When reading the new testament we often read of Jesus telling off the Pharisees and it’s easy to enjoy reading about Jesus sticking it to the establishment of his day, but then we come across verses like Mathew 16:6 where we read And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Why did Jesus warn us about becoming like them? Aren’t we supposed to be different from them? He talks about them some more in Mathew 34:4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” Why did he warn us not to be like them? Could we really be like that?
The fact is, we were warned because it is very easy to make the same mistake. The sad thing is that when I read the bible it leaves me wondering how often WE are the pharisees of our day. We are great at telling people why Jesus is real and why people need to dedicate their lives for him. We are great at attracting people but we fail badly when it comes to telling people what to do once be become saved. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a fan of things like Nicky Gumbel’s ALPHA course which is fantastic at explaining the gospel but once that is done we really need to give them something more than just saying “Go and sin no more.” The fact is that we have long forgotten inconvenient verses like James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” We no longer train disciples. Imagine for a moment you meet a teenager on their 16th birthday and you convince the new 16 year old of all of the great things they can do with a nice new car, hand them the keys in the middle of a city and simply tell them “You are a driver now. By the way don’t crash.” Now picture the inevitable accident when the new driver veers off into traffic without any idea of how to drive a car. Is the crash the entirely the driver’s fault? Probably not. It’s the same mistake when we tell kids in church “don’t have sex before marriage” but don’t tell them how to avoid unsafe situations.
We were never meant to go at this alone and the farther off base we get means the more sin creeps into the church. The result is that churches go one of two ways: Either they simply accept things as they are as the new normal and stop even trying or they lash out at the sinners “out there” or attack the ones who fall in our midst to keep sin from spreading. The former tend to die out as people can’t be bothered to attend a church that doesn’t believe in anything and the latter become angry or discouraged in the belief that the world will only get worse until the return of Jesus. The fact is that Jesus started His church in one of the most amoral times in history. The Romans were all about living for the moment, eating to excess, drinking to the point of drunkenness having sex and even killing people for entertainment. The church rose above that and we need to as well.
I am not telling people to tolerate sin, I am telling people to teach people how not to sin. Years ago I became a Christian at a Neil T Anderson “Freedom in Christ” youth conference that I was only attending to hang out with my friends when I was caught skipping the conference. I was marched into the conference room only to have my life changed forever. I was faced with the realization that my unforgiveness was not only an affront to God, it was a self made prison. I sat down with two men and wrote out a list of everyone I had a grudge with and prayed a prayer of forgiveness over each name, one at a time. When I left the counseling session, I saw my youth group and they knew immediately that something had happened but what was more, it was as if I was seeing them for the first time. Instead of a group of people who I thought were out to have fun at my expense, I realized that they had been trying to reach out to me but in my blind anger I had and treated them rudely for over a year while thinking they were out to have fun at my expense. It got chaotic from there. With the help of my friends I made many mistakes while learning to express myself without losing my temper and just screaming at people or throwing things. My heart was different but I didn’t have the right skills yet and needed to learn but my brothers and sisters in Christ cared enough to let me make mistakes and help me through them. The result? I haven’t hit anyone in anger in a very long time and I even manage to remain calm in situations that I used to lose control. I am nowhere near perfect, but I have progressed to the point where most of my friends don’t realize that I ever had a problem with my temper.
People have wondered why I haven’t updated Geeks For Jesus in awhile and this leads into it. For many years I have been tired and I have been having trouble concentrating and the problem got a LOT worse after I moved to Spain. I went to doctors only to be told I was fine and it was all probably just stress. I had trouble getting to work on time and trouble staying awake. It really bothered me but I had no idea what to do about it. I tried changing my diet, tried getting more exercise only to end up feeling even more tired. Eventually it all lead to complete panic and my searching the internet for answers only make my panic worse. I would read about cancers and other serious diseases that make people feel tired and wonder if that was what was wrong with me and panic even more. I would often wonder if I was sick or just lazy. My friends did their best to be helpful by doing things like nudging me awake when I fell asleep at church. One day I nodded off at church only to be angrily shaken awake with “Don’t sleep in church. It’s disrespectful.” That was it. I’m disrespectful toward God for something I can’ t get a handle on? He didn’t even want to understand what was wrong he simply felt good telling me off. It was demotivating and that day I felt like giving up on church entirely but thankfully I didn’t. Awhile after that I was at a leadership retreat with my church and one of the other guys was accidentally assigned a room that didn’t exist so he ended up staying in my room. The next day he sat me down and told me that I stopped breathing in my sleep and that it happened about once a minute. He told me that I probably have sleep apnea and that I should go see a doctor about it as soon as possible. The result was the doctor telling me I have a “pathological” case of sleep apnea and a machine I need to use at night to breathe but now I know there is hope. Which friends acted like Jesus would have acted? And which friend was the pharisee? Who lifted my burden and who made it heavier?
It is so easy to say things without knowing what a person is going through. Years ago I knew an Inuit who was alcoholic and living on the street. One day I told him he needed to get clean only to have him look at me with tears in his eyes and yell “HOW?” I realized that day I never took the time to learn why he needed to be drunk every hour of every day. He already knew he needed to stop drinking but he didn’t know how to even start living without being drunk.
A good friend of mine is a good example of how do to things right as a Christian. He had few good influences in his life and made many mistakes but one day he came to church for the complete wrong reasons but that was enough for Jesus to get his attention. Eventually he came to know Jesus but he was left with the feeling that he had no idea how to even begin to be a Christian let alone a good one so he sought out people in the church who knew more than he did and talked with them regularly as he learned how to be a man of God. The result was that in many ways he did better than many people who come from what I would call good Christian families. What if we all understood this? Imagine what the church could be like if every new Christian was trained this way.