Category Archives: Self-Righteousness

Two Copper Coins

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

The world looks at outward appearances. No doubt that the eyes of many people were focused on the large amounts of money that were being placed in the offering boxes that day. They were likely impressed by the size of the gifts to the temple. No one probably noticed the widow as she placed her two small coins into the box. If they did, they may have scoffed or even been embarrassed by her. As we go about our daily lives, trying to live for the Lord, the world will not usually be impressed with us. They judge by earthly standards and, most often, miss the most important things. God never misses anything.

God looks at the heart. Jesus singled out the widow, as an example for his disciples. She had given a very small gift in the eyes of most. It was worth almost nothing and would have had no impact on the ministry of the temple if she had not given it. But Jesus knew her situation and He knew her heart. He knew this was all that she had to live on. Yet, she gave it anyway. It was not much, but she gave it all. Jesus told His disciples that she had given more than anyone else that day. She gave with a heart for her God.

No person or gift is too small for God to use. In our culture of newer and bigger and better, we judge everything by appearances. This leads to many people, organizations, and things being considered insignificant or meaningless because they don’t measure up to the standards of the culture or world. Even our churches have fallen prey to this mindset. You would think we are actually competing against each other, rather than working together to build the kingdom. I think that it is very possible that the greatest work of God is being done by those that no one even notices. People who pour themselves out behind the scenes, doing the work no one else want to do or does not even think to do. In addition, it is often the people who have the least financial resources who give the most. And in the eyes of heaven, two copper coins were more valuable than buckets of money brought by others. Remember, God chooses to use those who cannot boast in their own abilities or resources (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

God can be trusted. This widow trusted God. She was placing her life in the hands of her Creator. When she gave those two coins, God was all she had left. Unfortunately, we usually have too many things we can place our trust in. We also rely on our own strengths and abilities, rather than trusting in God. Very few of us would risk it all, like this widow, completely abandoned to the provision of God. Her God was a big God, not the puny god we place so often believe in. But our God is the One Who holds all things in His hands. He spoke and they became. And in any circumstance, He can and will do whatever is needed to accomplished His purposes. The widow must have believed this. She truly knew her God, and she trusted Him with her life.

In comparison to the eternal God, all of our abilities and resources are small. God is able to accomplish His purposes without anyone or anything. Anytime we start to think too highly of ourselves or what we have to offer, we have completely lost sight of Who God is. If we combine all that we are and all that we have, we are but two copper coins compared to the magnitude of the Almighty God. And yet, He treasures us and chooses to use us to accomplish His glorious purposes. And in His hands, He will do more with two small coins than what could be accomplished with all the wealth and resources the world can offer.

Together for His glory…

I’m Better Than You

The alternate title for today’s edition was “My Sins Are Not As Bad As Your Sins.”  We will rarely utter either of these statements out loud to anyone. However, if we examine are thoughts, I think they are very prominent in our way of thinking. As such, it reflects a misunderstanding of Who God is, who we are, the seriousness of our own sin, and the radical nature and magnitude of God’s mercy and grace.

As we become entrenched in the political season, we are confronted with many issues that frequently divide our nation. They can also divide the church, the body of Christ. Pick your issue. These are things that we feel very strongly about, and if a candidate or someone we know does not think the same way we do, we malign or belittle them. How can they think that way? What is wrong with them?

It is no different in the church. Again, pick your issue. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His by the way we love each other. And yet, on any given Sunday, in any given church, you can probably find gossip spreading in various corners of the building or right out in the open, as we express our “concern” over someone or some situation. “Did you hear what he said?” “Did you see what they wore to church?” “Did you hear what the leadership did?” “You know what I heard?” I could go on for a long time. The list is endless.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. One man, a Pharisee, was very sure of himself. He thanked God that he was not like other people, like the tax collector standing near him. He bragged about how wonderful he was. Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? Who would ever brag to God about how great they are? However, when we compare ourselves to others, tear them down, or gossip about them, aren’t we doing the same thing? We are basically saying that we are better than they are.

