A Plane Ride, Politics, and Pharisees

 

Full Disclosure: This is a rant which may mention politics. But it’s more than politics.

I spent the entire flight home talking with a beautiful woman named Patricia. She was sweet, kind, passionate, friendly, and liberal. Listening to Patricia, I was reminded again where Christians and the Conservative Right went wrong.

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Patricia loves people, but she doesn’t sense that love from conservatives. She was raised in a church but struggles to link Jesus with the people and politics that claim His name. I feel her pain.

Too often, Christian and political conservatives have one thing in common. Obsessed with morals and outward actions, they forget about people.

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Since when did “proper behavior” become more valuable than human beings? Or why are people only valuable when they look and act like “us?” Maybe this isn’t the way we feel, but too often this is the way conservative Christians come across.

Who gave Christians the job of being the “moral enforcers?” I thought our job was to preach the good news of Jesus to the world. Our relationship with Jesus should affect every area of our lives including our politics. But our primary job is not to “save our culture through moralism!”

I didn’t tell Patricia where I stood politically because I was hoping to talk to her about Jesus.

Isn’t that sad?

It’s gotten to the point where people hear “conservative” and immediately think about obnoxious, hate filled, “morality police” who wear the name Christian. Seriously guys, we can do better.

Do you know who the “enforcers of morals” were in Jesus’ time? The Pharisees. Do we really want to imitate them? In their obsession with outward behavior, they sort of missed God…and He was right in front them.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have morals. Or that it’s bad to believe in right and wrong. Jesus had morals. Jesus was clear about right and wrong. But Jesus also loved people, passionately. If you were to simply observe Jesus as He “ate and drank with sinners,” it might even look like He approved of them. There was no condemnation. Truth, yes. Guilt and pointing fingers, not so much.

Morals by themselves are empty. There are plenty of “good,” lost people out there. Cleaning someone up on the outside, making them follow your rules and standards, this does nothing to change the heart.

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Back to the Pharisees again…Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”…they looked clean on the outside but inside were full of rotting corpses. Do we really want to emulate the Pharisees? I sure don’t! I want to be a Jesus follower.

The answer is not to become more liberal or progressive. The answer is Jesus. If we really get to know Him and see His heart, He will change us. Whatever our political beliefs, we will love with more passion and truth…truly caring about the people we meet and not just their outward actions.

Would We Recognize Him?

 

This is re-blogged from last year with some changes and updates. 🙂

If Jesus came and visited my church would I recognize him? Would you? Most of the religious people missed him last time.

moses-573811_1920The Pharisees were some of the religious elite. They looked good on the outside. They were filled with zealous passion. They not only followed the rules in the Law, they made up more rules and followed them too. They read and taught the Scriptures. But when God showed up, the promised Savior of the world, these same religious people missed him. In fact they didn’t just miss him, they claimed that he was a drunkard, a sinner, and possessed by a demon! God, the Creator of the Universe!

Ironically, these “good” Pharisees were the only people Jesus condemned. He spent a lot of time telling parables about them, ignoring their rules, and challenging their ideology. Why? Jesus met “sinners” in the dirt, loved them, forgave them, and set them free. Why was he so confrontational with the Pharisees? Would he be confrontational with me? What if this is the answer:

The sinners knew they were sinners. The Pharisees thought they were good enough.

Grace is only good news if you know you need it!

When I am in the dirt (like the woman in John 8), totally aware of my sin, my mess, and my unworthiness, Jesus can sit down there with me and show me grace. He loves me and forgives me even though I don’t deserve it. Jesus overwhelms me with grace because that’s who He is, and I stand in awe and can’t help but love Him in return.

But, if I think that I am good enough because of the list of rules that I am following, if I think that my outward performance is impressing God, if I am puffed with pride, then Jesus can’t show me grace.

Because, grace means nothing if we think we have earned it.

I really believe that Jesus’ motivation behind every confrontation with the Pharisees was to show them their sin, to show them that they weren’t good enough, that they would never be good enough, and that they needed Him.

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These religious people thought that God gave the Law for people to follow so that they would be good enough to impress Him. They thought it was a checklist to perfection. But Paul tells us in Galatians 3 that God gave the Law to show us our sin, to show us that we couldn’t do it, and to remind us that we needed a Savior.

God’s standard is perfection. In order to be with Him, we have to be perfect. (Psalm 5:4) Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’m out of luck. 😦 Still, He wants us! God wants a relationship with us! That has always been His goal. The consequence of sin, disobedience to God, is death. (Romans 6:23) But God loved us so much that He came to die in our place (John 3:16). If we trust in this, that Jesus died in our place for our sins, then God forgives us, adopts us as His children, and gives us eternal life! (John 3:16-18) That is good news! There is nothing that we can do to earn forgiveness. And, there is nothing more we can do to earn God’s blessings or impress Him once we have been forgiven.

