The Yeast of the Pharisees

Jan 19th, 2013

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.

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Why I hate “christianese” answers

Oct 27th, 2009

It’s not christian words I dislike since some concepts are easier to explain with a word (provided someone is willing to explain it) than by explaining the whole concept behind it.  What I hate are those feel good phrases that allow us to feel good about being Christians without actually putting in the effort to offer help.

Ever go through a hard moment in life?  You’re worried about tomorrow and just not sure how things will work out.  Perhaps  it’s an area of weakness you just can’t get control over, maybe it’s you’re finances, or  family life.  You are worried and upset and really not sure what to do so you so you look to one of you’re Christian friends for help and advice only to get “just give it to God.”  How do I do that? I have already prayed and asked God to take this away.  But there is no more answer and what has already been given explains nothing.   What’s worse, they make it all sound so easy.  If it seems so easy, how much of a failure are you for not being able to master this simple task?

What could the well-meaning friend have done instead:

  1. Finish letting you vent.
  2. Remind you of examples from your life where God has come through.
  3. Provided examples of God coming through in their life.
  4. Admit to not having an actual answer.

Any of these would be better than just giving a pat “christianese”  answer.  They make the problem important instead of making it seem like this problem is so beneath them that they would never suffer from this.  So please keep this in mind next time you find yourself offering advice to a struggling or upset friend.

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A good analogy for sin

Jun 16th, 2009

I’ve been looking for a good analogy for sin in our lives that answers the following questions:

  1. If God finds our sin abhorrent then how can he forgive us?
  2. If we are forgiven why do we need to stop sinning?
  3. Why does our human nature fight our attempts to live good lives?

Well if you will bear with me I think I’ve found the perfect analogy for sin: toilette training.

When we are born we just don’t know better.  Our natural human nature tells us that when something is getting a little full inside we need to get rid of it wherever we are and whatever we are doing it just doesn’t matter we have to get it out now.

Toilets, on the other hand, are not natural.   We have to fight what our bodies want to naturally do and learn to hold things until the right moment.

Watching over the whole process is our parents.  They know that the resulting mess will make us sick so they clean us up and whatever mess we left behind is taken care of.  It’s disgusting but their love overrides all else. This is of course a stopgap measure.  Our parents don’t want to be changing our diapers when were thirty and there is much lower risk of us getting sick if we weren’t messing all over ourselves in the first place.   One day our parents decide we are old enough to learn to use a toilette.  They deal with the mess and still cleanup but they know we will eventually get the hang of this unnatural toilette thing.   Things don’t go well at first.  We don’t want to learn to hold it and even when we do learn that we need to master this things still  get messy and wet while we learn but they keep up the training. until one day we get the hang of it all and our proud parents celebrate the moment they don’t have to clean up after us or worry we will get sick from our own mess.

Sin works the same way:  God hates sin more than we could ever know or understand.  The bible has some pretty harsh words about sin but the story doesn’t end there.  God sent Jesus to clean up our mess and keep us from having to suffer the consequences.  We mess up again and again.  We get discouraged and want to give up but there is God nudging us onward in the hope that one day we will get the hang of it.

Our job is just like a child’s: we are to try over and over no matter the mistakes and setbacks we must pick ourselves up and try again.  Even though the journey will take a lifetime we will one day learn to master each task God sets in front of us.

 

update: It has been argued that my analogy does not account for God’s complete distaste for sin and the distance it forces between us and God. I’m guessing those people have never been around a baby with a smelly diaper and personally I’d rather not hold a baby close until it’s been cleaned up.

 

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What the feeding of the 5000 really said about Jesus.

Sep 12th, 2008

Lately I have been wondering what the Bible would say about Jesus if the parts that reference him directly were set aside. The idea is to determine the affect Jesus had on the people around him. I can honestly say that it’s been an interesting perspective.

We have all heard about how Jesus cared and loved the people enough to feed and care for them. That Jesus cared for his followers is not much of a surprise. That the Son of God was able to feed all those people with a few fish and some bread is not shocking either. In Exodus we read that God provided for an entire nation in a desert.

What is surprising?

Lets start with Matthew 14:13: (NIV) When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

The first thing we learn is that Jesus went out of his way to be alone and the crowds were so desperate to be near Jesus that they went looking for the place he was hiding.

Mathew 15: As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

The people were so enamored with Jesus that they were forgetting they needed to feed themselves and the disciples were worried that if they didn’t tell these people to go find food they would simply not eat.

The truly shocking thing was that it was every Jewish husband’s job to make sure his family was cared for and out of all of the people there none had managed to even remember his most basic duty to his family. Of all the women there none were asking about their children.

What does this tell us about Jesus? This crowd wanted Jesus so badly they forgot about everything except Jesus and yet they were not left hungry. This is a powerful lesson for us in modern times where everything else seems more important than spending time with God. Imagine what life would be like if we just let go of our day to day worries to spend time with God and learn for ourselves what had these people so enamored.

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Tithing

Aug 11th, 2008

Lately I’ve been asked about why tithing is important and I think I’m in a good place to answer that since I’m not a pastor and since I have a well paying job I don’t need donations to support myself.

When I was younger I used to do what so many modern Christians do: just grab some loose change from my pocket and throw that in the offering basket.  In retrospect that’s pretty much how most people treat beggars the street so the comparison doesn’t make me feel all that good about the way I used to handle things.  Thanks to a lot of work on God’s part I’ve improved since then.

Tithing was originally a command by God in order to provide for the Levites who were entrusted with the full time care of the ministry needs of the Israelites and the temple.  They were not given farms of their own to provide for themselves and were completely dependent on the rest of the nation of Israel to provide for their day-to-day needs.

The logic behind tithing comes in two parts:

  1. It provides for God’s  ministries.  Pastoral work is a full time job for any decent sized church and the pastor will not have time to handle the churches needs and still support himself with a job.  There are also other expenses such as paper, rent or mortgage, electricity, cost of outreach programs etc.  You may think your contribution is too little to matter but it isn’t.  A group of poor people giving 10% can easily add up to a lot.  At a church I used to go to I calculated that  if 600 attendees had an average yearly wage of $12 000 and they all gave 10% ($1200) a year the church would have doubled it’s income.  The additional income would have been enough to pay off the mortgage faster, get the new roof the building needed  and still have enough left over for the soup kitchen they wanted to open.
  2. What’s most important to your average person? Money! What is supposed to be the most important thing in every Christian’s life?  God.  Tithing is the act of placing God first in our finances.

How important do I think tithing is?  For a couple of years I absolutely couldn’t find work and had no real income to speak of.  Yet somehow when money needed to be there it would just appear from an unexpected source such as random calls from family, one time out of the blue contracts, winning one of those survey draws and more.  Every month I would find myself in a state of panic before even setting aside God’s ten percent yet every month all my bills got paid.  In the middle of this someone asked me if I can afford to tithe. My reply was simple, “I can’t afford not to tithe”.

Like any spiritual discipline tithing takes practice.  I find that by putting the money aside as soon as I get my check, it bothers me less. I also find that it helps to remind myself of the reasons I tithe in the first place.

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Lets try this again

Jun 12th, 2008

So here I am again. I’ve had this in mind for awhile but I’ve yet to come across forum software I don’t hate do heres hoping I have something that works this time.

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