This summer we are jumping into the parables of Jesus.  What is a parable?  Very simply, it’s a story that has a spiritual principle you can learn.  Why stories?  Remember what Jesus said?  He told stories because not everyone has a ready heart.  Not everyone is able to see or understand spiritual things.  That’s why Sam, the first week, stopped and prayed and we have been doing it ever since.  I’d like to do the same today.  Let’s stop and pray and ask God to open our spiritual eyes.

Do you remember the parable from last week?  Sam walked us through the parable of the persistent widow.  What did she do?  She kept going to the judge and asking for justice.  Jesus taught, that is how we should pray.  We should never give up and always be praying because our Heavenly Father is listening.  It’s about coming to God and surrendering our lives to Him.

Then Sam shared the tension people feel when they pray.  They can feel like, God won’t or doesn’t answer my prayers, so they stop.  Or, I am not hearing anything, so they think something is wrong.  Or, I have been praying but my circumstances aren’t changing, so they give up.  Lastly, I feel like I don’t need to pray because I can handle it on my own.  Then Sam helped us understand how to overcome those feelings.  He said, as you walk through life, remind yourself, “I can’t.  God can.  And I think I will let Him.”

Today, we are reading the next parable.  And Jesus continues to talk about prayer. Let’s jump into today’s parable.

9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people – cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” NLT Luke 18:9-14

This isn’t complex, is it?  You don’t need a religious degree to wrap your mind around what Jesus is saying, do you?  Basically, don’t be a jerk.

Jesus once again, aggressively, reveals the hard heartedness in the Pharisees.  They were the religious leaders.  They are the people who went to church.  They tried to live out the rules.  They looked good on the outside.  They did all the right things.  They paid their bills, mowed their lawns, and got their kids to the right sports fields with smiles on their faces.

The problem they had was simple.  Their hearts were very self-righteous and prideful.  They thought so highly of themselves, they were comfortable comparing themselves to others and concluding, ‘I’m better than them.’  And because they were so prideful, they missed the point of it all.  They just couldn’t love others.

Jesus compares the Pharisees to the most despised people of his day, the tax collector.  The tax collector didn’t look good to others.  They weren’t good people at all, and they knew it.  The reason the tax collectors were passionately hated, they were Jewish people, protected by Rome, collecting taxes from their own Jewish people.  And to make matters worse, they not only took the taxes, they added a surcharge and kept that surcharge for themselves.  This means the tax collectors were living large and there was nothing the Jewish people could do about it.  So, it’s no surprise the Jewish people passionately hated the tax collectors.

This parable is interesting because for some, it’s very offensive.  For others, it’s redemptive and gives hope.  Who would be offended by this parable?  Anyone who thinks they are better than others and is comfortable looking down at others and treating others poorly.  Who would be inspired by this parable?  Anyone who has lived life, blown it somehow, knows it, and is looking for a fresh start.

Once again, Jesus completely confronts everybody’s understanding of religion and flips it upside down.  Who is made right with God?  It’s not based on appearances, it’s about the condition of your heart.  I love how Jesus explained this as He wrapped up this parable.  Remember what Jesus said?  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Before we move on, do you connect with what Jesus said?  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.  Those who humble themselves will be exalted.  What is Jesus saying?  To understand, I want to read two scriptures.  First scripture is from Isaiah.  Who do you think said this?

13 “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly… 14b I will make myself like the Most High.”  15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. NIV Isaiah 14:13-15

Who said that?  Satan.  What happens to Satan?  He is brought down into hell.  Remember what Jesus said?  Those to exalt themselves are humbled.

Second scripture.  Who did this?

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.  NIV Philippians 2:6-9

Who did this?  Jesus did.  Remember Jesus said, those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus is saying if you want to be made right with God, humble yourself.  You must see and understand the reality that you are a sinner, someone who comes up short. You can never be made right with God when you arrogantly walk-through life thinking, ‘I’m better than them.’ You can never be made right with God when you secretly think, ‘Look at who I am,’ or ‘Look at what I have accomplished.’  The most dangerous spiritual condition you could ever have in your life is pride.  Why?  Because pride blinds you to how badly you need God.