On the other hand, the tax collector would not even look up to heaven. He beat on his chest and cried out to God for mercy, because he knew he was a sinner. He knew his standing before God. Apart from God’s mercy, he knew that he was without hope. And Jesus said that he was the one who went home justified. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Friends, every single one of us is like this tax collector, whether we realize it or not. We have no standing before a holy God. If we try to stand before God in our own goodness or abilities, we will be utterly rejected. And yet, somehow, we seem to raise ourselves above others. We look at the lives of others and think to ourselves, “Well, at least I am not like them.” Really? Have we forgotten the price that was paid for our sins? Each of my sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Even if I had been the only person who ever lived, my sin would have nailed Him to the cross. And it is the same with you. Our sins, every single one of them, are a rebellion against our holy Creator.

When we look at someone else and malign them for their particular sin, it reveals pride in our lives. This is the pride of the Pharisee, forgetting that he needed God’s mercy just as much as the tax collector. Now, I think it is important that you don’t misread me here. I am not saying that the issue of sin should not be addressed. Issues of sin within the church should be addressed in a biblical manner (for the record, this does not include gossip). When sharing the gospel of Christ with others, it must include the seriousness and consequences of sin. Otherwise, what are we being saved from, poor self-esteem? Hardly!

In the end, I think most people know they are sinners, unless their consciences have been completely seared by sin. The Word tells us this in Romans 1:18-32. God makes it known to them. In my wife’s testimony, she tells of growing up without knowledge of the Bible or Who Jesus Christ was. But she said that when she would go outside and look up at the night sky, she said she knew that there was a God, that He was mighty and holy, and that she was not. When she heard the gospel, she knew she needed what Christ was offering to her.

The problem with us Christians is that we can forget we need the gospel, just as badly as those “sinners” need it. And we need it every day, not just on the day of our salvation. Our need of the gospel never ends. It is the very work of God to transform us from the enemies of God to being welcomed to His table, as His very sons and daughters. It is the righteousness of Christ that brings us to God and holds us as His very own possession, for all eternity.

So, as we live each day, we should remind ourselves that we have been given a gift so much greater than we deserve. We deserve the judgment of God. If we are in Christ, we have been given a glorious inheritance that is beyond our imagination.

And as we view the world’s events and conditions, we need to remember that there is only one thing that will bring true change. It is not economic growth and prosperity. It is not more money in our bank accounts. It is not political change, with the correct candidates or parties or policies. It is not in the education system. In the end, it is not in anything that we can create, build, or legislate. True change will come only through the transformation of individual lives, families, and communities through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we are called to demonstrate this and live it out regardless of the circumstances in the world. We are called to live it out to those who need a Savior, just as badly as we do.

Together for His glory…

It’s Not About Us

One of the things that I love about the Bible is that it contains the stories of real people. By real people, I don’t mean that they really existed (which is still true, despite what some say). What I mean by real is that their stories are not sugar-coated. Their lives are described with all of their flaws, failings, disappointments, and tragedies. Even the heroes of the Bible, except One, are flawed.

As I have studied the Bible and observed church history, I have noticed an interesting thing about the human race. We are intent on making ourselves the center of attention. Look at the religions of the world. All of them are about what we have to do in order to earn the favor of some god, earn our way into heaven, or earn a better status in the next life. It is about adhering to rituals and rules and tipping the balance in favor of our good works. We operate under the premise that it is up to us to make sure that it happens.

In the Bible, God provides us with continual examples of people who lived their lives based on this same misunderstanding. Yes, God desires obedience from His people. However, He desires that this obedience flow out of a trust and love for Him. As we seek Him, He works in us and through us to produce good works and He transforms our lives by His Word and the work of His Spirit (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:20-21; Philippians 2:13).

