Don’t Judge?

This week, Governor Phil Bryant signed into law MS House Bill 1523, referred to as the “Religious Freedom” Bill. Many have opposed the bill due to a perceived attacked against the gay, lesbian, and transgender lifestyle. As is often the case with a controversial bill, people come out of the woodwork with their favorite Scripture, the first part of Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge…”

The world is guilty of taking a verse to prove what you already want to believe, and I think that is how this verse has been used. It has been twisted to convey the idea, “You live your lifestyle and I will live mine. You don’t tell me how to live and certainly don’t you try to impose your standards of morality on me.” The verse is spouted by people who have no earthly idea what Jesus meant, and I venture to say that the people who quote this verse the most are the ones who understand it the least. It just happens to fall into line with the spirit of our time. Most see it like this:
Mt 7

“Do not judge” has been misunderstood and taken by some to mean that faithful Christians must never exercise any critical judgment. People have bought into the lie that Christians are to be totally accepting, whatever the situation.

It is ironic that the world loves opinionated people until it comes to the conventional morality. In these matters, the world adores the nonjudgmental person.

When using Scripture, it is important that the context be considered, which is the opposite of picture above. The reasons this text cannot be made to say that we are never to judge are obvious: In Matthew 7:6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” We cannot obey Jesus’ command unless we must judge who are “dogs” and who are “pigs.” He says in Matthew 7:15, “Watch out for false prophets.” This requires subtle, discriminating judgment on our part. These verses follow the oft-misused quote that people believe forbid judging, and the context supports the truth that we are required to judge.

Other Scriptures also teach the need to judge: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). In 1 Cor 5:11, Paul tells us not to associate with someone who claims to be a brother who is “sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a swindler.”

Christians have an obligation to exercise judgment. Since judgment has such a negative connotation, what we are to exercise is discernment. There is a universe of difference between being discerning and critical. A discerning spirit is constructive. A critical spirit is destructive. The person with a destructive, critical spirit enjoys his position and expects to find fault. When a critic discovers faults in another, he is satisfied.

Often, the critical, fault-finding person focuses on things that are of little importance and treats them as matters of vital importance- such as the way you dress, a particular version of the Bible, and your theology agreeing point for point. This pettiness on secondary issues is condemned in Romans 14:1-4 in the strongest of terms.

When Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” He teaches that we set the standard and tone for our own final judgment by our judgmental conduct in life, and we prove by our judging of others that we know what is right. So if we do not do what is right, we condemn ourselves. If We set ourselves as authorities and judges over others, we should not be surprised or complain when we are judged by our own standard. We need to face and apply this text with all its fearful force.

How will this affect us eternally? There are two eternal judgments. One is the separation of believers and nonbelievers: “the sheep and the goats.” True believers are the sheep who will go to be with God and who will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their proper rewards. There God will judge us as we have judged others. Judgmental believers will still go to be with God forever, but they will have very little reward, for their critical spirit will have erased much of the good they had done.

Very few of us dare to pray, “God, judge me as I judge others.” That is how He will judge us. The tone of our life is going to become the tone of our judgment (2 Cor 5:10-11). There is nothing more ungodly than a critical spirit, and nothing more un-Christlike than the false righteousness that is always looking for something wrong in someone else.

We find it so easy to turn a microscope on another person’s sin while we look at ours through the wrong end of a telescope. We use some strong term for someone else’s sin but an excuse for our own. We easily spot a speck of phoniness in another because we have a logjam of it in our own lives.

Log-toting speck inspectors are hypocrites, says Jesus (Matthew 7:5). They really do not care at all about the speck in the other’s eye. All they really care about is building up themselves in their own eyes.

When we see ourselves as we are, we see others as they are. Instead of being critical, we weep for ourselves and them. When we have removed the log from our own eyes, then we can see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes. Jesus does not encourage an attitude of not caring toward fellow believers. Jesus does want us to discern the sins and shortcomings of others, but he wants us to see them through clear, self-judged eyes- eyes that are tender and compassionate.

