Tag: arrogance

Sermon: The Only Prayer We Can Pray

Jesus reminds us that there is one prayer we can and must pray.  It is a prayer that reflects our understanding of who we are in our relationship to God and others.

The Only Prayer We Can Pray

Luke 18:9-14

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

One of the things I like about scripture, particularly passages like this, is they tell us exactly what to look for.  By this time in his ministry, Jesus has become somewhat famous for telling parables.  The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole’ which means to “throw alongside.”  Parables were stories tossed to the hearers to make a point.

But sometimes the parables were enigmatic and mysterious.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus has to explain some of his parables to the disciples, who seem as mystified as the crowds about the point Jesus is trying to make.

But here, in this parable, Luke tells us several things. First, Luke tells us about whom Jesus was speaking —

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable…

Now that’s pretty clear.  There is no doubt to whom Jesus is speaking and what problem he’s addressing.  So, this parable is going to be one of the easy ones, one of those that is blatantly apparent when it gets told.

And, it is.  Jesus then tells the story of two men who went up to the Temple to pray.  So, this is not just an ordinary day, or an ordinary time of prayer.  Going up to the Temple to pray usually involved some special occasion, a feast day, or some event in the life of the worshipper that brought them to the Temple.  Going to the Temple wasn’t like our going to church on Sundays.  A Temple visit was a special occasion which required ritual preparation, the exchange of Roman coinage for Temple currency, and the purchase of a sacrifice if one was going to be offered.

The righteous Jewish man would make his way up through the winding streets of Jerusalem, assiduously avoiding anything that might make him ceremonially unfit for Temple worship.  As he ascended the Temple entrance, he entered the Court of the Gentiles.

This large portico, the outer court of the Temple, most of which was out in the open except for the colonnades, was the place for God-fearers to gather to pay homage to the one true God, the God of Israel.  This was the court from which Jesus ran the money-changers.  His words were, “My father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”  What sometimes gets lost in the account of the cleansing of the Temple was that when Jesus said, “My father’s house is a house of prayer” everyone who heard him would have filled in the rest of the scripture, which read, “…a house of prayer for all nations.”

In other words, the moneychangers and the merchants were taking up space allotted for non-Jews.  The Gentiles couldn’t go any further into the Temple upon penalty of death, so disregarding the purpose of the Court of the Gentiles in order to exchange money and sell sacrificial animals deprived the non-Jews of their place in God’s house.

Okay, enough of that, but I wanted you to get the picture.  But back to our two Jewish friends, two men going up to pray.  So, they pass through the Court of the Gentiles, and then bypass the Court of the Women.  Remember that this is a paternalistic society, and Jewish women could come past the Court of the Gentiles, but no further than the next courtyard, the Court of the Women.  The Court of the Women was an enclosed area, unlike the Court of the Gentiles which was an enormous open space.

I’m not sure why our church has two front doors, but many old churches have two front doors because the women entered in one door, and the men entered the other, and they sat separately during worship.  The Old German Baptist Brethren still practice this to some extent.  Men sit on one side of the church, women on the other, but they do have families seated together in the middle.

Once they are past the Court of the Women, our two friends enter the Court of Israel.  This is where Jewish men can gather, offer prayers, give their sacrifice to the priest, and worship God.

So, it is in this part of the Temple, most likely, that this parable takes place.  Perhaps it is a high holy day, or a day of festival.  Or perhaps one of our worshippers has experienced the blessing of God in an extraordinary way.  We don’t know what brings our two friends to the Temple, but we do know who they are.

One is a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.  Which is very much like Jesus saying, “Have you heard the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?”  By putting these two types of men in the same sentence, Jesus has already crossed the line of propriety.  You literally didn’t mention “Pharisee” and “tax collector” in the same breath.

