Monday, September 30, 2013

The Final Sign That You Might Be A Pharisee

As we come to the conclusion of the seven woe's Jesus pronounced to the Pharisees, we see the final one in Matthew 23:29-32. Here, Jesus reminds them that even though they think they would not have murdered the prophets of the Old Testament, they were just like their ancestors and would finish what they started. Here, Jesus was alluding to the fact that they would be the ones calling for the crucifixion of Jesus shortly. In essence, Jesus is saying that their problem was that they were ignorant of their own spiritual condition.

Today, we can see how this pharisaical attitude can creep in to our heart and lives today. It is so easy to get swept up with everything "religion" that we never stop to take a good hard look at ourselves. We get so busy going about our "church business" of attending worship, shaking hands, singing songs, praying prayers, giving offerings, and keeping up appearances, that we neglect our actual spiritual condition. We have replaced "spiritual" with "busy." As long as we stay busy at church, we can ignore the elephant in the room.

As a side note, after reading this I couldn't help but think of the Christians of old that many highlight and promote today. They were men and women who were inventive, unsatisfied with status quo, and willing to try new and different ministries, outreaches, etc. Yet today, we stone (via social media) those who have that same attitude today!

As a child of God, lets not ignore our true spiritual condition by "staying busy" in church. Busyness does not equate righteousness.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Signs #5&6 That You Might Be A Pharisee

So far, we have seen the first four signs that we might be a Pharisee from Jesus' discussion in Matthew 23. As we combine the 5th and 6th woe's, we see that the pharisees had their priorities backwards. This was evident in:

#1 - As a cup that was clean on the outside and yet dirty on the inside, they were more worried about their apperance instead of focusing on their heart and mind (Matthew 23:25-26). 

#2 - As a tomb that was clean on the outside but filled with dead bones on the inside, their focus was on what others thought of them and not what God knew about them (Matthew 23:27-28).

How did this happen? For one, they elevated their own traditions and laws over God's Law. Their own greed caused them to promote their way over God's way. They wanted the preeminence and prominence amongst the people, even at the expense of their own standing before God. As long as everyone else held them in high esteem, that was all that mattered. They looked sharp on the outisde, but there was nothing but dirt and death on the inside.

As I read these verses, I can't help but think of too many preachers, pastors, and evangelist today who preach and promote personal preferences that focus on the exterior, all the while ignoring the heart of the believer. Young converts are swept up in the madness and loaded with burdens they were not made to carry. And why carry these burdens? So that the preacher may feel better about himself as his little minions copy his every mannerism. As long as everyone looks like we want, speaks like we want, and acts like we want, we are fine. This is why they elevate their opinion of those "grey areas" in the Bible   as a Black and White, clear-cut issues. Their personal conviction becomes a Bible truth, and anyone who does not follow their view is a liberal, compromiser, etc.  All the while, the heart of this preacher is filled with wickedness and death. Their private life (the inside of the cup, the inside of the whitewashed tomb) is filled with the dirt of sin and the stench of spiritual death. But that is okay, as long as everyone is following their opinions as fact.

And it is not only preachers that have this issue. Many believers live their life trying to fool everyone around them by cleaning up the outside. Yet, their heart is filled with sinfulness and wickedness. God knows it, they know it, but as long as others don't know it, they are okay.

As believers, we must make sure that we don't get swept up in this movement. Make no mistake - this is in no way, shape, or form, making it okay for us to be "dirty" on the outside of our cup. But lets start on the inside first - because that is where God starts! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sign #4 That You Might Be A Pharisee

In today's sign from Matthew 23:23-24, we see the Pharisees had a problem with picking and choosing what to obey. They were giving a tithe off of the little things they owned - but neglecting those characteristics of true righteousness: exercising justice, giving mercy, and living a faithful life. Jesus had already warned the crowd in Matthew 23:3-4 that the Pharisees taught and made people carry heavy burdens when it came to the Law, but they themselves would not lift it. They chose what they wanted to follow, while demanding that everyone else follow ALL THE LAWS. And when they saw someone neglecting a law, they made sure they were "put in their place." They became like the taskmasters the Israelites had to deal with in the early days of Moses.

This is an unfortunate state, but one that many Christians can easily find themselves in. Many in Christendom today become enraged with the stories in the news (murder, lying, adultery, etc.) and cry what a wicked and cruel world it is. But, they will often ignore the words of Jesus, who told us, "If you are angry with someone you are in danger... if you think lustfully about someone, you've committed adultery with them (reference in Matthew 5:21-30)." Why is it that we often hold the unbelieving world to a higher standard than we hold ourselves? Is it because we have developed a Pharisaical mindset? Maybe that is why our witness (not the Gospel itself, but our witness of the Gospel) has become so ineffective? Maybe those who are hearing us have been watching us for longer and view us as a hypocrite? Our actions have spoken louder than our words and have made our words of null effect. 

May God deliver us from the heart that picks and chooses what to obey in His Word as we embrace the exercising of justice, the giving of mercy, and living a faithful life. May we spend less time straining the gnats while ignoring the camels

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sign #3 That You Might Be A Pharisee

Before you continue reading, check out Sign #1 and #2 first before you read today's.

We see from Matthew 23:16-22 that the third sign that you might be a pharisee is that you value money and prosperity over the things of God. In this "woe", Jesus calls them out on the fact that they were worried and focused more on the financial gain that came from the offerings than the sacrifice and worship of the offering. They were so focused on material gain that they could not see what they were losing - God.

