Self Awareness

Dastardly Whiplash In teaching through the Gospels at Southwestern College this semester I have really been reminded again about the legalism of the Pharisees.  Jesus has absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for their approach to God by following their rules or for their insistence that everyone else do the same.  Jesus has no problems dropping a “Jesus Booyah” on these guys!

13      “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14      [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16      “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
23      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
24      “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
26      “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28      “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:13-16, 23-28)

What a scathing rebuke! 
Two thoughts come to mind this Thanksgiving eve as I look through Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees:

  1. The Pharisees certainly didn’t consider themselves hypocrites, actors who played a part.  They certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness; they were the righteous ones who God would certainly approve of!  They had the right pedigree as children of Abraham and the right piety as followers of the law.  In other words, they weren’t at all self-aware.  They didn’t know what their needs were and for the most part considered themselves to be in God’s good graces.
  2. If I were a Pharisee, how would I have heard Jesus’ rebuke?  Would I have taken it as it was intended, to shake me out of my lethargy and complacency?  Or would I reject the rebuke and stay comfortably within my self-delusional existence?

We tend to look at the Pharisees in the Gospels and paint them as bad guys in spaghetti westerns.  However, we see some of them come to faith in Christ (John 12:42 comes to mind) and many of them, like Saul of Tarsus, genuinely thought that they were serving God with their wrong-headed insistence on following the rules.  I think that I tend to think of their hypocrisy like they had a nice exterior but inside they have turmoil because they are fakers.  The picture that the Gospels paints for us, though, is more that they sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.

Re-read that last sentence.  They sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.  Doesn’t that sound like a lot of Christian’s perception of Christianity?  As long as I am doctrinally correct and have no overt sin in my life I am good to go in God’s eyes. 

Eh…not so much according to Jesus.  He, in love, gets under the Pharisee’s skin for putting their own image and their own religion and their own preferences above what God wants for them.  He does not mind calling them out or ruffling their feathers because they need to hear what He is saying. 

When is the last time that you took an honest look at yourself and asked God to show you the ways that, even though you THINK that you’re doing well, you’ve replaced worship of Him with legalism.  Have you ever asked God to rebuke you and show you where you’ve left your love for Him and replaced it with comfortable rules?

This Thanksgiving I am not only thankful that Jesus died for my sins, but I am also thankful that He loves me enough to get me out of my comfort zone.  I am thankful that He loves me so much that He is willing to condemn the legalism in my life, even when that legalism is comfortable and especially when I think I am doing well.

How about you”?  Is there anything this Thanksgiving that is not typical that you are thankful to God for?  Is there a difficult situation, a temptation He has asked you to break from, or a sin that He loves you enough to kick you in the shins over right now?  And more importantly, are you willing this Thanksgiving to thank Him for doing it?


A World(view) of Difference

I have been to a few funerals over the last couple of weeks; they have been interesting to say the least.  I officiated a funeral for a friend and then attended a funeral this weekend as well.  At the same time I am in the first steps of planning a funeral for a man who had become a friend over the last six months.  I noticed a significant difference between the funerals for those without Christ and those with Him that really pointed toward a different view of life and the world.

The two funerals this past week were (mostly, though not all) attended by people without a firm commitment to Christ.  Certainly I didn’t know everyone there, but many of the people that I saw there had the look of folks who were despondent, and as the officiant at one of the services I got to talk to a good number of people who lamented never getting to see their loved one again.  Both were very somber, very sad affairs.

Contrast that with the funeral I am planning for my friend Dan.  Dan came to our church about a year ago with a friend.  He was in his early 60s and his health was failing.  He wasn’t sure what to make of me; he certainly wasn’t expecting what he got out of the pastor of this weird church in Glendale.  We got to know each other and started meeting every couple of weeks to talk about life and God.  Dan’s health was not good, and he used a walker more and more to get around.  Yet our talks got more and more intense as he considered Christ and His work on Dan’s behalf. 

