Category Archives: The Blind Pharisee

Do NOT Enter: 2 Highly Effective Ways to Ensure that People do NOT Come to Jesus

Do Not Enter2

Blessed are the dividers. Blessed are you if you don’t associate with sinners. Blessed are the churches with great bands and ministries that steal believers away from other churches. Blessed are the Pharisees (2 Crappalonians 3:16).

A few years back, while driving up a church driveway, I couldn’t help but laugh at what I saw. The first thing that stared me in the face as I entered the parking lot was a DO NOT ENTER sign. I know why it was there. It was a church with a lot of people and a tight parking lot. So obviously they needed to have some kind of flow of traffic. Having said that, a DO NOT ENTER sign is not a great first impression. That sign is symbolic of how so many modern day Pharisees are separating themselves from and offending the very people that Jesus wants them to reach.

In short, what I have discovered is that our modern church buildings are designed to welcome everyone except those that really need to be there. Moreover, when those that need to be there actually show up (even if by accident), we don’t know what to do! On Facebook, I’ve been witnessing the Pokémon Go phenomenon! At the time of writing this post, it’s been out for like 3 weeks or so. And I’ve noticed some Christians (with good intentions) recommending what they can do as people show up in their church parking lots.

Some have suggested handing out church brochures, tracts, and the like (with some kind of treat like water, granola bars, etc.). Other suggestions involve talking to the people, playing the game with them, and sparking conversation. Yet our overall goal and thought as Christians is to somehow get them to “church” on Sunday morning. I used to think this way without even realizing the fallacy. However, what I have come to learn in many painful ways is that inviting people to Sunday morning is not a good evangelism strategy. A Sunday show will not convert non-believers. Moreover, people that are unchurched will most likely not even enjoy it.

So the first way to ensure that people do not come to Jesus is to invite them to your Sunday church service. The sad reality is that most demons are asleep on the doorsteps of many of our church buildings in America. We give them no reason to wake up or try to deter people from coming because all the people that come are already believers. The demons do their work in other spaces to ensure that people stay far from Jesus. In fact, the reason they can sleep is because we do such a great job of destroying ourselves. While we are arguing about the color of the carpet, forming committees, and holding pointless meetings, the demons sleep soundly knowing that we are ineffective at best and downright disobedient, religious, Pharisee snobs at worst. We do such a great job at persecuting our own that the demons might actually feel bored.

Sadly, we have so many smart Christians with thousands of expository sermons under their belts, yet they have no idea how to apply them. They have no idea that they are not actually living how Jesus told us to live. They’re too busy studying to realizing they’re not doing. But Jesus didn’t gather people at the temple for entertainment value. He overturned the tables. Jesus didn’t give non-believers a hard time, He offended the religious people. Jesus went out to and ate with those that needed Him. It’s the exact opposite of our churches and Christians today. So I would call modern Christianity (that hides in a building and won’t lift a finger to actually help someone Jesus would have helped) shallow. I would call those that put themselves on the line out with people that still need Jesus (and try to build relationships with them) the deep ones.

The second way to ensure that people do not come to Jesus is to cut yourself off from people who are not squeaky clean like you. Please remember (as always) that I also am a recovering Pharisee. I take jabs at Pharisees not to hurt them but to knock some sense into them like God did with me. I still need a good kick in the head sometimes. So I’m not just offending you, I’m also offending myself. But this second way is the Achilles Heel of the modern church. I was taught from a very young age not to associate with people who were of questionable background and character. If someone was sharing a dirty joke at school or utilizing bad language, I was taught to act holier than thou and make it clear that Christians don’t do that! Unfortunately, it has even leaked into my parenting. At this point I’m trying to repent of this. Why? Because when we separate ourselves like that we are throwing up a wall between us and the people that need to hear the Good News of Jesus.

Just because I associate myself with a sinner does not mean that I will inherit their spiritual cooties! How else are we supposed to reach people if we don’t interact with them? Furthermore, many people who do accept Jesus (with a questionable background) are immediately shunned in many churches because they bring so much baggage with them. Yet how can we expect people to change their life-long behavior overnight? We can’t. It takes time. It takes the Holy Spirit. We can’t expect perfection overnight. I’m not perfect. I’m still repenting. I’m still a recovering Pharisee who was trained at a Pharisee Training Camp for my entire childhood, teenage years, and beyond! So how can I expect someone, who just came to Jesus, to be squeaky clean overnight? I can’t. In fact, they might never be as prim and proper as YOU!

The truth is that many modern churches have absolutely no concept of what to expect or how to reach people who are far from Jesus. Sadly, if those that pray the prayer are not immediately squeaky clean, modern day Pharisees refuse to baptize them and are trigger happy for Church Discipline to be enacted! What a joke! What they’re really saying is that they have no intention of reaching non-believers. They just want to reach other church people that have no problems or major sins to repent of because it might actually take some effort on our part! But getting squeaky clean people that are already Christians into your building on a Sunday morning should not be our goal! Yet that’s the evangelism strategy of many churches.

So what’s the answer? The short answer is to start building relationships with people that are far from Jesus. But please don’t invite them to church on Sunday morning. Invite them into your home for dinner first! Get to know them. Find out what makes them tick. Find common ground with them. Paul says, “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some (1 Cor.9:22 NLT). Hopefully, over time, you will earn the right to have a good, spiritual conversation that leads to Jesus. But we earn that right over time as we treat people with love and respect, not as projects or prizes to be won.

Over time, they might be interested in mingling with your missional community as you hang out together, party together, eat together, and discuss spiritual things together. And then maybe, down the road, they might be ready for the Sunday show. But Sunday is for those who already believe and are interested in further training on how to live this missional life. Those who didn’t grow up with it might never come on a Sunday morning. That’s ok. Wouldn’t it be better for them to come to the faith, be in community with other believers in a home setting, and start to learn to reach out in that setting? Coming to a Sunday show does not equal salvation. Becoming squeaky clean also does not equal salvation. Just ask the Pharisees! They were very religious and very lost. Jesus made that clear. Over time we can all make progress as we grow spiritually, but we can’t expect it to happen overnight.

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here-but you refuse to repent” (Matt.12:38-41 NLT).

The truth is that the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much like Jonah in many ways! They were refusing to go to Nineveh. Today, our church buildings have become the ship with all the storms! Perhaps if we jump off that ship, the lightbulb might go off in our heads while we’re inside the big fish. Furthermore, once we go to Nineveh and preach, we might find the evangelistic success that we so desire. We must stop complaining about and separating ourselves from the people of Nineveh guys! That’s who God is sending us to! God loves the people from Nineveh! He doesn’t necessarily always approve of what they do, but that’s who we’re called to love! We can’t keep running like Jonah. He wanted a wall of separation from them. Perhaps we should try the Jesus way rather than the Jonah way.

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Is it realistic to expect someone with no church background to be converted in a 45-minute sermon on a Sunday morning? How can we be sure if someone really understands the Good News and what they are committing to? How can we answer their questions if Sunday morning is the only tool in our belt?
  2. How good of a job will we do at leading people to Jesus if we cut ourselves off from those that need to hear the Good News (Read 1 Cor.5:9-13)? What might be a better way to reach people other than handing out tracts or inviting them to a Sunday morning service? How did Jesus and the early church do it?

 

 

 

We’ve Never Done it THAT Way Before

We've Never Done it THAT Way Before

One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?” Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.(Luke 5:33-39 NLT).

