In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both came to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed in an arrogant, condescending manner, thanking God that he wasn't like all of the "sinners" around him. In contrast, the tax collector didn't even look up toward heaven, but beat his chest and begged for God to have mercy on him because he was a sinner. As I read this the other day, I was convicted of my own tendency to think that I'm better than others.
I grew up in a church culture that taught that we were better off than others because we had made the choice to accept Jesus as personal Savior, and didn't commit some of the sins that characterized those "of the world." While we claimed to be humble because we were simply "sinners saved by grace," our attitudes indicated otherwise. There was a definite divide between "us" and "them." As a Bible college student, and later as a graduate involved in "full time" Christian ministry, the temptation was to think of myself as on another level because I "knew" Scripture and was teaching others.
After a few years, I became one of the Reformed. I was fairly young, though not restless, but I was enthralled with the intellectual side of faith. Again, the temptation, which I unfortunately succumbed to at times, was to think that my study and reasoning put me ahead of those who just didn't know what Scripture "really meant." In the ensuing years I have wandered through the post-evangelical wilderness, through non-denominational church, emerging Christianity, and "simple organic" church. I have actually landed in a community that is in the Reformed tradition, although I am certainly not young and am quite content.
I could very easily think that I have arrived. The problem is that it's still far to easy to fall into that old trap of thinking that I'm somehow better than any number of people. I can think, "I'm glad I'm not one of those_____________________ any more." We all want to think that we have it together and are better than other folks, and I am no exception. I thank the Father that it's not as bad as it used to be, but there are still times when that spiritual pride rears its ugly head. I don't want to give in to that temptation because I have learned that if God needs to humble me, the experience tends to not be a whole lot of fun.
I want my attitude to be that of the tax collector, who saw his condition without God's mercy. I know that it's only by the Father's grace that there is anything good in me, but sometimes I try to take a little bit of credit myself. I am relieved and grateful that God is my Father, and that he is working in me and will bring that work to its conclusion. He is merciful.
From my opportunity to teach in our gathering this morning:
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