We need to remember that we will never be made righteous by any effort of our own.  This is produced through the power of God through faith Jesus Christ alone (Romans 3:21-26). There is no place for boasting or holding up our own good works before God (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). The Pharisees tried to demonstrate their own righteousness amongst the Jewish people. They went to great lengths to observe the minutest detail of laws and rituals. Yet, Jesus called them white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27-28). On the outside, they appeared righteous, but Jesus said that on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

God is never fooled. He sees through everything we say or do and straight into our hearts. He knows the thoughts we think and the words we will say before we even say them (Psalm 139:1-12). Therefore, why do we, as human beings, consistently try to fool God or earn His favor? In the end, I think it is the sin of pride. It is based on the premise that we are good enough on our own. We don’t need God’s help. We will do it our way. We are the center of the universe and can manage our own lives, thank you.

Time after time in Scripture, people made the same mistakes. Even devoted followers of Christ made these mistakes. That’s why I love the Bible. Because there is hope for me. How many times in the New Testament do we see Jesus correcting His disciples? How many rebukes and challenges are contained within the letters of the apostles? Even the apostles themselves had to be corrected. No one was exempt. We all fail. At times, we all think more highly of ourselves than we should. We cease to pursue Christ out of love and devotion, and default back to going through the motions, performing ritualistic activities, and looking good on the outside.

We work so hard. And yet, Jesus said to come to Him for what? Rest (Matthew 11:28-30). What do we need to rest from? We need to rest from laboring under the burden of trying to prove our worth to God. We need to rest from the burden of earning something from God that we could never earn. God has already demonstrated that He loves us beyond our ability to comprehend. He sent Jesus Christ to pay the most horrible debt and penalty imaginable because He valued and loved us (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:1).

God’s standard is too high. His holiness requires holiness from all who come to Him. Perfection. And in His marvelous grace, He bestows perfection on us through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He gives us what we could never obtain on our own, as a free gift to all who will call on the name of Christ. God opposes the proud. He does not help those who help themselves. But for those who humble themselves before God, He will raise them up, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:5-7).

It is not about us. It was never about us. Before the absolute perfection of God, what could we offer? Yet, He does ask us to offer Him something. Ourselves. And as we give Him our lives and receive the gift of His forgiveness through Jesus Christ, God transforms our lives from the inside out. It may not always be pretty. We might not always get it right. But you know what? Neither did those who loved and followed Him in the Bible. This gives us hope. This spurs us on to continue in the race to which we have been called to run (Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:1-2). We run the race because the hope of glory awaits us at the finish line. Then, our eyes will behold the very One Who longed for us to know Him. Because only in Him, will we find our greatest joy.

Together for His glory…

When Life Wears You Out

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Life can be a weary journey. It can be filled with joy and excitement, but it can, at times, feel like it is bearing down on us and sucking the life right out of us. Our modern culture does not help with this. We are constantly bombarded with information and situations that seemingly demand our immediate attention. These burdens can come from many sources, including family, work, friends, society, and the church.

In the passage above, Jesus issues a call to each of us. What is He saying to us that can help make life less wearisome and more joyful?

Come to Jesus. I usually find that when life is becoming dreary and frustrating, it is a result of me drifting in my relationship with God. The cause could be many things, including busyness, sin, self-sufficiency, anger with God, or other things we could list. Regardless of the reason, we do it. Or at least I do. Then, either because God is squeezed out of my schedule or because I am reluctant to come to Him, I remain distant from the Lord. This is so absurd. We have a God Who understands our weaknesses and calls us to come to Him, without hesitation and just as we are (Hebrews 4:15-16). Coming to Jesus should be our first response, in any and every situation.

Learn from Jesus. We have such a gift in the Word of God. God has provided the revelation of Himself, the creator of the universe, on page after page. We have the story of God’s salvation, from the anticipation through the fulfillment in Jesus Christ, poured out through the pages of Scripture. And yet, what is the first thing that usually happens when life presses in? I neglect the Word. I neglect the breathed-out Word of God that is provided for my training, correction, refreshment, and given to make me complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I need to have the input of Christ in my life in order to maintain a proper perspective on life and what is going on in the world. Being rooted in Christ is where we will find a firm foundation for living life with faithfulness and thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7).