Scripture tells us about how deceitful our hearts really are.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? NLT Jeremiah 17:9

That’s in us all.  We all tend to look at ourselves and not see ourselves clearly because our hearts are so deceitful.  Have you ever seen someone accuse others of the very thing they do?  The boss who holds you to a standard they can’t keep.  The mom who expects kids to tell the truth while they watch her tell little white lies.  The parent who expects kids to not get drunk while they get drunk every weekend.  Yeah, that’s in you and me too.  That way of deceiving ourselves.  When we do it, it’s okay.  When others do it, it’s a problem.  And if you see that hypocrisy in me, you better not point it out in my life.

Now let’s stop and be honest.  Do you know anyone who looks at their life and concludes, ‘I am prideful’?  Has your wife or husband called you into the kitchen and said, ‘I realize that I am prideful and I want to tell you I am sorry for that?’  Have you heard this from your employees?  Your boss?  No, you don’t.  Why?  Pride is something you can’t see in yourself.  It’s almost impossible to see.  That is why we can read this parable and quickly conclude, this doesn’t really have anything to do with me.  I have never gone to church and thought or said, ‘God, thank you that I am not like other people – cheaters, sinners, adulterers.’  And because I have never thought or said that, this parable doesn’t apply to me.  I would push back and say, maybe it applies to you more than you realize.

So today I want to give you three questions that you should ask yourself to see if there is pride in your heart.

Question 1: Do I start each day declaring my absolute dependence and trust in God? 

1 “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,” says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. 2 For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade. 3 But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated, and by depending on him, you will be disgraced… 15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. 16 You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt… 18 So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” NLT Isaiah 30:1-1, 15-16, 18

The Children of Israel were facing war.  The Assyrians were coming, and they should have been scared.  What do they do?  Did they wake up and declare their dependence on trust in God?  No.  Did they turn to the God who rescued them from Egypt?  No.  Did they turn to the God who destroyed the Egyptian army for them?  No.  Did they turn to the God who sustained them through 40 years in the desert?  No.  Did they turn to the God placed them in the promised land?  No.

They did what they thought made sense.  They tried to fix the problem themselves.  They ignored God and went to Egypt for protection.  Why?  Turning to God in prayer was so invisible.  Turning to Egypt was putting their trust into the things they could see and touch.  The horses, the chariots, the army.

That’s pride.  It’s a way of living that says, I don’t see how turning to God will help me.  I will do what makes sense to me.  I will put my trust in the things of this world like my skills, my money, who I know, things I can control.  I will figure it out on my own.

What is the answer to pride?  Let’s reread what God said.  Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.

Have you ever thought that not pursuing God is pride?  Have you ever thought that the very thing that will save your life is resting with God?  Have you ever thought that in my time with God, it will give me strength?  Please hear me, not pursuing God, is pride.

Listen.  Everyday you wake up, you have a decision to make.  Will I be a Christian and declare my dependence and trust in God or will I ignore him and put my trust in the things of the world.

Question 2: Do I demand that others meet my needs or do I listen and celebrate others without trying to change them? 

2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. MSG 1 Corinthians 13:2-3

That’s pretty clear.  I am bankrupt without love.  We are told that the highest mark of spiritual maturity is love.  It’s how you know, it’s proof, that God has changed your life.

This story is from Emotionally Healthy Relationships.

Jean Vanier is the founder of an international network of 147 communities in 35 countries, for persons with mental and physical disabilities.  He believed that they were “…the most oppressed people on the planet.”  He wrote this about the difficulties in loving them.