There used to be a certain “fun daddy” activity that I did with each of my kids when they were infants. We called it “Super Owen” (I filled in the name of each child individually). It was not a very complicated activity. All I did was lay down on my bed, hoist my child in the air like he’s Superman and say, “Super Owen! He’s flying around the world to see what good he can to today, today, today!” And I did it in a song-song way that made them laugh. Of course, reading about it doesn’t make it sound exciting. You kind of had to be there. Nonetheless, it was a fun activity that each of my kids loved. It brought joy to their hearts and mine each day.

Recently, however, I tried it again. This time my oldest was 12 and my youngest was 6. It didn’t work out quite as easy. Since Owen is like 92 pounds now, I had to use my arms AND legs to hoist him up. Furthermore, he didn’t really appreciate it. Ethan didn’t appreciate it either. Lincoln and Amelia, however, both thought it was funny to try to recreate this moment from their days of infancy. In fact, I also tried it with Olivia (age 40). After a few tries I was actually successful. Although someone usually gets injured when we try these types of activities!

But our silly recreated activity presents a perfect picture of the church. Sadly, many of our churches today are so outdated, so irrelevant, and so out of touch with the real world that they kind of resemble politicians. Countless politicians are so separated from reality that they have no idea what it’s like to be a real person in the real world with a real BUDGET! What I mean is that our churches are still trying to do silly activities with their infants that are no longer appropriate. They’re too old. They need to pick age-appropriate activities. In fact, many of our churches and Christians still try to operate like we’re back in the 1950’s (in black and white), when in reality, the rest of the world grew up a long time ago.

Please understand that I’m not even talking about moral issues here. I’m talking about how we conduct our churches services, how we do outreach, how we interact with people, and what our expectations should be. We live in a post-modern world that knows nothing about the Bible and has no desire to sit in a church service where they would have to sing songs they don’t know (and don’t like) and listen to a speaker for 45 minutes every Sunday.

Even though there’s nothing inherently wrong with those activities, and even though they mean something to believers, non-believers do not share those same passions. Even the modern, young, and hip mega churches with their updated songs still don’t quite get it. They’re only “attracting” people with a church background. They’re still trying to entertain the baby. What they don’t know is that the baby is no longer a baby. The baby is now a teenager who thinks they know everything and don’t want to be seen with mommy and daddy anymore.

The worst problem of all with our churches is that when someone comes along who is a part of the church and makes suggestions that would move them in the right direction, they utter those famous words: “We’ve never done it THAT way before.” Those words are the death of any church. In fact, those words are the death of pretty much any organization. Truth be told, I miss the hip and cool seeker friendly church services. When I graduated from hymns and started a seeker church, I was in heaven for a few years. I loved it. And we did reach some. But it wasn’t the music or the cool services that won the people over or even got them in the door. It was something else. And that will be the subject of many other blog posts in the future, so stay tuned!

But for those that love their way of doing church, that’s ok. I understand why it means something to them. I understand why the new music means something to me. It’s fun! I LOVE to play church! I love to be in my protected bubble with people who agree with me. I would love to have my kids stay infants forever. But eventually, they do grow up. And they no longer need diapers because it’s my job as a parent to potty train them, teach them how to read and write, and to get them ready to be independent citizens.

The church needs to consider the same issues. Our practices, even though we may love them, are outdated. Our practices are inappropriate for the rest of the world that needs to hear about Jesus but won’t because we’re stuck in our 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver reality. None of my neighbors who don’t know Jesus will ever want to stand and sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God, except for maybe a few who like classical music. I doubt they’ll like to sing “Good Good Father” either. The truth is that non-believers will never step foot in our church buildings.

We have to go to them like Jesus did. They won’t come to us. But we can’t come to them with VBS, Sunday School, Hymn Books, a Men’s Prayer Breakfast, a Ladies’ Tea Party, or a Lenten Lunch. We need to go to them on their turf. We need to fire up the grill in our backyard and have a beer with our neighbors while sitting at the picnic table. We need to coach our kids’ football team and mingle with people we don’t know yet. We need to get involved in our community’s activities. Holding our own events like VBS are only going to attract people from other churches. That’s why we never did VBS when I planted my first church. In fact, we eventually stopped doing events all together. I found that even modern events like Sports Camps still don’t get anyone into the church that doesn’t already have a church background. All it does is attract other church people who are looking for a better product than the one they currently have. So we stopped doing it. It doesn’t work.

What’s the first thought that comes to your mind if you’re reading this and you have a traditional church background? We’ve never done it THAT way before! That’s not a good reason. That reason is slowly killing your church. If you’re a pastor with a traditional background, the first thought that most likely comes to your mind is that it won’t work because giving will go down. We’ll lose our old and faithful givers. But money is not a good reason either! Can God not provide? How did Jesus live His life while He was here? Did He live in comfort? Did He sit in His church office all day long and count receipts? I don’t think so. He said, “the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NLT). Jesus never pastored a mega-church and He never had a parsonage. I’m pretty sure He didn’t want one.

But the Bible does say that “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt.11:19 ESV). It doesn’t say Jesus came with VBS, Sunday School, a hymn sing, or a praise and worship night. It says that Jesus came eating and drinking! He went to parties! He hung out with questionable characters and non-religious people. And He took His disciples with Him to train them and to show them what to do in His absence. Jesus went out to the people. He didn’t ask them to come to Him and sit inside a building one day a week.

Jesus often offended the religious crowd who kept saying, We’ve never done it THAT way before Jesus! So if Jesus came eating and drinking and spent time with people who didn’t yet believe, could it possibly be time that the church considered a change in tactics? I know we love and miss the games we played with our kids when they were infants, but we need to teach them how to grow up and be independent. Moreover, we need to keep reproducing! Otherwise, we die. The good news never changes. But our guest list HAS to change. Our message doesn’t change, but our methods need to revert to the ways of Jesus. If Jesus came eating and drinking, why do we come sitting and singing inside a building and cut off from reality? The truth is that VBS and Sunday School were good in their time and had meaningful and purposeful beginnings, but that doesn’t mean that they need to continue forever. We need to find new methods with meaningful and purposeful beginnings, like Missional Communities. Interested? The first time you read this you won’t be. But stick around. Keep reading. Keep seeking God’s will.

Now, I’m not saying we can’t meet as believers on Sunday. But what I AM saying is that our everyday rhythms need to change Monday through Saturday. Sunday is not everything. In our Scripture at the beginning of this post, the religious crowd doesn’t get it. They’re wondering why Jesus and His disciples aren’t doing things the way that the religious crowd has always done it. They want to keep things the same. They don’t want to change. But we CAN’T stay the same. We need to radically adjust what we do. Otherwise, we are no different than the Pharisees. “It was C.S. Lewis who observed that ‘there exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave to it’” (Alan Hirsch; The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church).

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Why do we only go to “church” on Sunday? Can’t hanging out with a few from your Missional Community and some non-believers be considered “church” as you informally discuss spiritual matters (any day of the week)? Do songs HAVE to be sung and does a sermon by one person have to be preached in order for it to be considered “church”? Acts 2 describes a type of “church” where people went from house to house and close relationships were formed every day.
  2. What does the expression “beating a dead horse” mean? What are some church practices that you currently participate in that could be considered “beating a dead horse”? Should any of your programs be killed? VBS? Sunday School? Men’s Breakfast? Small Group? Lenten Lunches?
  3. If Jesus came “eating and drinking” why do we consider it sinful to eat and drink? Why do we feel guilty about trying to reach the very people Jesus would have by eating and drinking with them? Why do we ask non-believers to do things they’re not used to doing or things they would never do (like sing songs and listen to a 45-minute sermon)? If we are missionaries, shouldn’t we conform to their culture instead of asking them to conform to ours?

