It was a miracle for goodness sake! The man had been blind since birth living in total darkness until that day. Jesus’ disciples found him and wanting to learn more asked Jesus, “Was it because of this man’s sin or his parents that he has been born blind?” What a question! Thoughts of doubt and fear must have run through the man’s mind wondering if his affliction was his own fault.
How sweet it must have been to hear Jesus say, “Neither, but it was for the glory of God.” Suspense and anticipation replaced the anxiety within. He could not see Jesus stooping down. He heard him spit, but did not understand. Jesus then rubbed something on his eyes and told him to go and wash his eyes. Wanting to run to the pool, he knew his limits. He waits for someone to take him by the hand and guide him to the pool. He wanted to run, but not yet. He washed and light bled through his eyelids. Squinting to slow the flood of light, his eyes opened to a new world. Just thinking about this, I am filled with excitement for this man. I know it happened way back in Bible times, but don’t you just want to shout “HALLELUJAH!!”
Everyone is astonished. Every day begging, but now he could see, and run, and jump, and he did. The people took him to the religious leaders to brag on God. If there is anyone who can steal a blessing it is a self-righteous, two-faced, mean, judgmental, harsh religious person Did I hear an ‘Amen!’ They tried to steal his joy, his miracle. “Was this man really born blind?” they asked. They even questioned his parents. They did not want to believe that Jesus had done it again…and on the Sabbath too.
Just last night, I was speaking to a young lady in our church who said she had gone to her aunt and uncle’s church and the preacher began belittling women with short hair or colored stripes in their hair. “It was sinful,” he said. She was embarrassed and offended. Her hair was…well…you know. Religious people make it very hard to love God; almost impossible to follow Jesus. They claim the God of grace while judging everyone to Hell. Another lady spoke shared how a preacher told her she was going to Hell because she did not go to his church. Seriously!?!
These people are in every church, everywhere. When we go to church, we want to enjoy the fellowship and the sweet Spirit of the Lord. We do not want to be judged by our clothes, our hair, our skin color, our tattoos, our lack of Scriptural knowledge, our ignorance of when to sit and when to stand. When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” He was calling out all the bad shepherds in every church, yours and mine. They have a gift of saying just the right thing to make you feel so small. They are harsh, judgmental, and condemning. Jesus compares them to thieves and robbers trying to steal the sheep away from the Good Shepherd. Thieves use deception for their own profit. Ever known anyone that would tell any lie necessary to get what he wanted. Even in the church, there are thieves. Robbers use force, emotion, and violence. They seek their own prosperity to the detriment of everyone else’s. I have been in board meetings where people used intense anger in an attempt force the rest to do what they wanted. We don’t like it that these people are in the church. but we have all come across them. And many of us have crossed them too. How do we deal with judgmental, harsh church people?
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. (NIV)
Jesus says, “Don’t listen to them.” But I don’t know that it is that simple. Sometimes, these people are relative, friends, and people in our church who are not about to leave anytime soon. How do we not listen to their snide comments?
The word for ‘listen’ here means ‘to give audience to.’ When I go to a concert, or to hear a speaker, I am placing myself in their audience. I have taken a posture to listen and take in whatever they say or sing. I take it in. I give space to their utterance. I let their words take up residence in my spirit. This is what the serpent did in the Garden of Eden. He spoke. Adam and Eve let those words roam in their minds, in their spirit. The longer the words remained, the more their mouth watered for the forbidden fruit.
Like bad renters, we must kick these words out of our mind. We can’t let them stay. They may be stubborn, but we can’t give these people and their harsh criticisms power to crush our spirit. But here is the kicker…we have been designed by God to let words, especially of our authorities and those we love, to go down deep. It happens before we know it and they are alive in our head. So how do we get them out? Let’s go back to Jesus’ words:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (NIV
Pushing out the words of bad shepherds requires two things. First, we must listen to the words of the Good Shepherd. Second, we must follow the Good Shepherd. Let’s look at these two steps. When someone has judged you, criticized you harshly, you must gather from your memory the words of Christ, the voice of the Good Shepherd. Even if you can’t quote Him exactly (but this is a strong case for memorizing Scripture), remind yourself of His precepts.