So, immediately Jesus has the attention of everyone standing around, some of whom are — you guessed it — Pharisees.  Oh, and there’s at least one tax collector, or former tax collector named Matthew in the crowd, too.  Not sure where Zacchaeus is on this particular day, but Jesus already had the reputation of eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”  The phrase itself was redundant in first century Jewish society.

Let me tell you about the tax collector first.  Tax collectors were a hated bunch of guys in Jesus’ day.  They were hated because, first, they collected taxes and for thousands of years people of every cultural stripe have hated paying taxes.  And, Roman taxes were high, and systematically collected.  You remember that Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus to be counted, and the counting was so that the Roman government could know from whom to collect its taxes.  Unlike my grandfather who told my grandmother that the IRS didn’t know he existed.  He found out differently.

But, if that weren’t enough, tax collectors could also collect whatever amount they wanted to.  You might have owed the Roman governor 15 denarii, or fifteen days wages, but the tax collector could tell you that your bill was 20 denarii, or 25, or 50, depending on how much money he wanted to make, and his ability to enforce his demands.

Not only was the Roman system of taxation spread widely, but it also dug deeply into the coin purses of every household.  And paying through tax collectors was the only way to get your taxes paid, and your name duly checked off.  So, you paid extra because that was the way the system worked.

But you didn’t have to like it.  And you didn’t have to be kind to the tax man, or speak nicely to him, or befriend him, or even act in a civil manner.  You could show your complete disdain for him and his dirty business.  Tax collectors, needless to say, were never invited to the best parties, or asked to lead civic events, or held up as model citizens.  They were Jews stealing from their fellows Jews, and so in this way, they were worse than the Romans.

But, let’s turn to the Pharisee.  Everything the tax collector was, the Pharisee was his exact opposite.  Pharisees have a bad reputation today because we know they were always on the wrong side of whatever it was that Jesus was doing, until finally they orchestrated Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution.

But, if we lived in Jesus’ day, we’d like the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were the keepers of the Law, the defenders of the Torah.  In our 21st century language, Pharisees loved Scripture, studied it endlessly, memorized it faithfully, and practiced it publicly.

Pharisees were conservative in their views of religious life.  They weren’t for changing things.  They had made an uneasy peace with the Roman government, and as long as the Romans let them worship and practice their faith, the Pharisees were fine with Rome.

The Pharisees were also good men. I say “men” because a woman might be married to a Pharisee, but women were not called Pharisees as such.  But Pharisees were good men.  They gave generously and sometimes flambuoyantly of their income.  In the Temple were great receptacles for monetary offerings shaped like the open end of a trumpet.  A Pharisee could make a great show of rolling coins around the horn of the offering trumpets, making sure all around both heard and saw his generosity.

Pharisees observed the dietary laws, the sabbath laws, the laws of ceremonial cleanliness, and on and on.  They were the good, solid citizens of Jewish society, and they even believed in the resurrection of the righteous, which their counterparts the Sadducees, did not.

If our church were situated in the first century, instead of being called Chatham Baptist Church, I am sure we would be called Chatham Church of the Pharisees, and we would be proud of it!  To call someone a Pharisee in Jesus’ day was to pay them respect and honor them for their faithfulness to God.  Or so everyone thought.

And this is where Jesus really gets under their skin.  He says, “A Pharisee and a tax collector go up to the Temple to pray.”

But then he goes on, “And the Pharisee prays about himself.”  Actually, this could also be translated, “The Pharisee prays to himself.”  That’s right, either way, Jesus is letting his hearers know that the Pharisee is either praying about himself and not God, or to himself and not God.

And here’s what he says:  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Actually, that’s not exactly what he says, but it means the same thing.  “I thank you, God, that I am not like other men — murderers, thieves, adulterers, even this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

We’re glad today, 2,000 years later, that we are not like murderers, thieves, and adulterers, or even dishonest tax collectors.  I mean, none of us wants to labeled among the vilest of society, like people who break the Ten Commandments two at a time.