Jesus’ burdens are lighter than those of the world. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus is speaking to people who were burdened with the legalism imposed on them by their religious leaders. The teachers of the law had added to the commandments of God. The requirements and expectations of the religious laws were far beyond what God had commanded. This is always what happens when the human race tries to improve upon what God has done. The result is slavery to ritual and the expectations of others (Colossians 2:8). It focuses on outward compliance rather than the heart. In the end, this is never successful in producing true devotion (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:1-9. It creates legalism, self-righteousness, and pride on one hand, and guilt, oppression, and defeat on the other. This is in opposition to how God works in our lives. He calls us to delight in Him, not outward performance. And as we seek after Christ, He will transform us, from the inside out (Romans 12:1-2).

Jesus will give you rest. Jesus said that, for all who come to Him, He will give them rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-29). Regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, we can trust in God, for He is creator and sustainer of all things. He will provide rest and refreshment for those who come to Him (Isaiah 40:28-31). As we seek after God, He will work in us and through us to accomplish His purpose (Hebrews 13:20-21). Ultimately, true rest is found in entrusting ourselves to the One Who holds all things in His hand. As we know Christ better, through His Word and the work of His Spirit in our lives, our hope and assurance shift from being grounded in earthly things and our abilities to being fixed in the character and promises of the Almighty God. Then, when life bears down, and it will, our confidence is placed in God, not in our ability to successfully navigate life’s rocky terrain.

I wish I was more successful at doing this. My focus is so quickly shifted from God and Who He is. When that happens, life starts to seem wearisome and overwhelming because I have lost God perspective on matters. But life is a continuing journey, and God continually calls us to come to Him through Jesus Christ. So, let us continue to spur one another on, encouraging each other to find our rest and satisfaction in Christ, Who suffered that we could find eternal joy and peace through Him.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Together for His glory…

My Idolatrous Heart: Self-Righteousness

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Luke 18:10-13

It was the late 1980’s. I was emerging from a long journey through confusion and spiritual emptiness. I had a newfound desire for the Word of God. I was growing in my walk with God. I was learning and had a passion for ministry again. The long descent had taken several years and now I had swung around and was quickly heading in the other direction. I was consuming all of the Bible teaching I could get my hands on. I was on a roll. I had gone from being confused to confident. But all was not well.

I began to issue edicts for our family. I was determined to banish any traces of harmful influences from the world and culture in which we lived. We were going to be a household that served the Lord (Joshua 24:15). There was no discussion. I decided, and it was. Now, my poor wife not only had whiplash from my rapid reversal of convictions and worldview, she was having treasured family traditions yanked from her life without any discussion.

The impact of my new approach spilled over into the church. I stood in the pulpit, as I had opportunity, and railed against the idolatry and lack of purity in the church. I challenged church leaders, telling them that they and the church needed revival. I wrote songs that lashed out against all of the compromise that I saw. I confronted the pastor and he responded by suggesting that I needed counseling. So, I left that church, taking my family with me.

The next few years were tough, but growing times. I would like to say that I fully learned my lesson at that time, but it is a lesson I continue to learn. God began to teach me about His grace. I learned, but still fell.

I can remember my early days in worship ministry. I thought I knew God’s plan and agenda for worship in the church. I had it figured out. How foolish I was. Today, I feel like I know less than I did then. God is so much bigger than He was then. Obviously, God did not change, but He has graciously worked in my life and revealed Himself to me through the years.

Were all of my convictions about the church, spiritual life, and worship wrong? No. At least, I don’t think so. In fact, I still hold onto most of the same convictions and, in many cases, I hold them more strongly today. So, what is the difference? Over the years, by God’s grace, I have learned to view myself more like the tax collector in the passage above. I understand a little better how absolutely depraved and hopeless I am without Jesus Christ. I don’t have all of the answers. In fact, I don’t have any of them. God does. God and His Word alone are alone infallible. So, I have learned to hold things a little more loosely. And, I have a long way to go. I still have a lot of Pharisee in me.

