Story #1 came at work the other day. I had what an old friend would have called an "epiphanous moment". I looked around at my work team and said to myself that if you pointed out the most openly Christian people there (based on social media)- which would include me- to an unbelieving worker, they MIGHT say that those people are the LAST ones they would have pointed out as Christian by their words and actions at work. A sobering thought, that, and I hope I don't lose any friends by it, but it is true. We seem at times to be the last ones to walk the walk.
Story #2 is not mine, but from a recent post by my friend Elsie at Mock Turtle's Musings. Long story pared down, her husband is a recovering sex addict who is attending SA meetings at a local church. Their meetings coincide with a weeknight church service, and he recently stumbled into a conversation between church members about how "disgusting" the SA group were and how they were going to make their pastor "run them out." I encourage you to read the story in her words.
Story #3 I heard on the way home Friday. A woman was calling into a counselling show, wondering why it was that she hears all the stories of people getting saved and immediately feeling like a weight was lifted off their shoulders, but she "just felt sad, like I am not worthy, like I'm no good", and then went on to list the litany of sins for which she had not forgiven herself.
Final story came early this morning when an opening spot on BRN talked about imagining somebody chasing down a garbage truck to retrieve an item that they had discarded because it was trash, and now wanted it back. The speaker went on to say that we are a lot like that with sin- constantly throwing it away, constantly going back to the garbage.
Now, let me try to address each story in light of Luke 18, specifically this story:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “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.’
14 “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.”
On the one hand, you have the self-righteous among us, looking down on those who struggle- like we among my workmates and I might be tempted to do, and those at the church with the SA meeting WERE doing.
On the other side, we have those like the woman on the radio and those of us (again, myself included) who are constantly digging in the garbage truck. One thinks they alone are worthy; the other thinks they can't possibly be worthy. Both are wrong, and this passage clearly explains why.
Before I begin this, keep in mind that what I am about to say is not an excuse for sin, not even mine. The Spirit of God within us should drive us to greater and greater obedience. But being mortal, we have a "hearing problem", and God knows it. As the man speaking about garbage said, we should always be striving to be obedient. That said, my point:
God does not EXPECT us to be obedient. Say WHAT?
Look again at the passage. IF were were EXPECTED to be one hundred percent perfect, then there would be no harm in the Pharisee's prayer. In fact, we should ALL be praying it. But Jesus says, the better prayer was from the man that A) knew he was a sinner, and B) came to God humbly seeking mercy BECAUSE of those sins.
God expects that we'll mess up. Because He made us, and knows what we're like. And if He has saved us by faith in Christ, He has DEALT with those sins beforehand. So where does that leave us in the four stories?
Story number one tells us that we aren't perfect. Forgiven, yes, but not perfect. And there's always room for improvement- and with all of those who need Christ around us, a desperate NEED to improve.
Story #2 tells us that when we judge the other guy, we are just like the Pharisee. We'd be better off the recovering sex addict than the self-righteous church member with zero compassion or humility.
Story #3 tells us that forgiveness from God starts with the realization that He is capable TO forgive. It is my opinion, for what it's worth, that the woman hasn't TRULY been saved, because she hasn't accepted that Christ paid the price for her past. If you take the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19) and substitute "sins" for "riches", you have her story, right down to " But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great
Final story: God knows we are a people of "garbage collectors". He doesn't give up on us, though- I John 1:9- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Get that? HE IS FAITHFUL AND JUST. Just like when we read about ancient Israel, and all the times they messed up, and faced the consequences, and then HUMBLED themselves in repentance, and gained His forgiveness. I hope someone will take that woman through the book of Judges and show her that even a lifetime of sins doesn't disqualify you for forgiveness. In fact, those of you working with me on Project IS, why don't we take just one week and focus on praying for her in specific. There but for God's mercy we go. Let's give that example this week.