 

 

 

The Hole Story

The Hole Story

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, ‘What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!’ Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, ‘Why do you question this in your hearts?’” (Mark 2:5-8 NLT).

Starting something new. Thinking differently. Doing something you’ve never done before. The first day of a new job. Ouch! All of the above sounds like painful experiences. Even choosing a new coffee shop is hard! At this moment, I’m writing in a new coffee shop that I happen to like very much. However, I’ve tried other new shops over the past few years that I haven’t enjoyed so much. In fact, just a few weeks ago I tried a new one and loathed it because the atmosphere was horrible. But this new one is exceptional! If I started my own coffee shop (and it is on my mind), it would be similar to this one. It has loads of character. There are unique paintings on the wall with fancy frames, old-school tables (of all shapes and sizes), a comfy couch, and a coffee roasting machine. The atmosphere is not only delightful to the eyes but it also tickles your nose with the aroma of roasting coffee beans. Apparently this is a popular local hang out spot. Adding to its charm is the fact that this quaint little shop is a converted and timeworn house from days gone by.

Despite the great atmosphere, new beginnings are hard. It’s just so weird that I don’t know anybody. I’m not a regular here yet since I’ve only been here a handful of times. Furthermore, starting something new is almost always scary for me. I’m a creature of habit. I like to be in rhythm. And I usually feel uneasy until that rhythm is found. And then once I’m in a rhythm, it’s hard to get me to change! And that, my friends, is the key thought of the day! Changing our habits and/or our way of thinking sometimes seems like an impossible task.

That’s where our story picks up today. Jesus was already making a splash in His neck of the woods, and word was getting around fast. If you’ve never read this story, read it before going on (Mark 2:1-12). The parallel account in Luke provides some important additional information. It says that the Pharisees, and the rest of the religious elite that showed up, were “from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17 NLT). Since word about Jesus was getting around they came from all over wanting to see what the fuss was all about.

Unfortunately, based on what we know from this story and the rest of the gospels, the religious elite did not have the best of intentions in coming to see Jesus. It seems that they were looking for reasons not to believe that He was who He said He was. It seems that their minds were already made up ahead of time. As for the rest of the people, it appears like they were open and wanted to witness what was going on. In this story in particular, there were four men who thought that Jesus was their only chance. They brought their friend without letting anything get in their way! A big crowd wasn’t going to deter them. In addition, not being able to get through the front door wasn’t going to deter them. So they did what any reasonable person would do. They dug a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus. I know what that’s like. It happens to me all the time. NOT!

But on a more serious note, certain people were coming to see what Jesus would do and to hear what He was going to say. Some of them already believed. Some wanted to believe. Some were convinced when they saw what He did and heard what He said. But others could not be convinced no matter what happened. These were the people with agendas. These were the Pharisees and the rest of the religious elite. They didn’t say it out loud. But they were thinking it. And since Jesus knew what they were thinking, He wasn’t shy about bringing it up.

Of course, you would think that the very fact that Jesus knew what they were thinking would have tipped these guys off that He actually was who He said He was. In addition, even if they doubted, surely one would reason that they would think twice about opposing Jesus once they saw this miracle take place! But they didn’t! They kept coming up with excuse after excuse not to believe. Jesus showed them proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s not like the guy had a “toothache” or an “inner pain” and suddenly Jesus made Him feel better. This was not something that could be faked. This was not something that Jesus said He would “pray” about and hope that over time it would get better as He skipped town like the peddler from “Oklahoma.” No way!

When Jesus did a miracle, He did it immediately. And the effects were instantaneously and undeniably verifiable beyond a shadow of a doubt! The particular man in our story today could not walk. He was paralyzed. He had to be carried in by friends. But when Jesus healed him he stood up right away! There was no physical therapy involved. There was no surgery. There were no hospital visits or bionic implants. This guy, who was paralyzed, could now walk! That’s a miracle. And everyone in attendance saw it, including the Pharisees. It was irrefutable.

Unfortunately, the rest of the New Testament and history attests to the fact that a large number of the religious elite, even the ones that witnessed Jesus’ miracles, refused to believe. They invented excuses to explain it all away. They claimed that it was sorcery and/or the power of the devil. However, they never actually denied the miracles. They affirmed them! What they denied was that Jesus was the Son of God (God in the flesh). And like any well-written tragedy, the Pharisees refused to even consider the one thing that could’ve set them free. They refused to believe that Jesus is God. They refused to believe that He was telling the truth.

To say the least, the Pharisees were not teachable. So as we fast forward two thousand years, we have to ask ourselves if we are teachable. Are we at least open to the fact that we could be wrong on a few issues? There’s no doubt that Christian Pharisees exist today. We don’t call them that, but they sure do exist. I’m a recovering Pharisee. I admit it all the time. I grew up among Pharisees. For a time, I was as blind as the rest of them. However, the downfall of any good Pharisee is when God opens his eyes and he suddenly becomes teachable. Moreover, whenever we get to the point where we can look at things from several points of view, rather than just our own (and how it personally affects us), we’re in a very good place.

Of course, being teachable doesn’t mean that we have to accept every idea. It doesn’t mean we need to practice every new thought that comes to mind. But what it does mean is that we’re open to the possibility that we might be wrong on some matters that we once thought were set in stone. It means we admit that we don’t know everything. At our church, we call this unlearning. I’m not sure who coined that term and/or who we stole it from, but I’m sure we stole it from someone.

However, unlearning is something we discuss a LOT with our church. Unlearning is the whole point of this Blind Pharisee stream. I don’t expect my readers to agree with everything I say. I don’t expect you to think the same way I think. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! That would be scary. Yet the highly religious people, the blind Christian Pharisees of today, are the worst at unlearning. Why? Because they’re like teenagers! They think they know everything already. Personally, I used to know everything, but once I hit my mid-twenties I started forgetting. Now that I’m two weeks shy of my fortieth birthday, I’ve long since realized how stupid I really am! Yet at least there’s hope since I’m aware of it now. The blinders are off.

So ask yourself if you’re teachable. The Pharisees, in general, were not. They already knew their position on the issues. They were the ones in charge. They called the shots. There was no way that this Jesus was going to come in and upset their established religious system. They protected it at all costs, no matter the evidence. Just keep reading the gospels and you’ll see that they didn’t change. Keep reading the gospels to find out who conspired to kill Jesus. It was the religious elite. It wasn’t the common people. It was the people with an agenda. It was the people with something to lose. It was the people who refused to unlearn and were not teachable.

So my main encouragement to all recovering Pharisees is to simply be open to being teachable. We really need to hear the WHOLE story before making a decision on our position or practices. We can’t always already know the answers ahead of time. And sometimes what we think we know changes over time. That’s God slowly stretching our brains. Please note that I’m well aware that I’ve angered some people already with this particular blog stream. Truth be told, it’s partly intentional and partly not intentional. I do not wish to cause anyone harm but I do wish to push your thinking beyond the surface and beyond the basics.

My thinking is constantly being challenged. That’s a very good thing. Of course, we do not wish to be that wave that James talks about, but we do need to remain teachable (James 1:5-8). I’m a prime example that you actually CAN teach an old dog new tricks. We certainly don’t need to be YES men. I’m simply passing along some lessons I’ve learned along the way. Even though I still have a long way to go, I can pass along what I’ve learned so far. So if I’ve offended you, I hope it leads to some heavy thinking and transformation rather than bitterness.