While we are to make judgments, we must be humble, sympathetic, conscious of our own sins, and without condemnation. We need God’s mercy. We need to be people who speak the truth in love because the love of God controls us.

Preventing Letdown – The Sunday After Easter

Churches were full Sunday in celebration of Easter. There was a lot of excitement. Several of my pastor friends were quick to post their attendance numbers, and I watched our choir commenting on the packed sanctuary as they entered. One commented that the last time he saw the church that full was the Sunday after 9/11.

This Sunday, though, will probably see things return to normal, as far as attendance and excitement. It is the usual experience the Sunday after Easter, just as the crowd slowly dwindled on the Sundays following 9/11. Some of it is natural as family members will not be in town to attend church with their loved ones. But Sunday does not have to be a letdown. Here is some tips:

Realize that the tomb is still empty. Every day is a day to celebrate the Resurrection. While we have one day a year reserved for a special remembrance, the empty tomb should direct our lives daily. Resurrection power and its effects are available to us every day, including each Sunday when we gather to worship.

Overlook the size of the crowd. I have preached some horrible sermons on days when the church was more full than normal, only to have people talk about the “great service,” and they base that conclusion on the crowd. Look throughout Scripture and you will see the times when Jesus changed the life of one person. Yes, He fed thousands, but there were many more instances of one-on-one contact. The Lord does not determine to work based upon the size of the crowd.

Do not be motivated by emotion. Emotions are high on Easter. Special preparations are made for the service. Family gathers for church together. Many are wearing new, bright-colored clothes. The children are excited about hunting eggs. People enter church expecting great things. Sunday returns to “normal,” but when we live by faith, we know that the Lord still deserves our praise, He still wants to work in our lives, and His Word brings change.

Do what you did last week to prepare. Pray for your pastor. Invite someone to attend with you. Get up earlier. Celebrate with your children the empty tomb. Expect the Lord to work!

I look forward to gathering with my church family Sunday morning to worship the One who is worthy of our worship. The One who defeated sin and death. The One who still is in the life-changing business.

Welcoming the Irregular Attenders

Tomorrow is a big day as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a day when churches will be full. Many of those who attend do not plan to return until Christmas (unless they want to please mom on Mother’s Day), hence the title of CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only).

I have heard of pastors who say such things as “I want to go ahead and say Merry Christmas to you all since I won’t see some of you until next Easter.” Others have announced, “We do have services next Sunday, too.” Active attenders look down on the irregular attenders, convincing themselves that they have it all together because they attend church weekly.

When this is the treatment who give those who attend only on Easter, or other special days, why should we expect them to return? Here are some thoughts to make the guests at church tomorrow feel welcome and want to return. (These apply to any Sunday, too.)

Pray for those who will attend. If this is one of the few times they will attend and hear the Gospel message, pray that they are receptive to work of the Holy Spirit. Rather than condemning them for attending so irregularly, pray that they Lord will do a work while in the service that they will want to return more often.

Pray for your pastor. Pray that you pastor will clearly communicate the Gospel. Pray that his words are laced with grace and love.

Welcome them. Introduce yourself. Communicate how great it is to have them in attendance. Learn something about them. But do not remind them that you have services next week.

Let your worship be genuine. On special days, the trap is set that the worship service will be more for show than genuine worship. There is usually more people wanting to sing a special on days when the attendance is higher than are willing to do so on a “normal” Sunday. Choirs work extra on specific music for the special days. If the irregular attenders think you are putting on a show rather than worship, do not look down on them when they do not return.

Move out of your seat and parking place. Irregular attenders usually do not arrive early; rather, they are the ones that come in as the service has started. They circle the parking lot, then have to create their own place. Then they enter the worship center- and have to sit at the front and/or climb over multiple people to sit in the middle of the pew. It is no wonder they do not return!

Invite them to Sunday School. Irregular attenders often do not return because they do not have a personal connection that makes them want to return. However, research has repeatedly shown that over 80% of those who are in Sunday School return and stay. As you welcome them, tell them about your Sunday School class. Tell them where it meets. Offer to meet them outside. Then follow up on your invitation with the information you received when you welcomed them.

