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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thank You God That I Am Better Than Others

Thank You God That I Am Better Than Other People

Jesus was telling another one of his stories. This story was about two men who came to the temple to pray. The first man was a religious leader, a Pharisee. And the second man was a hated tax collector.

The Pharisee prays first: “God, I thank You that I am not like the other people around here– some of whom are extortionists, unjust, and adulterers. And I am so much better than this tax collector praying here next to me.” (Luke 18:11) Jesus goes on telling that this Pharisee is standing tall, so proud of himself. He goes on bragging to God about all the good things he has done. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I have.” (Luke 28:12)

And then Jesus described the second man who has come to pray- the tax collector. The tax collector slumps into the temple with his head down and beating his breast. Bowing down to the ground he begs: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

Two prayers of two men! A proud man showing off before God and a humble man pleading to God for mercy. Jesus ends his story by saying that God heard the humble mans’ prayer and took away his sins. But the proud prayer of the Pharisee was not pleasing to God. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus added. (Luke 18:14b)

When it came to the proud religious leaders – the “holier than thou crowd” - Jesus often had little patience. He sometimes lashed out in anger at the ones who bragged openly about their “values”. Once He even compared these religious “goodie goodies” to “white washed tombs”. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You are like white washed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

But Jesus always had compassion for the marginalized people in His society. One time during His ministry Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery and another time He asked Zacheias, the cheating tax collector if He could spend some time visiting with him in his home. Jesus was always seen eating and praying with the bad folks – the undesirables! (Matthew 9:10-13)

People have always been impressed by outward appearances. And today these shallow values are exploited by the media where we are urged to look sexy and drive expensive cars, wear cool clothes and be seen with the “important” people. But God has never been impressed by our fancy clothes or showy appearance. Scripture says that what is in our hearts is what matters to Him.

Jesus called the religious folks hypocrites- the ones who prayed loudly or did good deeds on street corners or out where everyone could see them. (Matthew 6:5-8) and (Matthew 6:1-4) He said that we shouldn’t try to impress others with our long prayers or good deeds.

Instead Jesus told His followers to pray in secret. “When you pray, go into your room, and shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6) And Jesus also told us not to advertise how much we help others. “When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet …that you may have glory from others…But when you do charitable deeds; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:2-4)

Years ago our family joined a church where most of the church members put bumper stickers with Christian messages on the bumpers of their cars. Some of these bumper stickers read: “Honk if you love Jesus,” “Praise the Lord” or “As for me and my house, we serve the Lord”. And most of the women in this church wore large fancy crosses around their necks and constantly talked about “the Lord” in pious voices. We joined this church group because we thought we could become closer to God by being around these wonderful Christians.

Another family joined the church shortly after we did and this family had a teen-aged daughter who was pregnant. The social norms were different back then (1970’s) and girls who became pregnant out of wedlock at that time were looked down upon and shunned. The family with the pregnant teen-ager seemed to be looking for a closer relationship to God and they tried to fit in at church. But soon the church ladies wearing the big crosses were whispering back and forth about this pregnant teen-ager and her “bad” parents.

Rumors and judgments flew around and soon none of the good church members would speak to the family with the pregnant daughter. The pregnant teen was nearly run over in the church parking lot by a church member in his car with “Jesus” bumper stickers displayed front and back. The family finally gave up and quit coming to church. They had been frozen out by the “holier than thou” crowd. And we quit going to that church too. I have often wondered if that family ever tried to go to another church. How many people have been turned away from God by judgmental Christians? No wonder Jesus got angry with these proud folk!

The Bible tells us that “Pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 18:12) The Bible has a great deal to say about the dangers of pride. It’s no wonder, since it was pride that caused the downfall of our first parents. Adam and Eve disobeyed Gods’ command to not eat the fruit of a certain tree, since they thought they knew better than God. That was pride, wasn’t it?

But Jesus came to take away sin and restore what was lost. He did it all. The only part we need to play is to be humble enough to accept what He has done. If we are proud we may still want to be in control and not see our need for the Savior! Our hearts may be too hard to open to His salvation. Pride can mess up our relationships with one another so I believe that pride can also stand in the way of our relationship with God. Our foolish pride can blind us from trusting His way. So we need to do the opposite and humble ourselves before God. So important! Remember Jesus said: “The person who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

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