If we were in this story that Jesus tells, we’d all be Pharisees.  And I think that was kind of the point.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

But now look at the tax collector.  Jesus says, “He doesn’t even lift his head.”  That doesn’t seem strange to us, because we bow our heads when we pray, but the practice of prayer in the Temple was to look up, hold out your arms, bellow your prayers so that others could hear.  (Which is why Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, “Don’t pray like the Pharisees, standing on the street corner, saying a lot of pious sounding words.”)

All the tax collector says is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Okay, you get to pick.  Which one of these guys gets a gold star today?  Is it the upstanding, well-mannered, scripture-quoting, tithing, fasting, praying Pharisee?  Or is it snivelling, dishonest, disgraced, traitorous tax collector?  I’ll give you minute to think it over.

Okay, time is up.  Of course, you know this story so you know that Jesus says of the tax collector, “I tell you this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

Bang!  the Pharisees get hit right between the eyes.  “How could this happen?” I am sure they asked.  “How could a tax collector be justified before God over a devout Pharisee?”

Now, remember, Jesus doesn’t say, “A former tax collector.”  Or, “an ex-tax collector.”  Or even, “a repentant tax collector.”  No, this is a real, honest-to-goodness, tax collector who is still collecting taxes, still cheating people because that’s how he makes his money.  But, and here’s the important point, something is stirring in our tax collector’s heart.

This tax collector knows he’s a sinner.  He knows his life is not pleasing to God, and is not helping his community.  This tax collector has taken the first step toward God.  He hasn’t repented yet, but he has recognized his sin.  He now knows that he is a thief, a liar, a cheat, a betrayer of his own people.  He sees himself for what he is.  He sees himself as others see him.  He sees himself as God sees him.  And he is cut to the heart, stricken by what he sees.  Heartbroken by his own sin.

And so his only prayer is a prayer for mercy.  What else can he say?  “Lord, this is the only job I could find.”  Or, “Lord, somebody has to do it, and there are worse people than me.”?  No, he says, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Sin as a word and an idea has really fallen out of favor in our society.  About the only place we talk about sin is in church, so we get the impression that sin isn’t a real problem in society anymore.  Several years ago, the psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote a popular book titled, “Whatever Became of Sin?”  Well, sin isn’t fashionable anymore.  But it’s still around.  And the tax collector knew he had committed sins, and that made him a sinner.

But back to our friend the Pharisee.  What’s wrong with the Pharisee?  Luke sums it up for us:  they were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.

Why is that such a problem.  The Pharisee was a better man than the tax collector by all outward appearances.  He tithed, the tax collector did not.  He fasted, the tax collector probably feasted.  He kept all the holy days at the Temple, but this was probably the first time the tax collector had been in the Temple in a long time.  The Pharisee was by anybody’s account the better man.

Except the Pharisee didn’t think he was a sinner.  He knew the tax collector was, he knew the murderer was, he knew the thief was, and he knew the adulterer was because those people broke commandments, and violated the Law of God.  But not him.  He was righteous.  Upstanding.  A good citizen.  A model religious leader.

But he was also arrogant.  Self-righteous.  Self-centered.  Self-satisfied.  He needed nothing.  Except, of course, for others to know that he was not like the tax collector.

Because the Pharisee’s arrogance doesn’t end there.  Arrogance leads to separating yourself from others.  Arrogance leads to believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.  Arrogance leads to thinking that everyone should be like you.  That if everyone in the world were like you, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Arrogance also damages the community.  Here were two Jews — not a Jew and a Samaritan, not a Jew and a Gentile — but two Jews.  Brothers by ancestry, adherents to the worship of the one true God, the God of Israel. Two men who were both outstanding in their own ways, one famous perhaps, the other infamous no doubt.  But arrogance has separated them.

And not only has arrogance separated them, it has cut off the tax collector and his family and his children from the warm traditions of their faith, and cast them out of the closed society of Judaism to which they rightfully belonged.  Some wonder how the tax collector even got into the Temple, much less was given time to pray.

