Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Hypocrisy Card

Several years ago I served as pastor of a church in Alabama. I was energetic and frequently visited people door-to-door style like a candy bar salesman. During one such encounter a husband and wife (Let’s call them Bob and Susan.) invited me into their home. The couple’s house was adjacent to our church property, and from their living room window you could see right into my church office. I was exuberant as I presented my pitch to the party. After a few minutes of my exquisite presentation, I extended the invitation for the couple to join us for worship.

As I paused and pondered the precision of my performance, Bob quickly enlightened me concerning the dysfunctional nature of our church. Bob said that they no longer attended church (our church in particular) because people in the church are hypocrites. He cited numerous examples of hypocrisy including Sunday school teachers who frequented bars. He saw people from our church at these polluted places that he also patronized for…uhm… research purposes. Bob ended our encounter by exclaiming, “What right does the church (Scotty) have to tell me what I should do?”

He had played the hypocrisy card. I was baffled and befuddled. It was official. We were Pharisees – legalistic Pharisees.

Jesus reserved some of His harshest words for religious leaders. Matthew 23:27 says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.”

It seems that many today feel that we (the church) don’t have the right to say anything regarding their lifestyles. We have no right to judge. I mean doesn’t the Bible say that somewhere (yeah, Matthew 7:1). Why are people so turned off by what churches have to say?

In their book, Why Churches Die, Brunson and Caner note that “legalists use a telling standard for holiness – themselves. Not Christ, but themselves. They will rebuke you immediately when you fall short of the standard they themselves have set for holiness. They feel superior to you because they stand closest to their own standard” (122).

Are we modern day Pharisees? Could it be that people reject our judgment of them because we use ourselves as the standard for holiness rather than Christ? Are we more interested in teaching people to become like us than we are helping them to be transformed into the likeness of Christ?

Does the Church have a right to tell people what to do?

Perhaps the answer lies in reading what follows the admonition not to judge people. Matthew 7:3-5 says the following: 3“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? 4How 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? 5You 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.

The right to speak to people must be earned. People must know that we genuinely care about them. Too often we appoint ourselves as ambassadors to the world to tell people how they should live even though we haven’t earned the right to do so. We must be honest about our own shortcomings. Our goal isn’t to make people look like us. Our goal is to bring people into the presence of Christ. He does a pretty good job of cleaning us up.

As you may have noticed, I like to use a thesaurus. It makes me seem so much more intelligent than I am. But let’s be honest. You knew that I was putting on airs at the first occurrence of alliteration. Is their a sin of alliteration? Maybe I’ll save that for another blog – “Hypocritical Homiletics and Habitual Hang-ups.” In the meantime, I think I have some work to do on me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Trash day

My wife, Nancy, has creative ways of reminding me to do things that I already know that I need to do. I assure her that I am not a kid, but my actions sometimes prove otherwise. I often forget to do little things that I really should remember.

I have struggled for years with remembering trash day. Our trash is collected on Thursdays in Roanoke County, and I typically forget to either move our trash can to the curb or I forget to retrieve the receptacle after our trash has been collected. This past week my neighbor returned my trash can for me, and I only noticed it because it was turned differently than I normally have it.

Nancy usually reminds me by simply telling me on Wednesday nights when we get home that I need to move the trash can. Sometimes she calls me from work on Thursday mornings to jog my memory. Occasionally I will get an email from her reminding me about trash day, and she has even sent me an e-card so that I won’t forget the all important day. Why do I forget something so simple?

I have many excuses for my forgetfulness. I’m not old enough to have “senior moments” but, I do have some good reasons. For six years I was accustomed to putting out the trash on Mondays (although I forgot then too) when we lived in Indiana. Second, Thursday isn’t a good day for me – it’s my day off. Thirdly (and most importantly), I believe there might be a conspiracy against me by the county. A few weeks ago, I managed to remember trash day. I was so proud of myself. I noticed that I was the first one on my street to put out my garbage can. I later discovered (because another neighbor noticed my confused look while I was staring at a full garbage can) that trash is not collected on holidays. It’s awful suspicious that everyone else knew, but I didn’t. How many people are in on this scam anyway?

I guess that most of us need to be reminded of things. I just wish I didn’t have to look so foolish in the process.

Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:12, “I plan to keep on reminding you of these things—even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth.”

In ministry I find that I am often reminding people of “simple” things that they have already heard.

  • Jesus paid it all.
  • All to Him I owe.
  • Sin had left a crimson stain.
  • He washed it white as snow.

Some things are worth repeating. Now what day is it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

mental

Several years ago I developed a crazy notion to start running. I was in my mid to late-twenties, and I discovered that my once athletic body was now more suited for Kevin James look-a-like contests. I could think of many reasons why I wasn’t taking care of myself – grad school, multiple jobs, Seinfeld reruns, etc. But, I knew that I had to do something.

Running had been viewed as a necessary evil to accomplish my goals. As a teenager, I ran for conditioning for other sports. Running was effective, but not truly enjoyed as a sport unto itself. I decided to resume this tortuous practice and redeem my athleticism.

I soon discovered the horror of my physical neglect. After strapping on my running shoes and running shorts and shirt, I hit the open road ready to reclaim my honor. Within a few minutes my heart was pounding, and I was breathing harder than I could ever remember. What had happened to that strong, all-district middle linebacker who could play an entire game without exhaustion? Where was that 19 year old bodybuilder with 2% body fat? He was gone, and he had the chest pains to prove it.

Over the next few days and weeks, I continued to run but with great difficultly. It would be months before I could run a mile without stopping and being completely exhausted. Every time I ran something hurt. As long as the same body part didn’t hurt three days in a row, I kept running.

It would be a year before my conditioning had improved enough to run three miles. My body was beginning to change. I was beginning to see glimpses of a trained athlete. The pain was finally producing progress.

As a follower of Christ, I have also experienced similar pains in my Christian growth. I remember earlier days in my spiritual journey when I would read my Bible and pray for hours on end. What had happened to that once vibrant disciple?

Spiritual growth also requires careful attention for me. My spiritual muscles need to be challenged.

Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. 1 Timothy 4:8