The gospel NEVER changes. That always stays the same. But questions come up. Culture shifts. Gray issues arise. And we need to be wise. We need to be open. We need to be ready to recognize Jesus when we see Him face to face. We need to be willing to hear the WHOLE story before we make any decisions. Otherwise, we might never realize that our strong-willed, unchanging opinions have a few HOLES large enough to lower a man through to get to the healing power of Jesus. That’s just the way it is (Amen).

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. What has God changed your mind about over the past few years? What held you back from changing your opinion? What put you over the edge that caused you to change your mind?
  2. Is there anything that you are currently wrestling with God about? Is your view on something currently being challenged? Is it something you were told as you were growing up (by your parents or church)? Are you willing to undergo unlearning or is your mind already made up? Are you hesitant to change certain beliefs because you have something to lose?
  3. Are you teachable? Making mistakes is inevitable. We’re all guilty. But we can we learn from them. We can move on. Or is your mind already made up on most issues?
  4. What’s the difference between Peter (who denied Jesus and made huge mistakes) and the Pharisees? What’s the difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal? What did each person do just after the sin?

 

 

Sweet Baby Jesus

Sweet Baby Jesus

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-27 NLT).

I’m convinced that the church makes people fat. It’s some kind of conspiracy. My only complaint about this whole missional thing is that it’s making me fat. Every time we get together, we don’t just have a great time and stimulating discussion, we also eat awesome food. We eat a LOT of awesome food. In addition, we usually have some kind of mouthwatering dessert. If that wasn’t enough, the evening is topped off with great wine, beer, or some kind of alcoholic beverage. Just last week, I was joking with my partner in crime (who shall remain nameless) that I never really drank or cussed until our churches merged. He laughed. I laughed. But I didn’t comprehend the significance of that realization until a few days later.

To be honest, I drank a little in my younger (underage) days when it was cool and I was rebelling against God and parents. But then as I got more involved in my church at the time, I was told Christians could not drink (or move or breathe). I was basically told that I needed to be perfect all the time, not get out of line, and just maybe (if I didn’t agitate anybody in power too bad), I might someday achieve some kind of status position in the church (elder, deacon, committee member, Sunday School teacher, pastor, etc.). In short, I had to follow the rules to become an insider. Playing the game was essential. So drinking was considered taboo. There was nothing positive that could come of it. The only problem is that I’m not a yes man and I’ve never been good at going WITH the grain for too long. I’m more of an against the grain kind of guy.

But without realizing it, I ended up playing the religious game for years. I didn’t drink, smoke, cuss, or do anything outward that could be construed as controversial or sinful. There were, however, secret sins I was hiding. By the way, most great Pharisees have secret sins. It’s part of the Pharisaic Code. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get help because I couldn’t let anyone know I wasn’t perfect. Despite the fact that I knew I was flawed, I had to hide it! I had to suffer alone. That is the plight of a Pharisee. But as is always the case, Pharisees don’t know they’re Pharisees. Again, that is the general assumption in this Blind Pharisee stream (hence the name).

So as I comprehended the implications of my comment above, I appreciated that even though I’m still wound pretty tight, I’m not quite as tight as I used to be. If I was currently in any of my previous churches, I probably would’ve been kicked out by now. Yet it wouldn’t be intentional, just inevitable. Drinking alcohol was an absolute no-no up until just over four years ago. Once I became a church planter, however, I relaxed my personal stance and told people that they could drink if they wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was still told (and pressured) that pastors couldn’t drink. But I don’t blame the powers that be. In general, the institution of the church is an out-of-control beast. They were just doing what they were told and accustomed to.

But as I sat on that stool last week, in a meeting (with my partner in crime), we were sitting in a bar drinking a beer (ironically mine was called Sweet Baby Jesus) and talking mission. Ironically, at the end of our meeting we ran into some people that I knew. Good conversation ensued. You get the point. Had we not been out, the conversation would not have happened. I think Sweet Baby Jesus (rather than being an offensive name) aided in the cause of Jesus. In my humble opinion, that would make Jesus smile. I’m sure He would’ve liked that beer. Not only does it bear His name, it smells like peanut butter and chocolate. That’s a divine combination!

Needless to say, if Jesus did not hang out with the people (questionable characters) He hung out with, they wouldn’t have been reached with the Good News. So I’m at the point, despite my Pharisaic background, that I think it’s OK to drink. It’s not to get drunk. I’m not an alcoholic. Obviously, if you’re an alcoholic, you shouldn’t drink. But the point is that we’ve come up with too many rules we have to follow and we fail to see the obvious implications. We learned last time about what the word Pharisee actually means (separate). When we make silly and unnecessary rules (like Christians can’t drink alcohol), we separate ourselves from the people we need to build relationships with. People like to drink and socialize. It’s part of our culture. It’s not inherently sinful.

And that brings us to our Scripture today. The Pharisees were all bent out of shape because Jesus and His disciples were doing “work” on the Sabbath Day. They were so focused on the breaking of the Sabbath (rules and laws) that they lost touch with common sense. Jesus and His disciples were hungry and needed some food. Common sense says that if you’re hungry, you need to eat! Religion says that you must follow the rules at all costs and you can NEVER break them! So Jesus’ response was classic! He was basically saying, I came up with the whole idea of the Sabbath! I’m pretty sure I know what it’s for! And what was the Sabbath for? It was for rest. I blogged about rest not too long ago. If you missed it, go back and read it (Running On Empty).

Obviously, we need to set aside time to rest each week, and God created a whole day for that. So yes! We need to rest! However, the Pharisees took a simple concept and turned it into legalism. Instead of the Sabbath being a day to relax, now people had to be paranoid and stressed that they weren’t accidentally breaking the Sabbath! That’s totally absurd! So Jesus makes the point that He’s well aware of what the Sabbath is for. But the truth is that they were hungry! No matter what day it was, they needed to eat. So they ate. It’s called common sense.

Rules are made to be broken. Isn’t that how the saying goes? I’ve always said that you can break the rules once you KNOW the rules. But if the rules own you and become a religion, that’s where we run into trouble. So of course we need to rest, but if we kick someone out of the church or beat ourselves because we missed our day off (even if it was for a legitimate reason), we’re Pharisees and missing the whole point of the Sabbath Day. Simply put, if you missed it this time around, take a day off next week. You don’t need to take two days off now because you missed one. God is gracious. He’s not out to get you. Let it go. Try again next time. No worries.

Moreover, some of our silly Christian rules have become just that over the years. Even though some of them might have started with good intentions, it doesn’t mean that I’m bound to your rules (and you’re not bound to mine). Some areas are gray. Not everything is sin for everyone. There are some clear sins. But there are some practices that are not inherently sinful. So if I, as a pastor, want to have a glass of wine or beer with someone, I have every right to do so. It doesn’t make me less of a Christian or sinful. And if you choose not to, that’s OK too!

For me, it’s a social matter that allows me to build relationships. Everything I do, to the best of my ability, is to follow Jesus in all of life. But I don’t always achieve that. And sometimes I fail. But I will always do what I feel is right. Quite frankly, if that offends religious people, then so be it. Jesus offended religious people. I’m in good company. Yet it’s not my intention to offend anyone. Having said that (and if I had to choose), I’d rather offend a religious person (who should know better) than a non-believer who still needs to know Jesus. And I might use a Sweet Baby Jesus to do it!