Normally, we talk about how we shouldn’t look down on others, or think more of ourselves than we ought to think, or we draw other similar lessons from this parable.  Jesus helps us by saying the exalted shall be humbled, and the humble shall be exalted.  So that’s the lesson.  But this story has more than just personal application.

When we put ourselves above others, think of ourselves as different from our fellow human beings, bad and terrible things result.  In our own country, clergymen preached from prestigious pulpits of both the North and South that the Bible affirmed the inferiority of the negro slave, and therefore, the white man had the right, and the duty, to tame the savage and command from him good, honest work.  The fact that slavery served both the economic interests of North and South, of course, was never mentioned.

In Hitler’s rise to power, the Jews were seen as the problem.  They were different, an inferior race, a mischievous group who not only reject Jesus Christ, but who killed him.  They and their nefarious schemes were to blame for the economic woes of pre-war Germany, according to Nazi propaganda.  So, Hitler’s appeal to Germans as the superior race, better than others like Jews, or Gypsies, or homosexuals, led directly to the “final solution” — the extermination of those inferior peoples.  Six million Jews were killed, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Romany (Gypsies), and others who did not fit the Third Reich’s portrait of a superior people.

Religion often contributes to this “I’m glad I’m not like him” syndrome, but not always.  I was gratified to read that an evangelical group, known for its opposition to gays, had suspended a nationwide anti-gay high school program after the suicides of several young gay students, students who took their own lives because they were bullied for being gay.  Cancelling that program was a good thing to do, and showed that some realize that when we position ourselves as superior to others — morally, spiritually, ethically, genetically, or in any other way — the consequences can be deadly.

I have titled this sermon, The Only Prayer We Can Pray.  Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement.  But the prayer of the tax collector is certainly the first prayer we must pray.  It is the only prayer we can pray in relationship to others.  And when we recognize that we are sinners, despite our appearance of respectability, and that our only real option is to beg for God’s mercy, then we begin to live our lives truthfully before God and each other.

The tax collector’s prayer is the only prayer we can pray if we are honest with ourselves.  It is the only prayer we can pray if we see ourselves as God sees us.  It is the only prayer we can pray if we are interested in reconciling humanity to God, and bringing the shalom of God to earth.  “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Amen.

 

Study Links Luxury Goods and Selfishness

A new study reveals a specific link between luxury goods and selfishness. Two experiments showed that “exposure to luxury led people to think more about themselves than others,” according to a Harvard Business School paper.

Professor Roy Y. J. Chua and Xi Zou conducted two experiments in which one group of participants was exposed to pictures of luxury goods such as watches and shoes, and the other group was shown pictures of watches and shoes that were not luxury brands. After participants identified characteristics of the goods, they were then asked to take an unrelated survey about decision-making. Those exposed to luxury goods were significantly more likely to act in their own self-interest, even at the expense or harm of others.

In a second experiment, those exposed to luxury goods were less able to identify words that expressed positive social actions, than those who were only exposed to non-luxury goods. In other words, the cognition, or thought process, of those exposed to luxury goods tended to be self-centered, and self-interested with less regard for others.

All of this might explain why people like Tiger Woods make such absurdly self-centered choices. Tiger owns both a luxury yacht and private jet, not to mention the Cadillac Escalade he just wrecked, or the mansions he owns, and so on.   This might also explain why the head of Goldman Sachs described banks, including his, as “doing God’s work.” Luxury tends to blind us to the needs of others, and bias us toward our own self-interest.

The Harvard Business article is playfully titled, “The Devil Wears Prada?” — an apparent play on the book and movie by the same name, only without the question mark.

So, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” he was telling us how to order our lives so that we have the basic necessities of life, but also are concerned that others have them too. It also puts the “prosperity gospel” (I hate to write those words together) in a new light. Preachers who drive around in luxury cars, fly in private jets, and tell their flocks how they can get ahead, may be creating the next generation of self-centered church members. Not that we haven’t seen that before, but this time we have proof that the more you have, the less concern you have for others. Something to think about during the Christmas season.