Living with men and women with mental disabilities has helped me to discover what it means to live in communion with someone.  To be in communion means to be with someone… accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty.  To see the beauty inside of all the pain.  To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude; “You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself…” – EHR

Let me ask you, do you love people?  I mean do you slow down, engage them, listen to them, accept them, and help them see how important they are?

I ask because people with pride can’t do that.  Pride destroys relationships.  When we have pride, we focus on ourselves, our wants, our needs.  We tend to storm through life and try to leverage people to get what we want.  We like people when they give us what we want.  We dislike people when they fail to get us what we want.  Do you see it?  When we have pride, we use people, we leverage others to get things from others.  And when they come up short, we let them know they have disappointed us.  That’s not love.

Let’s talk about your relationships for a second.  In your marriage, do you celebrate your spouse with no expectation of changing them?  Or do you like or dislike them based on what you get from them?  You know your spouse is different than you – right?  And you know that difference bugs you – right?  And what do we try to do?  Change them!  Why are we disappointed in them?  They don’t change to be the people we want them to be!  That’s not love.  That’s pride.  Do you love your spouse?  Do you accept them for who they are, even the parts that drive you nuts?

FYI: I didn’t say you shouldn’t be honest and address things that need to be addressed.

In your family, do you celebrate your adult kids with no expectations of changing them?  Or do you give your approval and disapproval based on them making choices you want?

FYI: In raising kids, yes, being a loving parent means you speak honestly and hold them accountable.  In running a business, yes, you hold people accountable and fire people who don’t work.

You get what we are saying – right?  What if we defined love as accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty.  To reveal to them their beauty and value.

FYI: Did I say that you approve of their sin – no.  Did I say, when they ask you your opinion you lie – no.  What I said was, love them the way you want to be loved.

Question 3: Is my life frantic, stressed, depressed, or burned out and I blame others for that? 

1 “I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Gardener. 2 He lops off every branch that doesn’t produce. And he prunes those branches that bear fruit for even larger crops. 3 He has already tended you by pruning you back for greater strength and usefulness by means of the commands I gave you. 4 Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me. TLB John 15:1-4

Have you ever thought that how you live life may be an indicator of pride?  Is your life defined by being overcommitted, overburdened, overscheduled?  Do you feel like you can’t stop because if you did, everything would fall apart?  Are you so productive that you would feel guilty if you rested because you really should be doing something?  Does this way of living leave you burned out and angry at others to the point that you blame others?

That’s pride.  As a young parent or an entrepreneur starting a business you will certainly have times when you feel that way but it doesn’t have to be a lifelong way of living.  Jesus taught, be connected with me and I will produce things in your life you can’t produce.  What is that?  Galatians says, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When you are constantly living a frantic, stressed, depressed or a burned out life leaving you angry and blaming others, chances are, you aren’t connected to God.  You aren’t giving God a chance to produce those qualities in you.

What is that thing inside us that ignores our heart condition and pushes us to the point where we are burn out?  Pride.  Our pride pushes us to live a life where we must produce to have more so others can notice.  Our pride pushes us to live a busy life so others might see how important we are.  Our pride can become so weird, we admire others who seem to live way beyond their ability to sustain it.  This may offend you but maybe your ego has become so big, you want others to notice you so badly, you are trying to be God.  That’s pride.

Let’s close with this.  Would you like God to say this about you?  That you are justified before God?  That everything between you and Him is good?

I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

If you want to be right with God you have to admit something.  You’re a sinner and you own it.  The worst thing you could do is have pride and exalt yourself.

Don’t think this parable has anything to do with you?  Don’t think you have pride in you? Ask yourself three questions.

Question 1: Do I start each day declaring my absolute dependence and trust in God?

Question 2: Do I demand that others meet my needs or do I listen and celebrate others without trying to change them?

Question 3: Is my life frantic, stressed, depressed or burned out and I blame others for that?

This week, humble yourself, see who you really are before God.  And as you humble yourself, enjoy God redeeming you.