Just recently we have started a Sunday night series at church through the book of Titus. It is interesting to me that one of the qualifications that Paul wrote to Titus about was that a pastor/shepherd was not to be focus on gaining riches and fame in a dishonest way. Now, Paul is not saying that they should not receive gain, but that they should not get it though dishonest means. Jesus pronounced his third woe on the Pharisees for just this reason. It is an issue that easily trip up anyone, but it seems especially so for the pastor/leader.

But as I thought about this woe, I am reminded of a quote I read last night from Andy Stanley's newest book Deep & Wide. In it, he made the following observation: The tragic truth is, most churches in the United States won't change until finances force them to. How many of our churches make spiritual decisions based on money and not ministry? Many churches know what, "Thus  saitheth the Lord," yet in reality, it is, "What saitheth the budget." 

If money is our primary motive in ministry, no matter which side we may be on, we might be a pharisee.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sign #2 That You Might Be A Pharisee

If you have not sone so, read Sign #1 first.

Today, we see the second sign that you might be a Pharisee (by the way, are you, like me, having trouble not saying the phrase "You might be a Pharisee" in the voice of Jeff Foxworthy? Thought so!):

#2 - You Are More Worried About Building Your Own Kingdom At The Eternal Expense Of Others - Matthew 23:15

As we read this, we understand that Jesus was not chastising them for going to the far reaches of the world to make converts. The problem was what they were converting them to. They were not leading people to a faith-based relationship with the LORD, but were enlisting them in their own religious institution. They put in much labor, but not for the right reason.

Maybe it is just me, but I can see all around how this attitude has crept into many of our churches. We emphasis coming to church, but rarely do we push for people to come to Jesus. Our prayer usually goes something like, "Please pray for ____________ that they will come to church." And once they do, we rejoice...and do nothing else. Pretty soon, after many weeks and months of coming, they are entrenched into the membership roll of the church - but are not on heaven's membership roll.

Sometimes it is seen in the fact that we are guilty about proclaiming our own standards, way of doing things, etc. as eternal truth. We become more worried that people are formed to our mould of what is "God's way" at the expense of their own spiritual growth. Instead of making disciples who are Christlike, we are forming miniature versions of ourselves.

Too many pastors and Christians are trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit in every one's life. Our job is to declare God's eternal truth and allow His people to live as He directs them.

How have you seen this attitude played out today in the church?

What is the remedy?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Signs You Might Be A Pharisee? Part 1

If you gather a group of Christians together, especially so with pastors, and begin to talk about other groups who are not quit like you, you might hear the label "Pharisee" thrown out. Sometimes, you may say it about someone else. Sometimes, it may be said of you. Either way, I wonder how well we actually know and understand what it means to be a Pharisee? 

If you take the time to read the conversation that Jesus had first with a large crowd, then narrowing down to the Pharisees and Scribes (The scribes were the teachers of the law who usually get left out when we tell this story!) from Matthew 23, you will notice seven signs, or characteristics, of a Pharisee. 

Now, as you read the following seven posts on the Seven Signs You Might Be A Pharisee, please do me one favor: RESERVE YOUR JUDGMENT until the end. Your tendency may be to think ahead, but take the time to consider each sign and how it relates to you. And NO, I AM NOT TALKING PERSONALLY ABOUT YOU OR YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM. These are general statements taken from the words of Jesus Himself. My purpose is not to pick on you, your church, or your association/denomination/fellowship/non-fellowship fellowship (some of my readers will get that last one!).

After we see all seven signs, I think you may come to the same conclusion I have: I may not personally know someone who fulfills all seven signs, but if I am not careful, all of these attitudes have or could creep into my spiritual life.

So, without further ado,  7 Signs that you might be a Pharisee from Matthew 23:13-29.

Sign #1 - You are spiritually lost and preventing others from being saved - 23:13-14.

This is a pretty straight forward sign of a pharisee: you are lost and doing what you can to keep others from coming to a knowledge of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus called this the "blind leading the blind." Easy enough. And of course, most who read my blog would not fall into this sign....or do we?

The pharisee's problem here was a two-fold one. Number One, they were religious, but lost. While we may not think this is an issue, truth be told there are many who spend much time in church but have never put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. If that is the case with you (and only you would know this), I invite you to go HERE and read more about what you should do next.

Now, assuming you are good with Number One, lets consider the Second problem the Pharisees had: they were keeping others from coming into a saving relationship with God. We often talk about how important it is to reach others for Jesus Christ, but are we effective at it in our church's? For many churches, one of the greatest tools for outreach that we have are our weekend services. Isn't this why we give people a chance to respond at the end of the service? And while we may be shocked, or disappointed, when no one does respond, do we ever stop to consider why?

Sometimes it is because we have done all that we are supposed to, but the hearer chose to ignore it, and/or they disagree with what God has told us in His Word. There is nothing that we can do about that. The response is between that individual and God.

But what might we be doing leading up to that point that is shutting the door on individuals who are genuinely seek a faith relationship and want to turn to God? Often times, new people have already made up their mind about a church and in turn God, well before the preacher ever stands to deliver the message. They base their choice on the cleanliness of a church, the friendliness of the people, the passion of the music program, the quality of childcare services, etc. 

At this point, you may be thinking, "Well, none of that really matters. They should just be interested in the message. Those other things don't affect me, so they shouldn't affect them." And while that may sound right, the truth is we should be willing to do anything possible to prepare people to hear the Gospel. When we allow things around the church to falter and our attitudes to sour, it gives off the impression to outsiders that we don't care and it is no big deal. 

But you do care, and you do think it is a big deal. If you didn't, you probably would have stopped reading a while back. So, while we may not be an actual Pharisee, we all must guard against allowing our personal preferences and likes, and even our complacency, to shut the doors of heaven to those who come into our churches looking.