Faith Puts You In Your Place

Faith Puts You In Your Place (mp3)

Luke 18:9-14

The Great Dizzy Dean

When I was a kid, which was a long time ago, our little TV set picked up three channels — NBC, CBS, and ABC. On Saturday afternoon, in addition to the Army’s Big Picture, The Baseball Game of the Week came on. Now that doesn’t sound like such a big deal because you can see baseball just about any day of the week now. But that was long before cable, and long before Ted Turner started televising all the Braves games.

The commentators for The Game of the Week each Saturday were Pee Wee Reese, former shortstop for the Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and Dizzy Dean, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for The St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Pee Wee was the play-by-play guy, and Ol’ Diz was the “color” commentator. And was he colorful. Jerome Hanna Dean was from Mississippi, and slaughtered the King’s English. The St. Louis Board of Education tried to have Dizzy pulled off the air, and the commissioner of baseball once said that Dizzy Dean wasn’t fit to be a broadcsast announcer. To which Dizzy replied, “Let the teachers teach English and I will teach baseball. There is a lot of people in the United States who say ‘isn’t’ and they ain’t eating.”

To go with his horrendous butchery of the English language was an ego the size of, well, Mississippi. He once said, “Anybody who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.” But the quote I like most is what Dizzy said after someone accused him of bragging. “Podnuh, it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up,” Dizzy replied.

Confident of Their Own Righteousness

We’re amused at the confidence Dizzy Dean had in his baseball ability. But in Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus has a word for those who are confident of their own righteousness. And it’s not a good word, either. I can imagine that after Jesus told the story of the persistent widow, the purpose of which was to say that “they should always pray and not give up,” I am sure there were some smug Pharisees standing there who were giving Jesus the equivalent of a first century, “Amen, brother.” Followed, I am sure, by their pronouncements about how much and how often they prayed.

“Why,” one Pharisee might have said, “I’m down at the Temple three times a day praying. Not like those merchants who refuse to close their stalls and take time to pray.”

Another chimed in, “That’s right, and I’m right with him. We always pray. We don’t ever quit praying like some around here.”

I imagine at this point, Jesus just smiled and said, “Let me tell you a story.”

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“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.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now, Jesus wasn’t being rude to our imaginary Pharisees who were bragging on their prayer life. No, he was just pointing out that being proud of our spiritual practices — like praying, going to church, giving — is not the right attitude. But, in Jesus’ day, there was absolutely nothing wrong with public displays of piety. It was expected. So, the leading Pharisees made a big show of praying publicly and loudly, or dropping their offerings in the Temple collection jars with great fanfare, and of generally informing everyone within earshot of their faithful devotion. After all, isn’t that what God wanted?

On the other hand, there were a whole group of folks who couldn’t brag about their righteousness, because they couldn’t measure up. The shepherds were one group. The shepherds were considered “not righteous” because they had to tend the flocks. They couldn’t rush to the Temple three times a day. Plus, they were dirty (after all they slept out with the sheep), and certainly not ceremonially clean. That’s why the shepherds are “out in the fields” when Jesus is born. That’s why it’s such a big deal that shepherds appear at the birth of the King of Kings.

Of course, shepherds weren’t the only unrighteous Jews. Tax collectors were also among this despised lot. Tax collectors were hated by everyone. They were dishonest, first of all, because the tax collector made his fortune by charging more than the real tax he was supposed to collect. This usually showed up as interest, or penalty, or some other fabricated charge, all to line the tax collector’s pocket. Plus, the tax collectors were the enforcement arm of both Herod and Rome. They were collaborators, to use the language of World War II. They were traitors to their own people, and in league with the hated Roman empire.