Sadly, I’ve met a lot of Christians who look more like Pharisees than Jesus followers.

If Jesus showed up at your church with shaggy hair, maybe an earring or two, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, with Christian rap music blaring out of his rolled down car windows, would you recognize Him? Does this description make you angry? Uncomfortable? Does it make you laugh?

I don’t think Jesus fits into the predictable, churchy, sanitized box we have created for Him. He sure didn’t fit into the Pharisee’s box! What if we are missing the point (a restored relationship with our Creator) because we are too focused on religion and tradition? What if there is more than we can ever imagine right at our fingertips? Right there for the seeking, if we are willing to look?

 

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The Day God Became 3-D

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I was one of those good kids that Sunday School teachers love and the other kids hate. I knew all the answers, was well behaved, and proud of it. People pleasing has always been important to me. Once I knew what the expectations were, I would follow them to the best of my ability. Becoming a Pharisee was natural for me.

My brother and sister and I were homeschooled before it was even a word. We started back when homeschoolers were afraid of the big yellow bus pulling into your driveway. If my mom took us grocery shopping during school hours, the cashier would automatically ask why we weren’t in school. It was fun to tell them that we were homeschooled because their mouths would literally drop open; then they usually asked my mom something like, “Is that legal?”

I knew the Bible stories growing up, I knew all about God, Creation, Jesus dying on the cross, etc. But it was two-dimensional knowledge to me. God was a name on the page of a book. This all changed one day when I was fifteen years old.

Both of my parents had real relationships with Jesus. This was something that they modeled to us. And because of them, I chose to trust Jesus as my Savior when I was seven. That was before the “crazy days” started. By the time I was fifteen, we were involved in our cultish group and church. I was performing with the best of them…having daily devotions, living a life of rules and standards, and always ready to answer the question, “What is God doing in your life?” But I didn’t really know Him. Not yet.

The day God became 3-D started with a normal (to my family) school assignment. My mom gave me a list of God’s names and told me to pray them to Him. So I went up to my bedroom, and began to pray something like this. “God, you are Jehovah Jireh, you always provide for us. You are El Roi; you see everything. You are the Rock, my strength. Etc.” Suddenly, I knew that I was not alone in my bedroom. A very real God had come to hear me praise Him, and He liked it. I don’t even remember if I finished the list or not. I know I jumped up and ran downstairs to my mom screaming, “Mom, Mom, God showed up!” She just smiled this secret little smile and said, “I’ve been praying He would.”

This day changed the course of my life. God was more than just a 2-D name on a page, He was a 3-D Person and I wanted to get to know Him. My morning devotions changed; my prayers changed. I started looking for Him. I started praying to Him instead of just at Him. I started taking long walks to talk with Him. I began to realize just how much He loved me. The Bible became personal as God spoke through it to me. It was amazing!

Ultimately, this new understanding of Jesus would lead me to question the god, the standards, and the rules our church and group was telling me to follow. Eventually I would ask the question, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” and He would lead me out. But that’s another story.

Would We Miss Him?

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If Jesus came and visited my church would I recognize him? Would you? Most of the religious people missed him last time.

The Pharisees were some of the religious elite. They looked good on the outside. They not only followed the rules in the Law, they made up more rules and followed them too. They read and taught the Scriptures. But when God showed up, the promised Savior of the world, these same religious people missed him. In fact they didn’t just miss him, they claimed that he was a drunkard and that he was possessed by a demon! God, the Creator of the Universe!

Ironically, these “good” Pharisees were the only people Jesus condemned. He spent a lot of time telling parables about them, ignoring their rules, and challenging their ideology. Why? Jesus met “sinners” in the dirt, loved them, forgave them, and set them free. Why was he so confrontational with the Pharisees? Would he be confrontational with me? I think this is the answer.

The sinners knew they were sinners. The Pharisees thought they were good enough. Grace is only good news if you know you need it.

When I am in the dirt (like the woman caught in adultery in John 8), totally aware of my sin and my mess and my unworthiness, Jesus can sit down there with me and show me grace. He loves me and forgives me even though I don’t deserve it. Jesus overwhelms me with grace because that’s who He is, and I stand in awe and can’t help but love Him in return.

But, if I think that I am good enough because of the list of rules that I am following, if I think that my outward performance is impressing God, if I am standing in pride, then Jesus can’t show me grace. Grace means nothing if we think that there is something we have done to earn it.