In the middle of February I asked Dan what was standing in the way of his accepting Christ as his Savior.  He said that he didn’t know, and so I asked him to go home and think about that, and maybe ask God for some clarity.  Dan came to my office the following week and said that he had gone home, drawn the blinds, and prayed about his heart.  Then, he said with tears in his eyes, he trusted Christ as his Savior. 

What joy!  Dan was baptized on April 11th in a special baptistery that could accommodate his special needs, and we continued to meet after that regularly for friendship and discipleship.  He had a hard time getting out of the house but prayed regularly, read his Bible or his “Our Daily Bread” devotional.  Well on Saturday, November 12th, Dan passed away in his sleep at his home.  Thanks be to God that he closed his eyes and opened them in the arms of the Savior he was just getting to know.

I have done funerals in this manner before.  When a dear, sweet servant of Jesus named Linda passed away I preached at her memorial service.  Likewise I will preach at Dan’s, and the message will be one of hope.  We have not said goodbye; we have sent them ahead by saying, “see you soon.” 

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. ” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, NAS)

Comfort one another with these words.  Death is not the end; instead, it is just the beginning of eternal life. 
The worldview difference between Christian funerals and secular funerals really struck me this week.  Secular funerals look to the past.  They recount the life of the deceased and offer comfort in grief because the loved one is gone.  Christian funerals, though, look to the future and the consummation of life that entering eternity is for all who trust Christ.  In Christ this life is not the end.  In Christ life is just the “proving grounds” or the “waiting room” for those who will worship the King of Kings forever.  Yes we grieve when Christian friends and family pass because we will miss them, but the grief we have is always tempered by hope.
There is the big difference as I observed it.  For Christians, there is hope.  This is what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13.  We grieve differently because we have hope.  We know that today is not the end, that the struggles we face and the heartache and pain will not last forever.  God is waiting to redeem us completely and bring us and all of creation to His good purposes.
In light of that my encouragement to you is to grasp onto the hope that God has for those who trust Christ.  Whether you are grieving a death, stressing over money, worried about your kids or your job, or fretting over the moral decline of America see the issue through the lens of hope that only Christ can bring. 
For Dan’s funeral in the near future, I will preach this passage with joy, and recount the words of Jesus in John 11:23-27.  Dan trusted Christ for eternal life and today is at home with the Lord, joyous and pain-free.  He has the glorification we await!  I grieve the loss of my friend, but only in the knowledge and joy that comes from knowing what happened the second after his last breath.
Rest in the joy of your Savior, Dan!  I will see you when He comes for me or I go to Him.  Praise God that He brought you to Himself before He brought you home.


A video reminder (UPDATED)

I had the privilege of being part of Phoenix Seminary’s fundraising banquet last week.  They took some awesome video and I got to tell some of the story of our trip to Rwanda!

I appear for a moment at the beginning and then I get to speak starting around 4:45; watch the whole video because it’s really well done!  The reminders of my friends in Rwanda brought me to tears, especially laughing at the end with my friend Emmy.

If you would, take just a minute and pray for the saints in Rwanda.  Pray especially for Jean Buscoe, Emmy, Dan, Paul, Felix, Reverend Obed and the pastors in Gacundezi, that God would continue to work in their lives and that they would see Him through their suffering.

God changed my life with this trip, and I am glad to spread that change around a little.  How about you?  How has God made radical change in the way you view the world?


An Ethic of Voting

Tomorrow is the day that we have midterm elections, and the political rhetoric is at a fever pitch.  The American public seems to be in an uproar over various issues (which is the BIG issue depends on political leanings) and, because the President is not up for re-election, the people will take their frustration out on members of Congress who are in his party.  Republicans smell blood in the water and have pulled out all the stops, and the bickering and slandering have reached new heights.

We need to be sure to cut through the malarkey and vote appropriately tomorrow.

George Washington wrote concerning soldiering, “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.” Likewise, though I am the pastor of a church I nevertheless have the right as a citizen to express my opinion and a duty to vote my conscience. So I thought I would explain my voting ethic to anyone who cares to read it.