Every Sunday is a chance to move an irregular attender to a regular attender, but much of that depends on YOU! Don’t miss the opportunity.

Impromptu Ministry

Recently for a Wednesday night meal at church, the menu was fried fish with all the fixings. After everyone was fed and the Bible study was about to start, there was a good amount of fish left, so someone suggested we freeze it and cook it sometime soon and take it to some of our older members for lunch. Fast forward about two weeks, and a group met at the church, cooked the meal, and we started delivering. I say “we” because at the point of delivery, the staff and a couple of deacons got involved.

After returning to the church and discussing the many smiles and words of appreciation, someone suggested the same thing be repeated the next week- with a different meal. I use the word “suggested” lightly, because it was actually a comment that this group was going to continue to provide a meal each week.

Yesterday was the third week that meals were delivered, and I discovered that others in the church have heard about it and got involved. Someone concluded that it is one of the best things that we are doing as a church- and I agree.

As I have delivered some of the meals each week, I have thought about how it all started: someone saw an opportunity to meet a need and put a plan in place. It was impromptu ministry- and it continues to grow. Here a few things that stand out to me about this and other opportunities for impromptu ministry:

No one asked for these individuals to be involved. There was never an announcement made, a sign-up avenue developed, nor a ministry team formed. None of the normal things that happen in church regarding ministry occurred. They saw an opportunity to serve and took advantage of it.

An overlooked need is met. The people that receive these meals are either shut-ins or some that rarely get out. Some live alone while others are a  married couple that spend most (if not all) of the day with each other. I have found that people in these situations often do not cook for themselves, choosing to “make do” when meal times come. For some, physical difficulties make getting around in the kitchen nearly impossible. These people can benefit from a warm meal that they did not have to cook.

There is regular contact from the church. I do not enter most of the homes because I have to get to the next place. I hand it off at the door or lay it down on the kitchen counter, but in that short time, I get to ask how they are doing and explore if there is anything I can do further. It has also created an opportunity to pray and encourage those who are struggling.

No one wants the credit. Those who have received the meals do not know who is cooking them, and those cooking do not want anyone to know. It is simply from “the church.” Isn’t that how things are supposed to be? I tire of those who love the limelight and quit when no one gives them the desired attention. When some on staff suggested that maybe we only do this  once a month in order for the cooks not to grow weary, the cooks balked at that notion!

Opportunities for impromptu ministry are all around us — if we will take the time to see them. It may not be something that grows and continues, but if the Lord places it in front of you, take advantage of the opportunity. And do not care who gets the credit.

Hebrews 6:10, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”

Coming Off a Spiritual High

The church I pastor just ended a great series of revival services. People were challenged and encouraged, some made public decisions, many prayed at the altar for the first time in a long time (if ever), and some had their lives changed by placing their faith in Jesus. As the final service neared on Wednesday, many commented that they wished the services continued. One parent even texted that their child was upset when he realized Thursday afternoon that we were not having services!

When we have a powerful encounter with the Lord like many experienced this week, the following days seem like a let down. When you attend service on Sunday and it is back to the “normal,” it can be a bit disappointing. When I was in youth ministry, I called it the “church camp high,” when students would be fired up for Jesus until they returned home. I have found that this problem crosses all age groups.

We cannot stay on the high place forever. There was a time when Jesus was on the mountain with His disciples and they had this unique spiritual experience. When Jesus was getting ready to descend, they begged, “Could we just please stay here a little longer?”

Just like a drug addict after a night of injecting illegal substances, we want to experience the high forever, but it is not possible. The Bible is a parade of highs and lows, one right after the other. Daniel- very faithful to God, thrown into the lion’s den, but the lions did not eat him. Jonah- runs away from God, swallowed by a fish, the fish spits him out. Jesus- baptism, temptation in desert, began ministry, crucified, rose.