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. What practices to you consider un-Christian? What should Christians NOT do according to how you were brought up? Drinking? Smoking? How about going to certain movies or dancing? The list can go on for quite a long time, but different people have had different experiences and lists over the years.
  2. Just because there are certain things you will or will not do, do you think Christians in general should be guilted or coerced into following the same list you do? Read Romans 14:1-13. Isn’t it OK to have our own personal standards without requiring others to do the same? Even if you disagree with my conclusions in this post, it’s OK! No worries! All I’m asking is that you back off in your judgment of me. And I’ll do the same for you.
  3. How do you treat yourself and others when they do something you don’t agree with? Do you make them or yourself feel guilty? If you’re living in constant guilt and shame, you might have some Pharisee in you that needs to be eradicated. Let it go. Trust God’s grace. You can’t perform perfectly. No one can live up to that standard except Jesus. He took our sin. He died for us. And He conquered death and the grave. Trust in what He did. And ease up on the gray areas.

Separate Yet Not Equal

Separate Yet Not Equal3

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matt.9:10-13 NLT).

I drove by a church sign one time that said, Independent | Fundamental | Separated. Yikes! That gave me flashbacks of my childhood. I grew up with quite a long list of things I couldn’t do, according to my church. And the reason I couldn’t do them was because they were sinful. It’s a little scary growing up being afraid to do certain things because you don’t want God to be mad at you. But basically, if I was being good God was happy, but if I was being bad then God was mad at me. In addition, I was always on my toes because if God was mad at me the bottom could drop out at any time. That last thing I wanted was to be struck with that proverbial lightning bolt. Wow. Just thinking about it stresses me out to this day! So every time I drive by a church sign that says something like the above, it brings up some bad juju.

In my opinion (and I could be wrong), a sign like that says You’re not welcome here. Isn’t that a shame? So many churches and “Christians” have created an atmosphere that says You’re not good enough to associate with me. It’s eerily similar to the handshake of a trumpet player. As a trumpet player, I knew that handshake well. Our reputation was not unlike the Pharisees. We were really cocky. The joke was that the trumpet player’s handshake was (with outstretched hand), Hi! I’m better than you. And it was obviously implemented with strong arrogance. Unfortunately, that is the message received by those coming into contact with modern day Pharisees. It’s such a shame though because it’s so UN-like what Jesus was like.

In Jesus’ day, the religious elite crowd (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, etc.) had so twisted God’s Word that they were constantly adding rules to it. Moreover, by that time there were over 600 laws that people had to keep track of and follow. And the religious elite (I just call them the Pharisees in this blog for short) were constantly on the lookout to trap anyone that was breaking a “law.” Needless to say, they had a field day with Jesus on a regular basis. And this incident was no different. The Pharisees would not have been caught dead with the people Jesus was hanging out with. Tax collectors in that day were despised by the Jews. They were working for the enemy. Furthermore, they collected more than they needed and pocketed the profit for themselves. In our day, a proper comparison might be lawyers, politicians, and accountants!

The point Jesus was trying to make, however, wasn’t that the Pharisees were righteous and the tax collectors weren’t. That’s not what this passage is saying at all! The point Jesus is trying to make here is that the tax collectors and sinners recognized that they were sinners and they wanted help from Jesus. They were well aware they weren’t perfect. They knew their lives were messed up. The real tragedy here is that the Pharisees believed they themselves were perfect and righteous. But they were far from it. Even though they had over 600 extra laws, they were just as lost as the tax collectors. They just didn’t know it. They were blind.

But Jesus fired right back with a quote from the Old Testament that they should’ve known (Hosea 6:6). Jesus wanted them to follow His example. He wanted them to show mercy to people, not despise them or be separate from them. He wanted them to forgive like God forgives, show mercy like God shows mercy, and to love like God loves. That’s why Jesus didn’t give us over 600 laws in the New Testament. He said, Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt.22:34-40). Even when he gave the Great Commission, the idea was to be in context with His command to love (Matt.28:18-20).

Jesus never commanded us to be separate and act like we’re better than everyone else. It was quite the opposite. We were to follow His example, which was to hang out and eat with people that don’t have it all together. He never said cut yourselves off. He never said hide behind your church walls. He never said make people come to you. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, Christians adopted the practices of the Pharisees who didn’t know Jesus. Somewhere along the line, Christians started demanding perfection and asking people to come to them. Somewhere along the line, Christians stopped eating with people that don’t know Jesus. What a shame!

So if you suffer from being a Pharisee, I challenge you to hang out with people that don’t know Jesus. I challenge you to go out and learn the meaning of this Scripture. Jesus never said behave properly all the time so you can be squeaky clean and earn God’s favor. Jesus says to admit that you’re a mess and enjoy His forgiveness. He says to show someone else the same kind of love, grace, and compassion that God has showed you. No one deserves God’s grace. I don’t. You don’t. None of us can earn it. Isaiah was pretty clear when he wrote, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

In short, religious people are just as sinful and just as lost as the next guy without Jesus. Our good works don’t get us anywhere when it comes to salvation. Jesus was the only One who could live perfectly. He was the only One righteous enough to say, I’m all that and a bag of chips. So don’t associate with Me. I’m separate and YOU’RE NOT equal! He never said that. He treated people with respect. And He was known as a friend of sinners (Matt.11:19). Is that how you are known? Or are you known as someone that people need to avoid? Do you hang out with people that don’t know Jesus? Are you approachable? Or do you constantly tell people what they shouldn’t be doing? Do you have a long NOT to-do list? Those are just a few Pharisee identifiers.

Solomon said, “So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself?” (Ecc.7:16 NLT). Unfortunately, the Pharisees thought that their farts didn’t smell. But we all know that’s not the truth. Believe me, I am well aware that my farts smell (and so do yours). Just ask my kids! Sometimes they’ve been tempted to call the hazmat team to clean up the toxic fumes! They can tell you all about it. You see, the Pharisees thought that they were righteous by the religious rules they followed; however, Jesus was making the point that they weren’t righteous at all! They were blind. Otherwise, they would’ve been bowing down and worshipping Jesus rather than complaining about Him, trying to trap Him in His words, and conspiring to kill Him.

So what might it look like for us to follow this passage? The answer will differ for each individual. However, a good first step would be to look at your neighbors, co-workers, and the people you cross paths with on a regular basis. For example, if you have kids, you probably take them to games and practices. Perhaps you could throw an end of the season (or beginning or middle) party for the kids and their families. Perhaps you might find you have something in common with one or two of the families. Maybe you all could get together for dinner, go out for ice cream, or hang out at the park for a picnic after the game.

If you’ve had a rough day at work, perhaps you could go out for a drink with some of your co-workers. Highly religious people often think that drinking is wrong, but there’s nothing to indicate that in the Bible. The Bible condemns a lifestyle of drunkenness, but I hardly think having a beer with some co-workers makes you an alcoholic. It just might be what you need to chill out and relax! What about neighbors? You could throw a block party, do an outdoor summer movie night in your backyard, do a community yard sale, or have a backyard BBQ that you invite some of your neighbors over for. The possibilities are endless.

What we call the missional lifestyle is simply the Jesus lifestyle. It’s nothing new. In fact, it’s ancient. Jesus associated with the average Joe. He never said, Hang out in your church building seven days a week. It was quite the contrary. Jesus was a people person. Furthermore, the missional lifestyle is not just for extroverts. I’m an introvert. In fact, it’s very hard for me to meet people. So if you meet me in person in a coffee shop, at the gym, or around town, I’m unimpressive. Get ready to be disappointed. Yet my desire is to be approachable so when God gives me the opportunity to meet someone new, I take it. Please note that God doesn’t have a quota of conversions that we need to meet. It’s His job to convert. He just wants us to be missional and approachable. He doesn’t want us to be Pharisees (holier than thou, separated).