The first part of that voting ethic must be the imperative that God has given every Christian to vote.  I think that a recent post in Relevant Magazine is absolutely spot-on in this regard.  Many young adult Christians are disillusioned with both major political parties, and as a result shy away from political discussion and even from voting.  That, to me, is a travesty and a shame.  God expects every Christian to live in obedience to His mandates in Romans 13:1-7, and that certainly includes voting for Americans. 

When I read the book of Nehemiah I read of the people of Israel struggling to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and then defending their homes and families with their lives.  It would have been unthinkable for those people to say that their effort didn’t matter, that they could stand by and allow others to bear the burden that they rightly shared.  Yes they sometimes were exhausted, or sick of the labor, or thought that it didn’t matter anyway.  And time and again I am reminded of the stirring speech that Nehemiah gave that day:

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

What a powerful and convicting reminder that we must remember the work that God has called us to and do it wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of the men and women who built America when I think along these lines, men like my grandpa who was wounded in the battle of Peleliu in the Pacific theater in WWII.  I know that he and others like him see our carelessness with and indifference to the amazing gift of self-governance that we have been given as the grave disrespect that it is.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A right delayed [i.e. not exercised] is a right denied.”

With this in mind it is clear that Christians have a mandate to vote.  This is not optional; it is not a suggestion, any more than a summons to jury duty is a suggestion.  Failure to vote is, in my opinion, a failure to live in obedience to government and therefore a failure to obey what Jesus says.  And Luke 6:46 rings in my ears as I think about it.

Okay, so we MUST vote.  But how do we vote?  What makes our ethic of voting?  How do we take our faith into the voting booth with us?  The ultimate ethic of living, which should then extend to the ultimate ethic of voting, comes from the lips of Christ in Matthew 22:37-39:

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

My overriding ethic in voting is to glorify Jesus Christ with my life by loving God and loving people. Now clearly and certainly that priority will not line up with some, but like I said that is my overriding ethic of voting. You pick yours. I pick mine. I want my life to line up with the priorities of Jesus as clearly as I can. I will grow in my understanding of those priorities throughout life, but tomorrow I want to take every bit of understanding of Christ and every shred of desire to follow Him to the voting booth with me.

I am not a huge political activist and do not donate money to political causes. I donate at church and try to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man. I have no visions of transforming my society into a Christian nation; only people can be Christians.  Regardless, though, I am a follower of Christ who wants to glorify Him by voting for those people and those initiatives that best represent His desire for the people of America.  I am under no illusion that my view of issues is foolproof; I know that thinking, biblically-astute Christians will see some issues differently than I will.  That cannot lead me to indecision, however, because then my vote isn’t counted as I wait.  Instead, I must do my due diligence in every election and then make my vote count as best I can.

When there are initiatives on a ballot that are moral in nature, my first and last criterion of voting is this: which vote will glorify Christ more? Some ballot initiatives are amoral, and I vote whichever way makes best sense to me on those.  The moral ones, though, require moral distinctions and moral thoughts.  Not many initiatives focus on my ability to love God, but almost all of them deal with how I relate to people.  What is the loving decision?  How can I best love the people around me?  Not all love is gushy and lovey and nice, like Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.  But love must be my overriding ethic.

The same holds true of candidates.  Which candidate will do the best job of representing me and my desire to love God and love people?  That is where the rubber meets the road.  Again, not all candidates see issues the way I do, so aligning on some important issues tells me a lot about whether I think that candidate will do a good job.

So spend some time tonight reading through the ballot initiatives in your area.  Check in on your candidates and the issues that they believe are important.  Go to sites like votesmart to find information on candidates by assessing how like you they are in major issues.  Then get to the polls tomorrow!  And for anyone who didn’t get registered for this election, make sure this is the last election that you miss.

For the record I am not going to endorse candidates or issues on my blog; if you want to know my opinions, email me. 🙂