Saturday, June 26, 2010

Judge Not

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

-- Luke 6:37

Have you ever been accused of intolerance?

If you’re a Christ-follower who’s open about your faith, then you probably have – or soon will be. Turn on the TV or surf the Internet a while. You don’t have to look hard to find articles or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or “open-minded” journalists who point their fingers and use the dreaded “I-Word” against Christians.

But depending on the situation, is intolerance always such a bad thing? Many see Christ-followers – and Christianity in general – as very intolerant and holier-than-thou. For instance, Jesus declared Himself to be the exclusive path to God.

"I am the way and the truth and the life.” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This bold proclamation defies today’s all-inclusive, politically-correct atmosphere. After all, it hurts people’s feelings and suggests that some faiths are better than others. But mankind’s demands for fairness and open-mindedness are irrelevant; Jesus has no tolerance for false, second-rate gods and allegiances.

As Christ-followers, we have open access to God’s truth through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. We should therefore have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong. But actually doing so is another matter. And this opens us up – and often rightfully so – to charges of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. That’s because the world is not only watching us, it’s comparing our Sunday morning words to our Monday through Saturday actions.

When you point your finger at someone else, your other four fingers point right back at you. We therefore need to look closely in the mirror before accusing others. Are your own words, thoughts and deeds beyond reproach? Jesus was right on the mark when He said we must remove the plank from our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s eye. We also need to consider the person in need of guidance. Is he or she already a fellow Christ-follower? Or is the so-called “sinner” someone who never signed up for Jesus’ walk of faith in the first place?

The answer determines the proper response. But either way, Christ-followers must still hold themselves to much higher standards of behavior. And on the flipside, we need to let God be the judge of others outside the faith. He knows the whole story; we’re hardly in the position to condemn anyone.

So forget tolerance; it’s love that’s the core value of Christ-followers. Love must therefore be our motivation in whatever we say or do. As the Apostle John reminds us, “God is Love.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good as Gold

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.

-- Matthew 23:27

You’ve seen the commercials... the ones that invite you to trade your unwanted or broken gold jewelry for quick cash. And with the price of gold near record levels, the promise of seemingly easy money might be irresistible. But as you’re rummaging through your jewelry chest for that birthday necklace from your aunt (that ugly one that you never really liked), be forewarned that all that glitters isn’t gold. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that when it comes to gold jewelry, what you see isn’t always what you get.

The proof might be as close as your ring finger. That’s because most gold jewelry is marked with a karat rating of 10k, 14k or 18k - the higher numbers indicating the greater corresponding purities of the precious metal. But since the purest gold (like 24k) is very soft -- and not to mention very expensive -- goldsmiths mix gold with other metals so the resulting alloy will stand up to everyday wear and tear. One of the most popular gold ratings - 18 karat - is 75 percent gold mixed with a 25 percent alloy of silver, copper or both. A lower purity gold with a more affordable price tag is 14 karat. And then there’s 10 karat gold - generally the lowest purity that can still be referred to as gold. About 60 percent of a 10 karat gold ring represents metals other than gold! Then things really get dicey when it comes to the gold-filled and gold-plated jewelry often sold on cable shopping channels and late night TV.

The bottom line is that gold jewelry can look dazzling to the untrained eye. But Jesus -- who’s the Master Craftsman -- is quick to spot cheap imitations and showy, overpriced pieces that aren’t what they seem. And he’s looking at people… not jewelry.

Christ aimed some of His most stinging criticisms at the so-called religious people who said all the right things, appeared (often in public) to be spiritual and made a show when giving their weekly church offerings. They looked fine on the outside. But Jesus was able to scrape off their shiny golden veneer to reveal the ugly base metal of their hearts.

He called them hypocrites.

Christ would likely use this same term for some modern day church-goers. After all, they’ve worn their Sunday-finest mask for so long that they think it’s natural. But there is Good News for those who truly desire transformation and a new life through faith in Jesus. God specializes in forming beautiful and useful examples of His handiwork from raw materials exposed to the intense heat of daily trials and tribulations. And it’s when life gets super-heated that our impurities are finally burned away. This trial by fire leaves only high quality gold - the precious metal that’s pure and pliable enough to be formed into the effective Christ-followers that our Creator desires.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mistaken Identity

"How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You close the door for people to enter the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves don't enter, and you stop others who are trying to enter.”