Pharisees have it backwards. They think they must be separate. Otherwise, they might be corrupted by the world or associated with sin. That’s what the word means by the way. Pharisee means separate. The Pharisees are ones who separate themselves. But here’s the truth. No one who is unchurched cares if you make mistakes or are associated with people who sin. They won’t call you a hypocrite for that. What they will call you a hypocrite for is if you pretend that you’re perfect when you’re not. Your holier than thou, my farts don’t stink, and your I don’t put my pants on one leg at a time mentality is why they don’t like you.

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Who are the people in your life that are hard to love, the ones that you avoid, or that you think are a bad influence? Would Jesus have hung out with them? Maybe you should too…
  2. If you could change the whole world by simply starting one conversation or sharing one meal, would you do it? Are you willing to be the one to start it? Don’t worry about failure. I fail all the time! But wouldn’t it be worth it if even one person came to faith because you took the time to build a relationship with someone that other people weren’t willing to associate with?
  3. Are you approachable? People run from Pharisees. True disciples are those that people are comfortable with. Be the one that throws great parties. At work, be the one who gets everyone together for lunch or breakfast. Be the one that people like to be around, not separate from.

Fork it Over People!

Fork it Over

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (2 Cor.9:7 NLT).

I come from a family of mechanics. In addition, a double-wide trailer next to a junkyard was the environment in which I grew up. That fact alone made me really popular with the ladies. Not! But I also come from a family of hard workers. They sure do know how to put in a full day’s work. As for me, I had no desire to learn the family trade. I had absolutely no interest in fixing cars, hunting, or NASCAR racing. Despite that, I was lugged along to many a dirt track races (since my grandfather owned a racetrack), and I was forced to pick up the garbage at the track after race day each week. It was NOT fun, but I did get paid. I liked that part.

So needless to say, I did not go into the family business. I spent many a day sitting in my room playing my trumpet and/or watching movies on TV. Moreover, I did venture out onto my front porch every now and again to play my trumpet because I knew I had a captive audience. Unfortunately, the men at the golf course did not appreciate my fine trumpet playing skills. They would often yell at me to shut up, and they actually hit golf balls into my yard to intimidate me. It didn’t work. And yes, I grew up next to a junkyard AND a golf course. Talk about an oxymoron! However, to the best of my recollection, the golf course didn’t get put in until I was in High School. But the junkyard was there my whole life.

My problem though, was that I didn’t like to get dirty. I could never work on cars for a living, or even as a hobby, because I hate getting dirty. A little valve oil on my fingers was about the worst I could take. Even that got on my nerves. I just don’t like to get dirty. I like to be clean. And that leads us to last Saturday night. I went to a concert with a few friends. It was awesome. What wasn’t awesome was the one-and-a-half-hour commercial that preceded the concert. We all thought we were going to see a concert, but in reality we first had to sit through a very painful plea for money for one-and-a-half-hours. And it came from nowhere. We weren’t expecting it. None of us realized this concert was also a fundraiser. No one told us. And they (the powers-that-be) even admitted when we got there that it was a bait and switch!

I was so offended that I wanted to vomit. Now, I can’t share the details. I do not wish to publicly shame an organization, although they should be ashamed of themselves. But this is one of the many reasons why religious people get on my nerves! So just FYI, guilting people into giving money and exploiting children in the process is not wise. That’s all I will say about that. But that’s not even the issue. I do believe there were good intentions that this organization had. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Having said that, the one I am most ashamed of is myself.

There was no getting out of it. They were not shy about asking for money. There were envelopes at the table and you HAD to take one! Furthermore, there were other people at your table watching you. And, you guessed it, there were people coming by to collect the envelopes. So yes, I was a little pissed-off. This is why people become atheists and hate the church. They see Christians behaving like this (guilting people into giving), so it’s no wonder they want nothing to do with the church! And yes, it did make me want to spew chunks.

So now we get to the part where I have to eat crow. And I hate eating crow, but alas, I must because the Pharisee in me came out last Saturday night. Yikes! In hindsight, my wife and I should’ve walked out. We should’ve left the envelope on the table with nothing inside. We should’ve confidently been able to say No thank you. But the Pharisee in me came out. I was self-conscious of what other people would think. I looked around and saw other people getting out their wallets, so I caved into the pressure. And believe me, there were no stones left unturned. You couldn’t even use the excuse that you didn’t bring cash. They had forms ready to go to write down your credit card number if you were short on cash. And you could even check the option to give monthly! Double yikes! There was a lot of pressure to give, because you know, it was for the kids. It was for the poor suffering kids. They had me! There was no escape! So I put in ten bucks. And it felt dirty. If you can recall, I don’t like to get dirty. The Pharisee in me came out because I was thinking about what other people were thinking. But that’s never a good reason to give.

In fact, I don’t even like to go out to the store anymore. I would rather shop on Amazon.com because every time I go to the cash register at a store someone asks, OUT LOUD, if I want to give to such and such organization. No. No I do not. So stop guilting me into it! My wife and I give away plenty of money. Being generous is NOT the issue. But being publicly guilted, shamed, humiliated, and forced into giving to a certain organization, that I have no desire to give to and no connection with, is the issue. And it is WRONG!

And that’s simply Bible basics 101. “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully’ (2 Cor.9:7 NLT). So that leaves me with having to eat crow. I hate eating crow. The worst part about it is that I’ve preached that sermon before! I’ve publicly encouraged people to not give when they’re guilted into it. I’ve preached that guilt is NOT a good motivator. And shame on those that pressure us into giving! But what did I do? I caved in! I gave into the pressure! I forked it over! I wasn’t happy about it. But I did it. And they’re laughing all the way to the bank. I’m a sucker.

So I’m the classic example, not just of screwing up 2 Corinthians 9:7, but also of being a Pharisee. Again, that’s what this Blind Pharisee category is for. We all need to realize there’s some Pharisee in all of us and it needs to be eradicated. Thank God for grace. However, I’m at least thankful to now be aware that I have some Pharisee in me. Some people still don’t see it. They’re blind. But being able to see our filthiness does help us to be able to take a shower and to hand the bar of soap to the next guy.

One of the curses of being a pastor is making some of these silly errors and then having to publicly repent. It’s a bummer. But it’s necessary for all of us to be able to learn. And if I wasn’t able or willing to do this, my Pharisee-ism would sink to a whole new low. I have noticed over the years that some of the people most vocally opposed to certain hot-button issues in the religious world are those that have the most to hide. It’s just an observation. They might be fooling their congregations, but they’re not fooling me. But as for me, I realized a LONG time ago that God made me into a pastor and teacher so I could help people not to make some of the same mistakes I did. It wasn’t because I deserved to be a teacher or pastor. It’s because I’m an idiot. It’s because I’ve made the mistakes. Now it’s my job to train (warn) others to NOT make the mistakes I did.

It’s actually the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy would be pretending that I know all of this without the experience of making the mistakes, but I surely have. Hypocrisy would say I’ve never done those things and YOU shouldn’t either because it’s SIN! So I proudly share my mistakes if it means we all can learn from them. Needless to say, feel free to leave the envelope empty the next time this happens to you. Don’t let people pressure you into giving. As for the concert I told you about, if they would’ve simply been up-front that it was a fundraiser, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. It was the guilt-driven, bait and switch that angered me. So in the future, when you decide NOT to give, you can feel free to tell them that I said it was OK NOT to give! Finally, please note that I’m not referring to tithing in this post. Tithing is a whole separate issue. But the same principle still applies. If you’re that bitter about it, you shouldn’t give. Keep your money.