I really believe that Jesus’ motivation behind every confrontation with the Pharisees was to show them their sin, to show them that they weren’t good enough, that they would never be good enough.

These religious people thought that God gave the Law so that people would follow it and be good enough to impress Him. They thought it was a checklist to perfection. But Paul tells us in Galatians 3 that God gave the Law to show us our sin, to show us that we couldn’t do it, and to remind us that we needed a Savior.

God’s standard is perfection. In order to be with Him, we have to be perfect. (Psalm 5:4) Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’m out of luck! Still, He wants us! God wants a relationship with us! That has always been His goal. The consequence of sin, disobedience to God, is death. (Romans 6:23) But God loved us so much that He came to die in our place (John 3:16). If we believe this, that Jesus died in our place for our sins, then God forgives us, adopts us as His children, and gives us eternal life! (John 3:16-18 Jesus is talking to a Pharisee!) That is good news! There is nothing that we can do to earn forgiveness. And there is nothing we can do to earn God’s blessings or impress Him once we are saved.

I’ve met a lot of Christians who look more like Pharisees than Jesus followers. And I can say this because I was one once.

If Jesus showed up at your church with shaggy hair, maybe an earring or two, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, with Christian rap music blaring out of his rolled down car windows, would you recognize Him? Does this description make you angry? Uncomfortable? Does it make you laugh? Let me know what you think!

I’ll be sharing some personal stories in the next few days about how I stopped being a Pharisee and embraced being a sinner.

Freedom vs. Rules Part 2

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I’ve often wondered how people initially get caught up in legalism. I guess I’d assumed that people just liked rules, or that they were sucked in because of pride and a desire to be “looked up to”, or that, like me, they were inadvertently taken there by their parents. The other day I had a really interesting conversation with my mom about why they got involved in this lifestyle, and what I heard surprised me.

Some people get involved with legalism by accident because they just want to follow God. Huh? This was not the answer I was expecting!

But as I thought about some other people I know who have gotten heavily involved in a legalistic group, I realized that it’s true for them too. So, how do you get from a good place like “I want to follow God” to a legalistic place where “I have to obey all of these rules” and then “You’re not godly because you do, or don’t do, x, y, z”? I think it starts with forgetting Who it’s all about.

When my parents first became Christians, they were in college. They got involved with a college ministry full of other Christians who were serious about their relationship with Jesus. The attitude was, “If the Bible says it, let’s do it!” After my parents left college, they had a hard time finding a church with a similar attitude and they missed having a community of believers who were actively following Christ. When they found our “crazy” church (as I call it), they were drawn in by the fact that these people were doing “what the Bible said” and were pursuing a “godly” lifestyle. My mom says that, at the time, she didn’t notice the legalism because she was so excited to have found people who were living for God. Living for God or living to impress God?

So what makes something legalistic? Did you know that two people can do the exact same thing but one is a legalist and the other is a genuine follower of Christ? It really has everything to do with heart motivation and nothing to do with outward actions. Legalism is often motivated by pride and/or fear.

You can do a lot of good things from legalistic motivations. For example: eating healthy, home schooling, reading your Bible, praying, going to church, memorizing Scripture, avoiding certain entertainment choices, dressing modestly, etc. These things can also be done without legalistic motivations. So, how do you know if something is legalism or not? Ask this question: Why am I doing this? Is it because I want to? Or is it because I think that I have to? Am I trying to make God happy? Am I trying to impress other people?  Our motivations show our true hearts.

When I lived as a legalist, I had my morning devotions so that God would be pleased with me. I wanted to “get in his favor” and make sure I had his blessing. Now, I do my morning devos because I want to hear from God and start my morning with Him. Newsflash: Good things can be sin if they are done with the wrong motivation! All those mornings where I was trying to impress God with my “goodness” were unimpressive to Him.

Why does this matter to me?

Because, legalism takes the focus off of Jesus and puts it on me. Legalism says that I have to perform in order to make God happy…I have to perform. Legalism ignores the fact that there is nothing I can do in myself to please God. Legalism ignores the perfect performance of Jesus Christ. It encourages pride, or hopelessness, depending on my performance. Legalism turns the freedom we have in Christ into bondage. And it steals the glory of God.

The Pharisees were some of the greatest legalists who ever lived. They not only followed the rules, they made up more rules. They supposedly knew the Bible. And yet, when the promised Savior showed up on earth, when God walked among them, they missed him.

This Christian life, as we call it, cannot be about us. It has to be about Him, Jesus, the Savior of the world!

More about the Pharisees next time!