They say you are a piece of crap. You remind yourself the Good Shepherd said you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. They say you are wearing the wrong kind of clothes. Call to your memory that Jesus declared you dressed in a white robe. They say you have too many tattoos. They say you are too fat; too ugly; too short; too sinful; too whatever. Let His Word fill your mind declaring from the Heavens that you are the righteousness of Christ, washed in the blood, perfected in the Beloved. If God is for you…who can be against you? Master this first step, but do not stop there.
We must also act. We must force our body language, our tone of voice, certainly our words, to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. As He leads us, He calls out ‘grace, forgiveness, peace, love,’ and we must follow His words. Until we begin to physically move according to His call, the bad shepherds will feed us with their hatred, disdain, and arrogance.
We can’t avoid judgmental people in church, but we don’t have to listen to them. We don’t have to give them power to steal our peace. Listen to the Good Shepherd and follow His voice. If you do this, never again will a judgmental, harsh, critical, self-righteous, smug, preachy, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious church person get the best of you. Nope, let them keep blabbing and babbling. You follow the Good Shepherd into green pastures and quiet waters.
I was in my lane. I was clearly in my lane and it was a turning lane so do you know what I did? I turned. I know…that’s crazy behavior to do exactly what I was supposed to do according to all of the traffic signals. But this guy behind me who had been riding me for quite some time, began to honk at me for at least 10 seconds as he turned left in a right-turn-only lane. My son was in the car which was a good thing because the aggressive driving and honking at me as if I had done something wrong did not bring out of the Bible-believing, Jesus-following, church-going preacher in me. I am not sure what was trying to come out of me in that moment, but I can tell you this-it was no good.
There was a voice in my head with words that I won’t write here because I want this to be a family-friendly place. It was not that I wanted to shout profanity at him, but I wanted to shout at him, “You’re the one that’s wrong!!” And if I had indulged, the voice in my head would have probably prompted a few more words like “Idiot!” “What’s wrong with you?” “You were supposed to turn right. Are you blind?” “Have you ever driven before?” “Do you understand English-right turn only!!” Whoa. Sorry, I got lost in the moment. For a minute I was back there again. Let’s just say that voice in my head really wanted loose out of my brain. But there was another voice in my head as well.
How can I talk about things at church from the pulpit that I ignore just because an aggressive driver riles me up? The voice continued, “That man didn’t really hurt you. Nothing has been hurt. Let it go.” The other voice in a much more animated way is screaming in my head, “Honk back at him!! That will show him. The force by which you press on your horn will make sure he never does that to anyone ever again.”
I can say that, at least in this moment, I listened to the second voice. But even as my car is gathering more and more distance from that man’s car, the first voice actually said to me, “Do a U-turn and go get him.” Can you believe that? Can you believe a preacher thinks that way? Hmmm…I guess that is the difficult part is that I know that that first voice was me. The second voice was not me at all. How do I know? I know because all of my emotions lined up with the first voice. Everything within me wanted to exact some kind of vengeance even if it was just to honk my horn back. (That really would not have had that much of an effect. I have kind of a ‘girly’ horn. Thank Nissan?) I was craving revenge. It was burning in my blood. Yep, that first voice was me alright. The second voice was the Holy Spirit.
To be honest, there are many times when it seems there is only one voice in my head. I realize in those moments that my desires and thoughts are right in line with the Holy Spirit as He whispers to me. He is easy to follow when I am in agreement. There have even been times when something similar happens to me in traffic and my first response was aligned with the Holy Spirit. I like those moments. I am not conflicted. I remain in harmony. There is no battle within. As wonderful as this moment was, I did not grow spiritually then. The alignment of my own thoughts and the Holy Spirit did reveal some sort of spiritual maturity in the moment, but I didn’t grow.