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Have you ever been in this situation? I’d love to hear about it and to know what you did. You don’t need to publicly name the organization (please don’t), but it is helpful to know if and when other people go through the same issues.
  2. What offends you (in general) when people or organizations ask for money? Is it just religious organizations or all organizations that bother you in this way? Why? Is it because you don’t want to part with the money? Is it how they ask? Is it because you give to other organizations?
  3. Have you been distracted in this post, and others, because of my strong language? Are you offended by the content of this post? Why? Is it because you were told the opposite as you were growing up? Were you led to believe that Christians need to act perfect all the time and hide your mistakes? That’s Pharisee-ism…I still fight it every day…
  4. Even though this post is not about tithing, how do you think people feel when they visit one of your gatherings for the first time and the offering plate/basket goes by? Do you think they go through the same anxieties/frustrations that I did? Do you blame them for feeling that way after reading this post? Do you think they feel pressured to give? Does that turn them off from coming back? Is there a better way to approach your Sunday morning routine? There are plenty of other non-offensive alternatives…

Get Over Yourself

Blog Pic Get Over Yourself

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us (Rom.12:3 NLT).

Religious people get on my nerves. I said this to a friend of mine (who happens to be an atheist) the other day, and he didn’t quite know how to respond. To be honest, I find myself agreeing with many of the reasons why he is disgusted by Christianity. It’s a shame that what he sees as Christianity (and chooses to reject), I see as false religion, Pharisee-ism, and anything but what Jesus had in mind for His church. So we’ve had some good conversations. I often find myself explaining to people that most of what they hate (or find offensive about God) has nothing to do with Jesus or His church. It has to do with stupid religious people who have somehow called themselves Christians while unknowingly becoming Pharisees. And yes, I can call them stupid because I used to be stupid. I certainly haven’t forgotten that I used to be a Pharisee. It was not intentional. It was accidental. But then again, I don’t know anyone that ever set out to be a Pharisee. It just kind of happens. But one of the points of this stream (The Blind Pharisee) is to eradicate the Pharisee in all of us.

One of the ways to eradicate that Pharisee in all of us is to expose the hypocrite in all of us. It’s funny that a hypocrite, in its most literal meaning, is an actor. That’s what a hypocrite is. He’s someone who is pretending to be someone else. He’s putting on a show for an audience. Now, if you’re actually an actor, that’s a good thing. If you’re paid to do theatre or movies, it’s ok to be an actor. But if you’re a Christian who is putting on a show and trying to be someone you’re not, that’s not a good thing. It’s obviously bad if you’re hiding who you really are and passing yourself off as someone else.

Let’s be honest. We’re all sinners. We’ve all sinned. We all know Romans 3:23 and 6:23 but somehow, as Pharisees, we have convinced ourselves that other people’s sins (or certain sins) are worse than all others. Homosexuality is one of the main ones that comes to mind right now. There are many more, but that’s just off the top of my head. And so the Pharisees run with this and oppose all things gay, boycott businesses that support gays, and they post mean Facebook memes to shun gays, gay marriage, and those that support them. Furthermore, they point out all kinds of Bible passages that support the fact that God is against homosexuality and that it is sin.

One of the most famous passages is Romans chapter one: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom.1:26-27). But the part that they leave out comes a few verses later in the same context. In speaking of the same people, Paul says, They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Rom.1:29-32 ESV).

I bolded some words that I thought should also be highlighted as sin in this context. How many of you who are reading this post have coveted on a regular basis? How many of you have wanted what someone else has? How many of you are passive aggressive and doing deceitful things behind the scenes? How many of you lie? How many of you have been disobedient to your parents? How many of you are prideful? I could go on, but those sins are listed in the same passage as homosexuality. But how is that worse than pride? The last time I checked, God ranks pride as one of the worst sins (check out Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:13). In fact, pride is why Satan got thrown out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-21; Ezekiel 28:12-19). Furthermore, “a person who sows discord in a family” describes many people in almost every church I’ve ever been a part of (Proverbs 6:19 NLT).

But guess who else is guilty of pride? Yep. The Pharisees. Yet the Pharisees have no room to boast. They’re guilty of things that are just as bad or worse than what they themselves condemn. Romans chapter two goes on to speak of these religious people who think they’re better than everyone else. Paul points out that the religious people are guilty of the same things (Rom.2:1-3, 21-23)! So they are no better off. But Paul argues that God is patient and wants us ALL to repent (Rom.2:4). We’re ALL sinners. We’re ALL in the same boat.

And it’s WAY more than the homosexual issue. What about the “Pastor” reading this blog who thinks he’s God’s gift to preaching? He thinks the world revolves around him and that no one else can deliver God’s message like he can. That’s pride. That’s a Pharisee-ism. What about the Christian who won’t associate with some people in town (or in their church) because they’re not quite up to their standards? That’s a Pharisee. What about Christians who gossip behind closed doors and complain about how the church is being run or about such and such who did something offensive to them, yet they won’t actually go to that person? That’s a Pharisee!

The word I have for the people who think and/or act that way is “Get Over Yourself!” Everyone is not like you. And that’s ok! We’re all different. God designs many different types of people with different personalities, gifts, and functions. God loves variety. He doesn’t want us all to be the same. And we have no right to think we’re better than anyone else. Let me drop a bomb for all Pharisees, including myself. If you dropped dead today, the Earth would still rotate on its axis. God’s mission would continue without YOU. The world will not end if you don’t show up tomorrow. Get over yourself. “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Rom.12:3 NLT). Take a moment to get offended, then collect yourself. Why am I writing this? Why am I being so harsh? Jesus was harsh with the Pharisees. Did you ever notice that? Jesus was super harsh with the “religious” people who should’ve know better, but He was super gentle to sinners like the woman at the well.

I’m tired of being harsh on the sinners and gentle on the religious. We have it backwards! We can’t be motivated by the fear of the Pharisees or that they’ll stop tithing if we offend them. That’s the one thing the Pharisees always did well. They were tithers (Matt.23:23)! But we need to set things straight. We need to get over ourselves and not think we’re better or more important than we really are. We need to have the attitude of the tax collector, not the Pharisee. The Pharisee prayed to God and said I’m all that and a bag of chips, God! Aren’t you proud of my performance? I’m so glad I’m not like that guy over there! But the tax collector kept his head down and said, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner” (Luke 18:13 NLT).

So to my fellow Pharisees, I say with all due respect (as you shove your religious pride where the sun doesn’t shine), “Get over yourself!” One thing you might want to try, as your blind eyes start to be opened, is to go back and apologize for being an ass (KJV). An apology goes a long way. I feel bad for my atheist friend. It’s a shame that Christians have acted that way and have given God such a bad name in the process (Rom.2:24). I don’t blame him for not wanting to believe in a god of hate, pride, and destruction. I do pray that my atheist friend will come to know the real Jesus. The real Jesus shows love, not hate. The real Jesus shows mercy and patience. The real Jesus wants us all to be saved. He’s not waiting or wanting to throw anyone into hell. He’s wanting and waiting to greet you at the gates of Heaven (1 Tim.2:4; 2 Peter 3:8-10).

You see, the more I talk to people about Jesus, the more I realize that people really like Jesus. Let me say that again, even for atheists. People LIKE Jesus. On Facebook, the real Jesus would probably get 7.4 Billion LIKES. The problem is that most people don’t know the real Jesus. They only come into contact with Pharisees. But people LIKE Jesus. They like who He is and what He stands for. They would love to hang out with Him, just like they did in the first century. What people don’t like is religious snobs, hypocrites, and holier than thou Pharisees. So let’s reconsider our religious snobbery, fake perfection, and works oriented religion. Let’s consider the Jesus of the Bible and try to be like Him, which is the total opposite of the Pharisees. None of us are perfect. None of us measure up to God’s standard. Only Jesus could do that. That’s why we ALL need a Savior. That’s just the way it is.

