Two Men–Two Prayers–One Email

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings, fellow fishermen,

This is an email that I wrote to the man who delivers my firewood. We had a good talk about the gospel, but in the beginning, he did have an objection. We've become reasonably good friends over the past few years, but I got him with the gospel this year. After the bump in the road, we went on to have a serious talk about the gospel.

I had a bunch of fun writing this.

Hi Harold,
I'm not 100% sure why, but I have really taken a liking to you. And I'm smiling as I write that.
I've been thinking about the things you said about the religious, holier-than-thou "Christians" you've come across. Specifically, your son's in-laws. I completely understand what you are talking about, and I used to think along the same lines. But that was until I really got to know myself. What a loathsome, lowdown, wretched, and flawed person I am.
So I'm going to tell you two stories. One from the Bible that Jesus told, and one about a discussion I had with a tough Italian construction worker about 40 years ago.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
The Pharisees - In Jesus' day, the Pharisees were the highest level of the religious elite in Israel. Man, those guys thought they were God's gift to the world. Jesus despised them.
The Tax Collectors - these guys were fellow Jews that went to work for the Romans collecting tax from the people of Israel. They were hated by everybody. They were traders and got rich stealing far more than they were supposed to collect from their fellow Jews. Jesus loved them. Let's see why.
He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt:
"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!' 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 18:9-14)
Many years ago, on a construction site, in the job site trailer, I met a foreman of one of the crews. He was an Italian guy, maybe 35 years old, and his name could have been Mr. Construction. He looked the part, and I'm sure if I got close enough, he to smelled the part. We were alone and making small talk for a few minutes. But, as is my custom, the talk quickly swung to spiritual matters. But in true Samaritan-woman-at-the-well style, he quickly changed the subject to, "Say, Jesus, where is it best to worship here or in Jerusalem. What's the deal? Remembering how Jesus never got sidetracked by this and similar diversions, I quickly brought the discussion back to him and his knowledge of the gospel and his need for the mercy of God. But this guy was determined not to talk about himself. Well, that's not exactly true. Here's how he tried to sidetrack me again.
"You know the problem I have with church and religion in general? There are so many hypocrites. People that make a good show on Sunday but the rest of the week are proud jerks that look down on anybody they think isn't quite up to their standard. They make me sick."
I smiled inside but didn't let him see my smile. "Now I got him," I thought. Lord, let's see what you can do for this guy. So, rather than warn him where I was headed, I said, "tell me more. I've seen some of this myself, and it isn't pretty." Or similar words, as it's been a long time since the discussion. So I said, "What's the biggest problem you have with these people?" Now the Trap was set; let's see what we catch.
With a smirk, he slowly shook his head and said, "These people are so full of themselves that they think they're better than everybody else. As they say, These goody-goods think they are 'holier than thou.'"
At this point, this poor guy has already lost all hope of getting out of this one unscathed. He had no clue where I was going. It was a monologue for the next few minutes as he went on and on, giving examples and grimacing as he went, thinking he was impressing me.
After a couple of minutes, he paused to take a breath so I had a chance to get a word in edgewise, as they say. Listen to this and hear the wisdom of God because it wasn't coming from me. I saw the power of what I said next, and was as surprised as he was, and at what happened next.
"Hey Joe," [that was his name] "do you know what you been doing for the last 5 minutes?" "No, what do you mean?" he asked. "You have been telling me how much better you are than they." 'Snap,' goes the Trap. It would be at least 5 seconds before he said a word, but I'm sure it seemed to both of us to be closer to a minute.
Joe looked at me with a somewhat puzzled face and began, "Oh," he said, and said it two more times with ever-increasing awareness of what had just happened.
"What do you mean? What are you talking about? The puzzle turned to a frown, or better, what I found out a few seconds later was fear. I never spoke another word. Not one.
"Get out of here. Just leave. You scare me. I don't want to talk to you anymore. Just go!" The poor guy sounded almost terrified. He said get out of here once or twice more, and as I recall, I simply turned and left, marveling at the wisdom of God. He knows how to humble the pride of man. I never did find out what happened to Joe.
And that's the end of the story of the "Two Men that went up to the Temple to Pray."
So what do you think, Harold?
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