When Jesus was crucified, He was placed as the Passover Lamb. It was a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the people were commanded to never come before the Lord without a sacrifice. In Galatians we learn that we are to crucify our sinful passions and desires in order to walk in the Spirit. This requires spiritual growth and spiritual growth requires sacrifice. When my thoughts are in line with the Holy Spirit, there is nothing within me to sacrifice. But when the voice of my sinful nature clashes with the voice of the Holy Spirit, as conflicting as it is, I now have something to sacrifice-my will. The Bible says that Christ was perfected through suffering, but I would suggest it wasn’t the suffering that revealed His perfection. No, it was His choice to sacrifice His will in the midst of suffering that revealed His glory and perfected His life.
I really don’t like when these voices in my head are at odds. I wish I were always thinking what the voice of the Holy Spirit was saying. To be honest, sometimes, when these voices are fighting against one another, I feel as if I am not where I should be. I feel as if I have no spiritual maturity. I feel as if I have gone backward or something. But let’s be honest, God is perfecting me too. And perfection requires sacrifice. It is in these moments when our thoughts fight for something the Holy Spirit wants nothing to do with, if we will pause, we will see that our hands are not empty, but we have something to sacrifice. We have something to crucify. It is our sinful passions and desires.
I know. By now, I might could say that I shouldn’t have even struggled the day the man WHO WENT THE WRONG WAY!! honked at me (maybe I am still struggling a bit). But I can tell you that in times past, I would have only heard one voice and it would have had me honking back loudly and long. The fact is that God has matured me and perfected me a bit and I realize it was through my decision to sacrifice my will when it opposed God’s. It was Christ who said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This is our goal every time. In each conflicting moment, we have a choice. We can choose to offer the Lord our sacrifice, crucifying our will. Or we can withhold our sacrifice before the Lord and this is not good. These voices in my head don’t seem good until I realize I have something to give, something to sacrifice. When I offer it up to Him, He keeps working on me.
Who are you? Ok, I know you have a name and a social security number. You are known by name and by number, but who are you? What drives you? What moves you? What crushes and destroys you? Are you joyful, melancholy, or indifferent? Do you snort when you laugh (that’s my wife ?)? Do you hate musicals? Do you love reality shows? Do you snore? Are you the life of the party or the wallflower? Confident or insecure? Fulfilled or empty? Got it all together or broken deep within?
Would it surprise you if I said that who you are today is not who you have always been? The Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah something magnificent. He said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” This reveals to us that we were created by God. He knew us. We were alive. He knew our heart, our mind, our personality. He knew us as uniquely different from any other of the billions of humans that have been crafted in His hands and filled with His spirit of life. Then He gave us form in the womb. We were no longer spirit, but we had a form. The word ‘form’ here means ‘to mold as a potter would with clay.’ We were in His hands even in the womb of our mother. But something strange occurred in the womb.
Our form, our little body as it developed needed blood. The Scripture says that the ‘life of a thing is in its blood’ (Leviticus 17:11). Our form began as a fertilized egg from our father and mother. Our little bodies began to develop and the blood of our mother gave nourishment as our eyes and hands slowly began to develop. Here, the Lord was with us, forming us and crafting us. He was like a master artist putting the final touches on a masterpiece. This is who we were. But then, we were born and all Hell broke loose. In our new form, we were acutely aware of our surroundings. Our new flesh craved touch and our physical bellies needed milk. This new form birthed changed everywhere. Our environment changed from eternal to temporal. We rested in the hands of a nurse, a mother, a father, or neither. Before, our entire presence was enveloped by perfect love and perfect peace. We had no thought but what was good and right and perfect. It was all we knew. But with our new form, our awareness changed from God to man and as we grew, we knew evil. No one taught it to us. We were already familiar because of the change through birth.