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Has the thought ever crossed your mind that you somehow have an inside connection to God? Did that make you feel more important than everyone else? Did it give you an excuse to sin and still be ok with God while condemning others who did the same thing or did something that you thought was a worse sin?
  2. Do you like to delegate responsibility to someone else for the things you don’t want to (or that you don’t like to) do? Do you delegate because you think you shouldn’t have to do it because it’s below you? Don’t forget what Jesus did. He gave up heaven for us to do what was below Him, but He sacrificed Himself for us. We didn’t deserve it, but He did it anyway. Read Philippians 2:1-8 and then tell me if you’re too good or too important to do some menial task.
  3. Jesus was pretty hard on the Pharisees, but gentle with “sinners.” How does that make you feel? Why are so many Christians hard on “sinners” and soft on “Christians” who seemingly (on the surface) have it all together? Do you still think that one sin is worse than another after reading Romans 1, or do you still think homosexuality is the worst sin? What about the guy who cheats on his wife? Is that not just as bad as homosexuality? What about the married or single guy who mentally undresses and sleeps with beautiful, naked women in his mind (while pleasuring himself), or what about the thief, or the habitual liar (Matt.5:27-28; Rev.21:8, 27; 1 Cor.6:9-11)?

 

 

 

 

Bible Studies Are Killing the Church

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You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life (John 5:39-40 NLT). 

Have you ever noticed that it’s really easy to pick out flaws? It’s not a gift I’m proud of, but it comes naturally for me. Even with my kids, it’s easy to try to fix something. A few days ago, as I was rushing to get the kids out the door for the bus, I licked my hand and rubbed it on Lincoln’s head to get his hair down. It was sticking up in the back. And he was like, Oh that’s gross! Don’t do that. My hair’s fine! Yet a day or so later, one of my other sons (Owen), pointed out that I had a stain on my sweatshirt. Unfortunately, I completely ignored him thinking that he was just being silly and waiting for me to look down so he could flick my nose. That was not the case. About ten minutes later I discovered that I did, in fact, have a very noticeable stain on my sweatshirt! Oops! That was a little embarrassing. Too often, I’m quick to dismiss someone else’s critique of me while not thinking twice about critiquing them.

This is the problem with many Christians and many churches today. We are so opinionated on many issues but we fail to see our own issues. One of the best examples I can think of is Bible Studies. In our day and age, with all of the information available, we have access to such a vast amount of knowledge that it is impossible to study, let alone read, it all. Solomon was right three thousand years ago when he said, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc.12:12 ESV). So if we fast forward three thousand years (plus add in the printing press which was unavailable when Solomon wrote those words), you can imagine how much worse the situation is today. Christian bookstores abound. Bible studies abound. And many well-meaning Christians attend these Bible studies and read these books.

But here’s what they don’t see. Here’s what they’re missing as they spend all day Sunday, and sometimes multiple nights, inside their church buildings: application. What good does it do to know the Bible inside and out if you never DO the Bible? What good is it to study all of the different scenarios of the end-times if you don’t apply it (2 Peter 3:8-11; James 1:22; Matt.28:18-20)? What good does your Bible study do, as you “mature in the faith” yet refuse to actually go out and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt.22:34-40)? What good is it to study evangelism (or teach it), if you don’t have any friends that don’t know Jesus? My favorite is when Christians say, That’s not my gift. Seriously? I don’t think the Bible study is working!

Bible studies are killing the church! No, you did not read that wrong. Quit your Bible study. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, if you’ve been around the block, I can tell you without a doubt that you know way more Bible than you can possibly apply. So stop sinning by learning more Bible that you have no intention of applying! You already know the basic story of the Bible. You already know the gospel (at least you think you do). But now you need to go and do it. That’s why we don’t do small groups or Bible studies at NRC. Small groups are just another word for Bible study. Somehow, we equate spiritual maturity with knowing the Bible, but it’s not true. You can quote a lot of Bible, and even go to seminary, without knowing Jesus.

Does this sound familiar? It sounds like the Pharisees! The only problem with Pharisees is that they don’t know they are Pharisees. Many Christians have become Pharisees and they don’t realize it. Many Churches, unintentionally, have become Pharisee Training Camps. How do I know that? Because I used to be a Pharisee. And I’ve been involved in more than one Pharisee Training Camp. In fact, I still fight the Pharisee in me every day. However, it is so much better to at least know you’re a Pharisee and start to fight it, than to live out your life every day as a Pharisee and not know it. I pray that more and more light bulbs start to go off!

So quit your Bible study. Go out and make a friend that doesn’t know Jesus. Make your once a week commitment (or more) to hang out with somebody that doesn’t know Jesus (instead of a Bible study). Hang out with a co-worker in need. Work out at the gym and get to know some of the people there. Build relationships with other parents while you’re sitting and watching your kids at sporting events. Opportunities for application of the Bible, mission, and showing the love of Jesus abound. And they are so much more effective than going to a Bible study that you’ll shelve and not apply anyway. Seriously. Quit your Bible study. It’s killing the church.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees two thousand years ago apply to YOU and ME. “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life (John 5:39-40 NLT). A modern translation for our culture would read something like this: You go to all of these Bible studies to learn but you don’t ever put what you learn into practice. You know a lot of verses about Me, but you don’t know Me. I poured my life into people. You pour your life into yourself. I died for sinners. But you wouldn’t be caught dead with them! You don’t even know Me.

It’s very dangerous to know a lot about Jesus, but not know Jesus. Have you ever just hung out with God? Do me a second favor. Quit your quiet time. Or at least revamp your quiet time so you can spend real time with God. Burn your prayer list so you can listen to what He says to you. Just shut up and listen. Then talk to Him throughout the day and keep the line of communication open. Look for ways to DO His Word and to apply what He tells you. That will at least be a good start in applying the Bible. So instead of learning about evangelism, just go out and make a friend. Stop judging the homosexual, or the person who cusses a lot, or the person who is not nice. Put down your picket sign. And just hang out with someone who doesn’t know Jesus. Spend some time with them. Find out what makes them tick. Make a friend.

Be good news to someone who doesn’t know Jesus before you share the good news. Too many Christians vomit bad news. I wouldn’t want to listen to them either! So be good news. Jesus hung out with prostitutes and sinners. If He was here in person right now, I’m sure He would be chillin’ with the LGBT Community and all of the other people that “Christians” can’t stomach. So let’s wake up and realize that Jesus did not play nice with the religious, goody two-shoes, holier than thou Pharisees. They butted heads quite a bit. So why would we want to be like them? Jesus spent time with and befriended sinners. No one is good enough for Jesus. He died for all of us. We are all sinners. We are all flawed. We are all broken. We all need a Savior. And Jesus is the only one who qualifies (Rom.3:23; 6:23; 5:8).

Questions to wrestle with…

  1. Does it bother you hearing that Jesus probably would have hung out with the LGBT community? Does it make you want to take a bath and cleanse yourself? Consider the fact that you might have a little Pharisee in you. Consider the implications of this light bulb moment.
  2. Does this material resonate with you because you’ve been waiting for this fresh breath of air? Did you still struggle with some of the content, yet you want to hear more?
  3. What in your life resembles the Pharisees? Are you willing to put the Pharisee in you to death as God reveals it to you more and more?