So, it’s significant when Jesus calls a tax collector to “come and follow me” as he does with Matthew. And, one of our favorite stories of Jesus is the story of Zacchaeus, a short tax collector, who wants to see Jesus so badly that he climbs up in a what? — sycamore tree — just to get a glimpse of Jesus, this amazing rabbi that he’s heard about. Little does he know that Jesus will spot him, call him down from the tree, and go home to dinner with him that day. And Zacchaeus will be changed. He’ll become a follower. He’ll become honest. He’ll refund money that he cheated folks out of. And, of course, the Pharisees will spread the word about Jesus, “He eats with tax collectors and sinners.”

The point that Jesus makes by doing all this is — “Don’t brag about your own, self-made righteousness. Be humble before God. Then, God will lift you up.”

Some Thoughts About Humility

Now, of course, even in our culture, humility is a good thing. I remember being told by my mother, not to brag about something I was proud of. “Don’t toot your own horn” was the instruction all mothers gave to their children. And, even today, children are still encouraged to be humble. I was looking at an education site for teachers of 3-to-7 year-olds the other day. The lessons were on respect and humility. And they even had some catchy little rhymes to help the kids understand the concept of humilty —

Others are good,
And so am I!
When we’ve listened to each other,
We’ll have some pie!

He is smart,
And so is she,
And all us smart ones
Can sit in a tree!

I can feel good,
Even when you brag,
Because I know,
You’re not a cad!

Okay, so maybe this isn’t great poety, but the point is to help the kids realize that humility is a good thing, even if others aren’t humble.

But, in case you think that humility is just a childish idea, Jim Collins, in his groundbreaking book, Good to Great, identified humility as one of the leading traits in what he calls Level 5 leaders. Level 5 leaders are those who took average companies — companies that were “good” — and turned them into “great” companies that sustained their greatness over an extended period of time. Not just a flash-in-the-pan success, in other words.

“James C. Collins loves to tell the story of Darwin E. Smith, someone most readers have probably never heard of. As Smith was ending two decades at the helm of Kimberly-Clark, maker of Kleenex and other personal-use paper products, he was asked what had driven him, what had he done to make his company so successful over time.

“I was just trying to become qualified for the job,” Collins quotes Smith as saying.

Smith’s statement is at the heart of Collins’ latest management study, which finds that leaders of great companies have genuine humility and self-doubt but also the singular drive to make their companies succeed.” Published: June 20, 2001 in Knowledge@Wharton

Collins went on to say —

“We looked at a factor we called the Window and the Mirror,” he said, noting that Level 5 executives tended to look in the mirror and blame themselves for mistakes. But when things were good, they would look out the window and either proclaim how everyone in the company was wonderful or how factors of fortune caused success. When he asked Circuit City’s Wurtzel about his company’s success, Wurtzel replied that 80 to 100% of it was that “the wind was at our backs.” Collins faxed him charts showing how much better his company did than others in the field. “I told him they all had the same wind,” said Collins. ” ‘Gee,’ was his response. ‘We must have been really lucky.’”

“Yet most people don’t appreciate how lucky they are to have Level 5s among them. “We live in a culture that doesn’t pick Level 5s as subjects of admiration,” said Collins. “We pay attention to the 4s.” And that’s unfortunate for the business world, as well as the world at large.  It’s important, Collins added, not to settle just for good leadership, but to strive in every field for greatness.”

— Published: June 20, 2001 in Knowledge@Wharton

So, even in the business world, humility is a trait of great leadership. And, humility is not just a personal characteristic. Humility is vital to groups of people, like countries and organizations and even churches.

Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus But Not The Church. The book is the result of Kimball’s years as a youth pastor, and now pastor, engaging people outside the church in conversation. Especially young people.  And, here are the objections that teens and young adults have toward evangelical churches now —

  1. The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
  2. The church is judgmental and negative.
  3. The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
  4. The church is homophobic.
  5. The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
  6. The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole bible literally. (From They Like Jesus But Not The Church, Contents pg.)