I remember telling my mother and father that I didn’t feel well as a five or six year old kid. But later that afternoon, I heard all of my friends outside playing and I also went outside to play. My mother caught me pretty quick trying to sneak out. No one had put that idea into my mind and I didn’t need anyone to teach me that it was wrong. Those thoughts were my thoughts. Before Adam and Eve were introduced to wicked thoughts by that old serpent, nothing like that had ever occurred to them, but now, those thoughts come as we grow up in this world.
Not only do we, as children have impure thoughts and do wrong things, once we are born into this world, we are exposed to the wickedness of this world. We encounter a highly imperfect love compared to the most perfect love we had known before birth. What is worse is that our bodily form overshadows our spirit and we have no recollection of being in the presence of God. This is all the product of sin. Without a choice, we experience love with flaws at best and at it’s worst, no love whatsoever. How are we affected after birth when we suddenly know wickedness and suddenly become exposed to the wickedness of this life?
The person that we are today is the culmination of the sin born into us, the degree of sin or love we have been exposed to, and our reaction to the same. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Lord gives us a picture of perfect love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
To the degree that those closest to us were patient or not, we were transformed. There is such great power in love, but there is also great power in the absence of love. We were transformed by the degree to which those closest to us were kind or harsh, put us first or themselves, treated us as valuable or like trash, loved us or only themselves, spoke tenderly or screamed at the top of their lungs, forgave or heaped guilt, hugged or beat, cherished or hated…I think you get the idea.
Our transformation continued as we learned to respond to what we experienced. Some of us had good examples and chose to follow them. Others had the same, but chose to rebel and go after what they knew was wrong. Still others had horrible examples all around them and followed suit. And there are those miracle people who so despised being anything like their dad or their mom, that they drove themselves to succeed and they made sure their children felt loved and wanted because they never did.
The point is that no matter who you are, you have been greatly affected by sin. I know there are parts of me that I hate. I hate my temper. I hate my insecurity. I hate my eating habits. I hate all of these. Maybe today, there are parts of you that you hate with a passion. You wish you didn’t do certain things or that you didn’t feel certain things. You may feel less than, or racked with guilt over parts of you that disgust you. Well, here is what I want to say to you and I hope you are listening. No matter who you are, sin had made you less than what you were before you were formed in the womb of your mother’s belly. You never had an impure thought. You never considered anything less than beautiful. You loved perfectly. You were never selfish, never sad, never arrogant. You were without sin.
This is why Paul writes this incredible statement to the church in Rome:
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
Paul understood that the person he had become living in sin and in a sinful world was not his true identity. What a revelation? The parts of me that I hate are not me. Like a scar on a child who fell into the coffee table, sin and the effects of others’ sin is on me, but it is not who I am. And if I am not those parts of me that I hate, but these are sin and the effects thereof, how wonderful is the good news of Jesus Christ who has come to remove in me everything that was not part of me when I still existed only in the presence of the Holy One.
Stop hating yourself. Stop looking down on who you think you are. That’s not you. You have been fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. Your sin is not you. Your pain is not you. Your regret is not you. Your bitterness and hatred is not you. Your abortion is not you. Your broken marriages do not reflect who you really are.
And praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ who has come to wash away everything in us that is not us. Praise be to the God who has come to bring us back to who we once were. He has come to heal the wounds and straighten the crooked. Each day as you grow and mature in Him, He is restoring you more and more to the real you. Then one day, when our time comes, we will be perfectly restored. We will never again do those things we hate. We will never again have a negative thought. OMG (Oh my goodness!)! Can you imagine never again doing anything stupid, mean, or rebellious? Can you imagine never again have a heavy thought, an insecure thought, a confused thought? Celebrate today my brothers and sisters for the Lord is cleansing us and restoring us to the people we were created to be. Hey, there’s hope for us yet
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