging others to be like Judas, but it’s true. If we want to make things right, we have to own our mistakes and confess our sins. However, what Judas did not understand was the immensity of God’s forgiveness and grace. Because he believed that it was too late, Judas gave in to despair and hung himself. But with God, it’s never too late. No person is too great a sinner, no relationship is too far gone, and no situation is beyond his ability to heal and restore. When we come to God in humility and with a contrite spirit, he WILL redeem us…failures and all.

PRAYER: Almighty God, reveal to us the areas of our lives where we are hypocritical. We humbly ask your forgiveness for the things we have done and the lies we have told ourselves and others. Help us to move beyond the deception to walk in the light of your Truth. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.