Exodus 32 is an account of when Moses literally (and figuratively) came down from a mountaintop experience. He had been in the presence of God to receive the Law, and when he descended, he discovered the people had built a golden calf to worship. We learn from this experience how to come off a spiritual high.

First, those around us are not affected. If everyone that you are around would have made the same commitment to God that you did, then it would be easy. But spiritual decisions are personal. The whole nation of Israel would have liked to have been with Moses on the mountain in the presence of God. However, it was a personal experience for Moses, their leader. While he was in the presence of God, they were not affected by it. Spiritual decisions are not like the flu or the common cold that is caught for someone blessing you with a sneeze!

Second, the sin around us should upset us. When Moses came down and saw what was happening, he was unhappy, to say the least. The tablets that contained the Law, written by the very hand of God, were thrown to the ground in disgust. Moses called for the people who were “for the Lord” to come to him, then sent them throughout the camp, killing about 3,000 people. While Moses’ response is not a normal response today, we should not put up with sin around us. If we do, we will fall into it before long.

Third, pray for the people around you. God told Moses that He was going to wipe these people off the face of the earth and make Moses into a “great nation.” God was going to give Moses more people to lead. Moses started talking to God about this and eventually God relented. When we see those around us who are still controlled by the sin that we committed to no longer follow, we need to ask God to work in their lives. Moses prayed that God would save all of these people, a whole nation, and we need to pray for those we are around us that are lost and others that are controlled by sin.

Last, continue to show that you have been with God. We must continue to live our life in such a way that it is evident we have been with God. This week, I saw people who were broken, repentant, and committed to change. I heard others speak about ways the Lord challenged them. Are those characteristics still evident?

Unique spiritual experiences end, but the effects of the encounter can continue.

 

 

Why We Miss Revival

It has been a while since I have posted, but it is the time in the church that I pastor where we have our revival services and this has been on my mind.

Revival is not a series of services, but is rather, according to Selwyn Hughes, “the flaming forth once again of love for the Lord in those who, having known the truth and experienced the life of God in their souls, had grown cold.” It may happen in the course of revival services, but revival can come at any time.

We are nearing the end of 40 Days of Prayer for Revival, and I have preached over the last month about how the Lord calls us to be followers, not fans. These response to these messages has been encouraging, just as it has been encouraging to have people talk to me about the daily devotions that are part of the 40 Days of Prayer. But, will revival come?

Simple answer: I pray so, but I do not know.

I received a small book several years ago, Why Revival Waits by Selwyn Hughes. This classic book (from which the quote above derives) is short and one of the few that I have read multiple times.  Examining 2 Chronicles 7:14, Hughes concludes that revival does not come because we refuse to deal with the sin in our lives and we live our lives without God. I cannot argue with his conclusion, but I believe we miss revival for a much simpler reason:

We do not want revival.

The church answer is, of course, “YES, we want revival!” but when we step back and examine it, I do not think we want revival. Why?

We must admit we have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4), admit that we need revival, and we do not like to admit to such failure. It is easier to pretend that all is well. But if we will stop and examine our lives, in all probability there was another time in our lives when our relationship with the Lord was stronger than it is now. Our love was stronger then.

We must deal with sin, and this is not always pleasant. Revival cannot come without deep confession and repentance.

God may call us to do things that are difficult. More than turning from sin, He might lead us to restore a broken relationship, share the Good News with a lost neighbor, begin to serve in a particular area of ministry, or many other possibilities that frighten us.

The bottom line is that we miss revival because we are comfortable with where we are spiritually. Deep down we may know that we are not where God wants us to be, but we are fine with that. We have accepted it as normal. To remove sin and make the other necessary makes us uncomfortable, so we choose to stay like we are and miss revival.

Selwyn Hughes concludes, “It would be wonderful if the whole church throughout our land would heed this message, but the history of revival shows that when a proportion of God’s people meets His conditions He moves in answer to their prayers. In Wales God used a small praying group to usher in revival. You could be the vanguard of a mighty move of the Holy Spirit if you are willing to pay the price.”