-- Matthew 23:13

The official account is that on July 17, 1918, agents of the Bolshevik secret police brutally murdered Czar Nicholas II, his wife and five children. One of these children was beautiful 17-year-old Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the ill-fated ruler.

It was a barbaric act that effectively wiped out the Russian monarchy that had ruled the once great nation for centuries.

Or did it?

About two years after the massacre, a suicidal young woman was pulled from a canal in Berlin, Germany. She refused for months to identify herself. But eventually, she began claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia. Many people called her an obvious fraud and imposter. But she did have several reputable supporters. A member of European royalty sent “Anastasia” a list of questions that only a family member could answer. And he was reportedly satisfied with her responses. Others who interviewed her also agreed that maybe – just maybe – Anastasia had survived her execution.

The young women immigrated to the United States, married and eventually settled down in Charlottesville, Virginia. Later known as Anna Anderson, she continued her claims to Russian royalty until her death in 1984. Scores of books, movies and TV shows even backed her story. But then it happened; DNA testing revealed that Anna Anderson was in fact a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska.

Anna Anderson went to her grave after decades of living a lie. No doubt that countless supporters were disappointed when modern science revealed the truth. And countless detractors no doubt proclaimed, “Just as I thought… I knew it all along!”

Today, there are millions of people around the world who are considering Christianity and the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They want to know if these “People of the Word” really live out each day what’s preached on Sundays, or if they’re just hypocrites who are living out a lie.

It’s a valid question that everyone who calls him or herself a Christ-follower must consider. Although none of us is perfect and we all fall far short of God’s high standards, the thoughts, words and deeds of true Christ-followers reflect the inner workings of God’s power through the Holy Spirit. So when that day finally comes when we meet Jesus face-to-face, may our encounter be like that of Nathanael, one of Christ’s original disciples.

“Now here is a true man of Israel,” proclaimed Jesus when He first met His future follower. “There is no deceit in him!”
Nathanael was stunned because He had never seen Jesus. But as God in human form, Jesus knew everything about Nathanael; just as intimately as He knows today about our own thoughts, motives – and most importantly – our hearts.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Death and Taxes

If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong.

-- Matthew 5:45

Death and taxes.

If you believe the old saying, they’re the only two things in life that we can count on. But actually, there are several more. And they’re not particularly pleasant.

How about the certainties of pain and injustice? After all, it seems so unfair that every day, good people lose their jobs, have serious accidents or are stricken by incurable diseases. And on the other hand, people who openly mock Jesus and live sin-filled lives always seem to get ahead in life and prosper. They cheat and steal and reap the benefits. So if there’s really an all-powerful and just God, why does He allow it?

The first thing to remember is that we live in a fallen, corrupt world. Paradise on earth was forever ruined that day long ago when Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Death—both literal and spiritual—has followed mankind ever since. The second consideration is that no one is truly “good.” That’s because we all sin and fall short of God’s impeccable standards.

“Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked a rich young ruler who inquired what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. "No one is good—except God alone.”
(Of course—since God came to earth in human form through Jesus—the would-be Christ-follower was actually right when he called Jesus “good”!)

But even those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior can expect their fair share of pain and suffering in this life. In fact, they can count on it. As St. Peter wrote to some of the earliest Christians:

“Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire.”
Whatever the test is—whether we deserve it or it’s blatantly unfair—we can respond by either giving up or by depending on our faith in God to see us through. Real faith will stand strong to the end. But what's false is bound to fail.

Yes, bad things happen to seemingly good people. And as Christ-followers, we should expect a lifetime of them in one form or the other. The secret to overcoming our adversities is how we respond to them. And Who we depend on.

It’s what defines us as Jesus’ followers. As the Bible puts it, "blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him."