Enjoy Your Pig Slop

“After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.”

“So he got a job with one of the citizens there who sent the son into the fields to feed pigs. 16 The son was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

“The Prodigal Son,” Luke 15:14-16

God has a definite way of arranging things to get our undivided attention. The prodigal had blown through his inheritance money and now had nothing. And then there was this famine–a really bad one. (The word can be translated, as “violent.”) I think the Father was working.

Flat broke and having a need to eat, he started looking through the want ads for work. All he found was an ad for a “pig feeder.” That was it, there was nothing else to be had. So now began his new career in porcine agriculture! He was desperate and he was hungry.

A Jewish boy feeding pigs. Oh boy, how the mighty have fallen!

Verse 18 in this passage takes it a step further. As he poured out the slop the things he was feeding the pigs looked mighty tasty. His mouth began to water. He thought seriously about reaching into the trough and grabbing some of the good pods for himself. (Several days without food does funny things to a man.)

God does some interesting things to bring this prodigal home. Not all of them are pleasant and self-affirming. His circumstances got pretty brutal. He still allows hard circumstances to bring back the stupid. It’s very likely his soul was so valuable that this kind of intervention was necessary.

“When he realized what he was doing, he thought, ‘All of my father’s servants have plenty of food. But I am here, almost dying of hunger.”

(v. 17)

What happened at that precise moment of real repentance can be seen in the following translations of verse 17:

  • “he came to himself,”(King James Version and ESV)
  • “he came to his senses,” (Christian Standard Bible)
  • “he realized what he was doing,” (New Century Version)
  • “he turned again to himself,” (Wycliffe Translation)

That I suppose is the power of the trough. It’s a hard place to live.

The prodigal son is jolted by a very real revelation of home. And even though he grossly underestimates the love of the father, he leaves the pigs and returns. No longer does he have any desire to eat pig food.

Often the side effects of our own stubborn rebellion debase and shame us. It reduces a man or woman to a place of ruin and failure. We feel worthless and very much defeated. We know we’re a dirty rotten mess and we believe Satan’s infamous lies about our ‘impossible-to-forgive” sin.

The spiritual danger in self-degrading thoughts and feelings is that we will start to believe things such as, “God’s Holy Spirit can’t help someone like me” or “I’m helplessly addicted to sin” or even “I’m damned without any hope.”

These are some of the vicious lies Satan tells people to keep them in their sin and rebellion. (It has worked well for him over many millennia.) The enemy tells us that we’ll always live with the pigs, and eventually, over time, we will come to enjoy eating the pig slop. Sadly many accept that lie as the truth.

It is not.

God’s Holy Spirit is transformative and powerful; therefore, if we continue to think we are failures and worthless after receiving Spirit, what are we really saying? Do we doubt His power, or question His love? I hope not.

It’s time to come home.

“Because you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

(“The Matrix”)

Opting Out of Cynicism

Cynical

sinikəl/adjective

1.  believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity. Contemptuous; mocking; derisive; sarcastic.

Dictionary.com

I want to speak from my heart. I woke up this morning intensely cynical about the world. I hate to think I’m becoming critical or judgmental, but whatever it is I must take it in prayer to Jesus. I feel like I’ve been bit by a snake– a venomous one at that.

When I think of our Lord’s example, it helps a great deal. He knows every man’s heart and motives and that didn’t discourage him. He knew when he came what each of us had done, and was capable of doing.

There was this incident at the Temple:

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

John 2:23-25, NIV

People can’t be trusted. Our motives and our desires, although hidden from men, are clear to God. And yet He loves us deeply. And love, “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5.) In his humanity, Jesus was tempted in every way. Discouragement and despair over the sin of men were resisted.

We can become cynical and jaded over the repeated wrongs we see or hear– it’s easy to do. There can become a ‘coarsening’ and hardness of our hearts. That is dangerous. It requires a touch from Jesus. It means it’s time we get on our knees.

When Jesus sent out his disciples he encouraged them, ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16.) He knew the hostile human heart had its own agendas– people would be like wolves. But though they would see first-hand the deceitfulness of many, they were to be wise and be completely harmless.

The Holy Spirit will keep us close as we seek his victory in this matter. We will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Exchange your attitude with His. He will strengthen you. We can renounce the spirit of judgmentalism that is so pervasive. We will love the way he loves.

I know there is much more to say about this. But now the Spirit is prompting me to pray through this issue myself.

Cynicism and skepticism are the crudest form of quasi-intellectualism… Let the cynic become cynical of his cynicism and the skeptic skeptical of his skepticism and join the battle.

     R.C. Sproul

Will You Deny Him?

deny

“Suddenly Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g.  the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend.

Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fish’s mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature affecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’ on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

A denial has different intensities and can be used in many different ways.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we can also deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently.  And none of us have immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, we’re apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior.

Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead, we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes full circle and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the exact words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

Putting Pain to Work

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue for us is managing these awful things for the Kingdom of God.

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether it’s a trauma, a physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It’s a scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeemed it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

(Read how Joseph handled betrayal: Genesis 50:19-21.)

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

Jesus Writes in the Dust

John 8:3-11

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, Lord,” she answered.

I remember how Jesus defended me from the religious men. I had been publically led through the crowds. The temple was filled with people who were there for the festival. It was a time of joy and feasting, but not for me. Definitely not for me.

The religious police escorted me to Jesus. I was now the focus of everyone’s attention. I felt dirty and ashamed. Standing there I could feel the leering looks from the Pharisees; but there was something else as well, a look from Jesus that I had never seen before. There was compassion there, something quite extraordinary. I saw a firm mercy.

I’m ashamed, but I had committed adultery. I slept with a man who wasn’t my husband.

I was to be stoned, to know hard rocks thrown by “holy” men. The Law had pronounced my guilt, and I knew exactly how I was to be punished. And I deserved it. Yet the man I slept with was never charged; he escaped, and I would be put to death. I didn’t blame him.

My shame was now public knowledge–everyone knew, the Pharisees made sure of that. Jesus had been accepted by some to be the Messiah and by others not so much. I wasn’t sure one way or another. I was in a daze, not able to even try to defend myself.

They only put me front and center to test Him. These men who brought me had ulterior motives, they desperately hoped Jesus would stumble. I think they wanted to prove once and all to the crowds that were watching that Jesus really wasn’t the Messiah. They tried to trap him.

Jesus realized the ugly implications of this satanic effort against Him.

Only Rome had the power of execution, and the Mosaic Law declared that I was to die. I stood waiting, expecting the worst. What else could I do?

It’s funny, but Jesus understood all of this. He looked right through this theological trick, and He responded in a way that really shocked everyone. He never spoke, but bowed low and began to write in the dirt with his finger. Amidst their vicious accusations, they pressed their case.

Jesus bent down again, and he wrote some more.

I never knew what he wrote–but I had to believe it must have been something about the sin of the men who were accusing me. At that moment, they dropped the case against me and left. They all filed out, one by one, in dramatic fashion. I now stood alone with Jesus.

Jesus looked directly at me. I was still afraid, but it was strange, I felt a wave of peace as well. I quietly waited, not knowing what He was going to say to me. I half expected the worst.

Yes, he did confront me. He wanted me to acknowledge that those accusing men had left. I saw it and understood. Jesus was asking me to believe that I was now really free. But then he wanted me to understand something that seemed quite crucial.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

That dear one was a powerful moment. He set me free with the understanding that He did not condemn me. My new freedom came with a catch–sort of. I knew then that my sin must be renounced. My freedom came with a price. But knowing I was completely released, meant I was now a free woman.

At that moment I understood everything completely.

A Martha Spirit

Luke 10:38-41, NCV

“While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 

42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

My name is Martha and I’m a friend of Jesus. My home was one of His favorite places to stay–a refuge for Him whose life was so busy. I joyfully opened my house for Him and His disciples. When Jesus came I went all out, I wanted the best for them and that meant there were always things to do. Is that really a bad thing?

The kitchen was verging on bedlam–lamb, cucumbers, figs, and so on. Roasting and slicing, I had bread in the oven. All of this was requiring constant attention, and I remember not being able to keep up.

I wanted things to be perfect for Jesus.

I took occasional peeks at He who was teaching in my living room. I just brought in some bowls of figs and raisins as an appetizer and found my sister Mary sitting with the men listening to Jesus and asking questions. It was that which started to get a little ticked off.

I can see now that I was getting irritated.

There was so much to do and I realized I had to have her help. And the more I thought of Mary the more frustrated I got. I suspect she didn’t understand the work that need to be done. I suppose her priorities were messed up–she simply didn’t understand her role as a hostess, and to sit with the men like she was doing was wrong.

Mary didn’t understand her place.

I admit I was having issues with my sister. I had brought out another bowl of figs and that’s when I gently interrupted the Lord’s teaching. I wanted Him to tell Mary that her place was with me in the kitchen. He could correct her and I knew she would listen. “Tell her to help me.”

Instead, it was Jesus who corrected me. I still remember Jesus’ words. I wasn’t expecting this.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

Was I really that transparent? He understood, but rather than encouraging me I had become another lesson to everyone present. I realize now that the real issue was with my attitude, and not the work. Yes, I was bothered and upset and I know that it’s those things that were the problem.

Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

I suddenly knew that He was right. Jesus was in my home, and all I did was get angry. I thought my work would please Him and after all, wasn’t that important? Didn’t He “deserve” my best efforts?

My younger sister Mary was being praised. She was my example and now I was being gently rebuked. I realized that all I was doing, all my work, was not what Jesus wanted from me. The problem was my own heart—-it wasn’t Mary, it was me!

I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was immersed in my service to Him.

I had become critical and resentful of Mary, and I had forgotten that my place was at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. That’s what Jesus wanted from me, and somehow I had forgotten that. The work could wait, my real place was with Jesus.

Martha’s frustration is typical of those who diligently serve with good intent, but forget to also sit at Jesus’ feet. “The Martha spirit says, if the work is done, is not that all? The Mary spirit asks whether Jesus is well pleased or not? All must be done in his name and by his Spirit, or nothing is done.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Learning to Love Prodigals

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. I served as a full-time evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and the it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, and especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

The punch came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

    

Jesus Restores Peter (and Me)

15 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time,” 

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.'”

John 21:15-17, (context vv. 15-19)

Peter’s denial was a public one, and it was important that his restoration be public as well. It may come as a shock, but Peter needed to do this–even though it was a grief to him (verse 17.) It was necessary for him to heal. It was also a clear testimony to the others that Peter was completely restored.

Repeatedly in this passage, love gets linked to service. (Can you see this, it’s important that you do.) The Lord asks Peter if he really loves him, and most likely it was a solemn affair, not something trivial or casual. The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape–this is the type of love that God has for people. It’s a love that gives 110%.

The third time the word for love is different though, the word used is φιλέω, philo–this is a type of love that a man has for others, a brotherly kind of love. Something good, but less than agape.

And each time Peter responds, he uses the brotherly type of love. I don’t mean to be confusing here, but every time Jesus uses agape to Peter, Peter responds with philo. It’s as if Peter is struggling with loving Jesus wholeheartedly. Perhaps Peter was ashamed of his denial.

We must saturate our work with love. We must serve, but love is to fill our efforts. Always.

Love can’t be seen unless it has a physical aspect. Love can’t be abstract, a vague feeling, or a hazy concept–it has to be seen by others. Jesus’ sheep (and lambs) must be fed, and watched. This is now Peter’s call to ministry.

This is Jesus’ ministry as well.

Apparently, there is plenty of this kind of work to go around! Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ work in Isa. 40:11. This now becomes Peter’s work as well.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.”

Whether or not Peter was the first “pope” is debatable. But it’s clear that Jesus focused on Peter. And isn’t it just like him to turn our failings into victories? Peter’s denial was now his ministry to others. It dealt with the pride issue, which often disrupts true ministry to his flock.

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Jeremiah 3:15

Speaking His Language

Peter Warms Himself

“The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

“The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.”

John 18:17-18, Living Bible

The Galileans had a distinct accent. Just as we easily identify someone from Texas just by the tone and cadence of their speech, Peter had that distinct drawl that told everyone that he came from the same province as Jesus. It was something he couldn’t hide.

Peter was a very different man in his three years of being with Jesus. And you might say that had transformed him–you might even say that he was now a marked man, the enemy was now quite aware of him. He was no longer a captain of a small fishing boat looking for a catch. He was now the leader of Jesus’ disciples.

The entire text (18:15-18) reveals a confrontation that Peter had with a servant girl, and we hear him making a bald-faced lie. At this very moment, Peter was fulfilling the “promise” that Jesus had predicted (Matthew 26:31-32).

What was going through Peter’s head at that moment? She was a simple servant girl, perhaps one who ministered at the gate of the high priest’s home. It’s interesting that she is the first one to question Peter’s duplicity. Most likely she was just doing her job, watching and listening. She was probably quite alert.

It’s easy to point our finger at Peter.

He was a coward, and when he was put on the spot he bailed. People hate cowards–we extol those who take a definite stand against evil. But he was frightened, scared of being connected with Jesus–the man on trial. There was much at stake here.

We also speak with an accent. I know it might be a stretch–but being with Jesus has fundamentally changed us. Our lives now have a specific dialect that others hear, we’re not the same people that we once were.

We open our mouths and others hear the Kingdom of God. (Such as it is.)

Sometimes I try to pretend that I haven’t been with Jesus, and I’m very ashamed of that. Like Peter, I stand with the others and choose to warm myself by their fire, and I try very hard to make myself inconspicuous. But all I have to do is open my mouth, and I betray who I really am.

It’s hilarious, but even servant girls know that I belong to him.

“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change.”

Richard Foster

The Pharisee & the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

Meet the Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, and tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

Meet the Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

alaskabibleteacher.com

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.