Self-righteousness is a symptom of pride, which I discussed last week. At its core is an exalting of ourselves, our lives, our convictions and opinions to the level of the Almighty God. Of course, we don’t see it that way, but if we honestly evaluate things, that is what it is. When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law added all of their additional requirements to those in the Word of God, they were placing their wisdom on the same level as God’s. They condemned others for not upholding these additional laws and clarifications, just as they would the Law, or even more so. And we do the same thing.

How? When we judge others for not holding the same convictions as us, even though they are not mandates of Scripture. When we make minor, debatable or extra-biblical issues into major issues, on the level with doctrines like the inerrancy of Scripture or the deity of Christ, we become just like the Pharisees, exalting our rules and convictions to the level of Scripture. When we criticize or demean others for their lack of conviction in these areas, we put ourselves in the place of judge. However, there are many issues where orthodox, godly Bible scholars have differing opinions. Maybe our positions are valid. Maybe they aren’t. This is where we learn to major on the majors and minor on the minors. This is where we can encourage and challenge each other to dig deeper into the Word and together we will grow (Proverbs 27:17).

Self-righteousness shows itself when we stand outside someone’s life and make judgments about how they are conducting their lives or raising their families. This, of course, is the easy thing to do. It is much harder to invest ourselves in their lives, seeking to help them grow in their faith and learning together. It is much harder to love others like Jesus did and get involved in the messiness of their lives. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we are lazy. Or maybe we are too proud and it is easier to lob judgments at them from afar. Ironically, if we did get involved with their lives, we might find they have a greater understanding of God than we do. The tax collector in our passage knew exactly where he stood before God. The Pharisee did not (Luke 18:13-14).

When we criticize or judge those who God has placed in leadership in the church, we are not only demonstrating self-righteousness, we are putting ourselves in opposition to God. Ultimately, church leadership is not accountable to us. They will be held accountable to God, for they are called to watch over those in their care (Hebrews 13:17). I am not saying this just because I am a church staff member. I have been on both sides of this relationship. I have been the receiver and the giver of criticism. I have been critical and judgmental of leadership. And I needed to repent.

Regarding the pastor I challenged many years ago, I had to go to him and ask for forgiveness, even though I still held to my convictions. In fact, I still think I was right, but my heart was wrong and my actions were not godly. I should have prayed for him and worked with him. I should have brought my concerns to him in a humble manner. Things could have turned out differently. In the end, maybe no change would have occurred and we would have had to leave the church because of our convictions. However, I would have been obedient to God and not guilty of rebellion, gossip, slander, and undermining the work of the church. Ironically, as it turned out, I became the custodian of that church. So, I ended up cleaning this pastor’s toilets. I am pretty sure God was humbling me through that.

We need to remember that God does not need our help to make sure things go right. God is sovereign. He will accomplish His will for His church and the spreading of the gospel with or without us and our great convictions and ideas. We need to remember how desperately we need a Savior, and that apart from God’s unbelievable grace and mercy, we stand absolutely condemned, without hope or salvation or forgiveness.

It is important to remember that Jesus was condemned and handed over by religious people, not “pagans.” He challenged their self-righteousness, superiority, and wicked hearts, and they killed Him for it. Jesus is not calling us to be religious. He is calling us to a radical relationship with Him, with the realization that all we have is in Him. Our greatest joy comes from being filled and satisfied in Him.

Jesus demonstrated humility through His incarnation, life, ministry, and sacrifice (Philippians 2:1-11). We should do the same. We should remain humble and flee pride and self-righteousness. If we humble ourselves before God, He will exalt us. And if our cause is from Him, He will honor it and bring it to pass (James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:5-6).

Together for His glory…