For church Sunday morning, I attended what I call the “Pen church” (since I receive a free pen when I go there). The pastor started a six-week series entitled “No Perfect People Allowed.” That is the motto of the church, and I figured that such a series would edify me.
Here are some points that the pastor made in today’s sermon, followed by my personal reflections at the end:
A. The pastor was preaching about Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14.
A Pharisee and a publican were at the Temple praying. The respected
Pharisee was thanking God that he (the Pharisee) was not like other
people—-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that publican.
The Pharisees bragged that he fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all
that he owned. In contrast, the publican, who was in a despised
profession (tax-collector), beat his chest and said, “God be merciful to
me, a sinner.” Jesus said that the publican, not the Pharisee, went
home justified before God, for those who exalt themselves will be
humbled, while those who humble themselves will be exalted.
The pastor made a variety of points. First, he said that many of us
size people up in our minds according to how important we think that
they are. Some people who are rough around the edges may come to
church, and they are scared off from following Jesus because a pompous
Christian judges them. The pastor referred to the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds,
in which Michelle Pfeiffer played a teacher at an inner-city school.
The teacher started all of her students out with an “A,” and that
brought the best out of the students, many of whom had never received an
“A” before. The pastor asked what would happen in our relationships if
we started people out with an “A”: if we treated them as valuable and
important, rather than requiring them to appease and to please us, only
to get up to a “D” in our eyes.
Second, the pastor talked about how many of us pat ourselves on the
back when we do something good. The pastor was imitating God applauding
the Pharisee while the Pharisee was bragging about his deeds. The
pastor, obviously, was being sarcastic: Why would God be impressed by
the Pharisees’ deeds, when God’s deeds are so much greater? God created
the heavens and the earth and selflessly sent God’s Son to die for the
sins of the world. The pastor quoted Romans 12:3, in which Paul exhorts
the Roman Christians not to think more highly of themselves than they
ought. God values people as created in God’s image, but people should
have a sober, modest, level-headed conception of themselves.
Third, the pastor talked about how the publican confessed that he had
issues. We all have issues. It is when we are honest about that
before God that God profoundly works in our lives.
B. The pastor quoted James 5:16, in which James exhorts people to
confess their sins to one another. According to the pastor, confessing
our sins to one another is not what gets us forgiveness, for we need to
confess our sins to God for that to happen. But confessing our sins to
one another can be valuable: we show others that we have weaknesses, and
that encourages others to confess their weaknesses. People can then
encourage each other.
C. At some point, the pastor quoted II Corinthians 5:19, which
states (in the KJV): “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the
world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath
committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” The pastor was saying
that this is the New Covenant. He did not explain how he understood
this verse, at least in this sermon. He seems to believe that people
need to believe in Jesus to arrive at the state in which God does not
impute their trespasses against them. After that, he said in another
sermon, people are free to learn and grow, without fearing that God is
judging and condemning them. I wonder if he can reconcile this picture
with what he was saying in (B.): that we confess our sins, then God
forgives us. And, presumably, if we sin again, we need to confess that
sin to receive God’s forgiveness, and so on. It sounds like a
treadmill, unlike what II Corinthians 5:19 appears to imply. Christians
have had their ways of harmonizing these concepts. A prominent
solution is to say that Christians have been forgiven and are considered
righteous by God, even if they fail to confess every single sin in the
course of their lives. Confession, however, is still useful because it
can help their relationship with God: we feel closer to God when we
confess our sins. The pastor may believe that way, but I do not know
D. The pastor was talking about how the church is successful this
year, more successful than it has been in the past, and yet he is
apprehensive that the church will become “the man” and that new people
will be reluctant to come.
Here are some personal reflections:
A. I fear, at times, that people see me as a Pharisee (as
stereotyped by Christians): one who keeps the rules yet is cold towards
people. I wish, though, that they would accept me as a person with
issues, just like they are.
B. Conversely, I have judged certain Christians as Pharisees (again,
as stereotyped by Christians). I one time confessed something to a
Christian, and he gave a smug response. Has he never made a mistake? He just strikes me as a
person who loves righteousness and talks about how he loves
righteousness, yet there is no humility there; at the same time, his
approach is a refreshing contrast to Christians I have known who beat up
on themselves before others, parading their “humility,” as if that
shows how righteous they are. I do wish that more Christians would be
humble when they hear of somebody’s struggles or vulnerabilities. Yet, I
have to remind myself: can I legitimately judge that someone else is a
Pharisee? It is not as if I spend 24 hours a day with him. Perhaps he
has been humble.
C. What the pastor said about being honest before God stood out to
me, in light of my experience the night before. I was griping in my
mind about God and God’s standards (according to my understanding of
them). But I decided: Why not bring my struggles and my needs before
God, rather than griping? I did that, and I felt better: more at peace
and more charitable towards others.
D. I did not entirely understand what the pastor meant about the
church becoming “the man,” but I thought about a church that I attended
at one time. A lot was going on there, and it was active. It was like a
force of nature. I respect and admire that, but I was unsure where I
fit in, or if I even could.
I’ll stop here. I could interact with the question of whether I
start people out with an “A,” but I am not inclined to be that
vulnerable, right now.
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