Sunday, March 18, 2018

Deliverance: Turning the Boxes Over

She was never the most moral person. Her family, however, was filled with saints! Her father a minister in a local congregation. Her mother an active Bible class teacher. Both of her siblings were active members in the local church. Deborah herself was named after the mighty judge of the Old Testament. But she did not turn out to be a mighty woman. At least not in the way the biblical character was mighty. Church never interested Deborah very much. Maybe her family burned her out. Maybe she got lost in the shuffle. Or maybe she just chose to take another path. She was in trouble from day one. Her siblings were “angel children”—you know the type! But Deborah stayed on the wrong side of the rules. Constantly being reprimanded by her teachers at school. By her parents at home. When she was old enough, the local authorities took this responsibility. She got involved with drugs at an early age. She had a little girl of her own at age 17. Eventually, her family would have nothing to do with her anymore. By the time she was in her early-twenties, she was alone. No family. Few friends. Isolated from everything she knew on the cold streets of the big city. And it was at this time that she learned her fate. She did not have long to live. Her mistakes had caught up with her. She would die in a matter of weeks from AIDS. Can you see Deborah in your mind? Have you ever met Deborah?

Jesus continued His sermon.

READ MATTHEW 7:1–5 CEB

Do you think Jesus really meant these words? Was He really such a strong advocate of letting God be judge? I decided this week to not take His word for granted. I wanted to look at an example from Jesus’ own life. I wanted to make sure He was practicing what He was preaching.

Because the implications for His statements are severe! If taken at face value, these words could change our churches. They could change the way we live. So, did Jesus live by this rule, or did He not?

I want to read a well-known passage. But maybe you’ve never read it this way before. Not through these lenses. Not with “judging” in mind.

READ MATTHEW 26:36–46 CEB

Jesus alone with His apostles for the last time. A time of great importance. A time when He needed His friend’s support. But they did not give it. Instead of keeping watch, they fell asleep. Now, how does Jesus handle their actions? He approaches His friends. He sees them sleeping. He wakes them up. He tells them, “What are you doing? Don’t you know how important tonight is? If you can’t follow My simple instructions…just leave! My words were clear: Stay here and keep watch. I can’t have people like you in My Kingdom. You might not think what you’ve done is such a big deal. But we all know what will happen next. First it’s sleeping here in the Garden. Then it’s bigger things. Next thing you know, you’ll be sleeping in My communion supper. And then, before long, sleeping in sermons! Sleeping is the first stop on the road to apostasy!”

I think I’ve heard that conversation somewhere. Have you?

But these words did not come from Jesus’ lips. He says, “Could you not watch for one hour? Get up. Watch. Pray!”

He came back a few minutes later and they had fallen asleep again! This time Jesus really let them have it, didn’t He? No! He left them alone. And He continued His prayer.

The key ingredient in Jesus’ confrontation was not malicious talk, words of hate, or false accusations. He didn’t run off to the other disciples and say, “Can you believe they fell asleep?” Jesus’ main tool in this episode: Prayer!

I guess Jesus was true to His word: He doesn’t do a lot of judging! Which is really interesting when you think about it. If anyone had authority to judge others, it would be Jesus. But, there is a long list of people Jesus does not judge:
  • A tax collector (an extortionist)
  • A woman caught in adultery
  • A zealot (modern day terrorist)
There are a lot of “corporate” implications for the church with this text, but I want you to consider its personal implications this morning.

You know what? I have a difficult time not judging people. Ironically, I have less of a problem with people outside the church. The un-churched person in the world who makes poor decisions, I can tolerate that. The person who doesn’t believe in God and says ridiculous things, I typically have a lot of patience for those folks. The people I have trouble with are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe it is because I expect more of them. Maybe it is because I have relationships with many of them, and so when they disappoint me, it hurts more.

I confess to you that I’ve had trouble not judging over the last several months. As many of you know, this congregation made some difficult decisions over the last couple of years. The elders and ministers spent months in prayer and conversation. At the end of that time, the elders made a tough decision for us to allow women a wider role of participation in our worship assemblies. They made that decision because they believed they were following God’s Spirit.

History is filled with moments when leaders made really tough decisions. Most of the time, in those moments, they were not met with universal approval! You may agree or disagree with the decision that was made. That is not really my point this morning. My point is that I have not handled this season well in my heart.

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ left this church. A small minority of those said untrue and hurtful things about our elders. A small minority of them said untrue and hurtful things about me and my family. Instead of forgiving and praying. I have judged those people in my heart. At times, I’ve let those thoughts completely consume me. Instead of admitting that I am as sinful and broken as anyone else. I have considered myself better than those around me.

I’m sorry for that. I am praying now about that. I am praying for God to give me patience and forgiveness and a new heart. I say that, because I suspect I’m not the only one who needs to pray that prayer. See any personal implications of this text for yourself?

It was now near the end of Deborah’s life. She was lying in a hospital bed waiting to die. She summoned a minister to comfort her. She didn’t know why she did it. Maybe some voice from her childhood was haunting her. But it seemed hopeless. “I'm lost,” she said. “I've ruined my life and every life around me. I'm headed for hell. There's no hope for me.”

The minister saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser. “Who is that?” he asked. The woman brightened, “She's my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.” The minister asked, "Would you help her if she was in trouble, no matter how many mistakes she'd made? Would you forgive her if she asked you to? Would you still love her, no matter what?” “Of course I would,” the woman exclaimed. “Why would you even ask a question like that?” “Because I want you to understand,” explained the minister. “That God has a picture of you on His dresser, too.”

Have you ever met Deborah? I have. I meet her just about every day. I meet her in the eyes of every person I see. I meet her, sometimes, when I look in the mirror. Jesus told us not to judge others, lest we ourselves will be judged. You know, I think I know why He told us that. Because, given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes we place them in. Jesus turned our boxes over. He allowed us to crawl out from under all of the filth, all of the sin, all of the judgment.

When Jesus says, “Don’t judge,” He’s giving us a chance to do that same thing for others.

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