Listen to Maya, a 27-year old hairstylist —

I actually would want to be told if I am doing something that God wouldn’t like me to do. I want to become a better person and be more like Jesus. But that isn’t how it feels coming form Christians and the church. It feels more like they are trying to shame you and control you into their way of thinking and personal opinions about what is right and wrong, rather than it being about becoming more like Jesus and a more loving human being. — They Like Jesus But Not The Church, pg 104

And Maya is not alone. Jenine, a mother and small business owner, said —

I did grow up in a church, but now I am a Buddhist. When I became a mother, I wanted my daughter to have a spiritual upbringing. However, I didn’t want her to become like the Christians in the church I knew. They were always so negative adn complaining about everything, and I wanted my daughter to be in a positive environment. I became a Buddhist since they are much more loving and peaceful people than those in the church. — They Like Jesus…, pg 96

Ouch. That hurts. Now, if you’re thinking — “Well, that’s a bunch of hippies in California. What do they know?” I’ve got more bad news for you. David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons have just come out with a new book titled, unChristian: What A New Generation Thinks About Christianity…Any Why It Matters. The Barna Group is kind of the Gallup Poll for evangelical Christians. Kinnaman and Lyons spent three years surveying and interviewing hundreds of young adults, 16-29 years old. Here’s what they found —

As the generations get younger, fewer are involved in church or embrace Christianity. They are “outsiders” as follows:

    • 61yrs+: 23% are outsiders.
    • 42-60: 27% are outsiders.
    • 16-29: 40% are outsiders to the faith.
  • 16-29 year olds feel the church is —
    • Hypocritical
    • Too focused on getting converts
    • Anti homosexual
    • Sheltered
    • Too political
    • Judgmental

Sounds like Dan Kimball’s book doesn’t it? The biggest complaint, according to Kinnaman and Lyons, among 16-29 year old is that the church is ARROGANT. Imagine that…the church founded by the humble carpenter from Nazareth has turned into an arrogant caricature of itself.

A Modern Day Parable

If we reframe the time for Jesus parable, bringing into the 21st century, we might hear the following:

“Two people went up to church one Sunday, one a born-again, evangelical Christian leader who pastored a large megachurch; the other, a young businessman who was forced to compromise his convictions just to keep his job.”

“The pastor stood up and prayed about himself: Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people — people who aren’t as blessed as I am. I’ve read the Bible through 10 times, I go to church 4 times a week, I give a lot to the church, and people admire me. Young preachers want to grow up to be just like me. I’m successful, well-known, in-demand as a speaker. Oh, and thanks for letting me get my new book published this spring.”

“The young businessman sat alone in the back of the sanctuary, and would not even look up. Head in his hands, he prayed silently, “Lord, help me. My life’s a mess. I compromise my principles. I need this job, but I’m so miserable. Help me. Have mercy on me.”

Jesus might say — “I tell you that the businessman, rather than the preacher, went home right with God that day. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Mind Of Christ and the Mercy of God

Paul said,

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   — Philippians 2:5-11

If we want to be like Jesus, if we want to have the mind of Christ, it all starts with humility. And seeing our humility, God says, “I love you. I love you just as you, where you are. I love you so much that I gave my Son, everything that I loved, so that you might sit where He sits — in my presence.”

Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Faith, interviewed Charles Templeton. Templeton was one of Billy Graham’s contemporaries in the early days of Graham’s ministry. He was a powerful preacher and evangelist like Graham, but ended up doubting his faith, and leaving the ministry. In addition to that, Templeton wrote a book titled, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

When Strobel interviewed Templeton, he asked him his opinion of Jesus. Templeton responded, “In my view he is the most important human being who ever existed….He had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus.” 

 Then, he paused and said, “And if I may put it this way, I…miss…him.” With that tears flooded his eyes and he shielded his face, Strobel said, as his shoulder shook with sobs. (They Like Jesus…pg 57)

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.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”