Messy Drawers

Matthew 23:27

“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.”

This verse reminds me of someone I once knew. His desk was immaculate; no folders, papers or files upon it, contrasted to my own which currently has multiple books, composition books, a calendar, pens (plural), a folder and a pad. I can still see a little of my desk but his showed more wood than anything else and each item; pen cup, etc. was precisely placed. One day, though, I got a glimpse in his desk drawers. It was pandemonium. There was no order whatsoever.

That is the way Jesus saw the Pharisees. They had their public (visible) personas worked out to the last detail. They wore robes, attended the feasts, gave offerings, made their tithes and said their prayers. Inside, though, they were rotten and full of bedlam. Their religion only went skin deep. In the private times of their lives, in their private thoughts and ambitions, they did not serve the Lord God. Religion was, for them, a public expression rather than a private one. This distinction is, of course, of first importance.

Jesus has invited us into the private realm of life. He offers his assistance and presence in our private lives and invites us into the intimacy of his life. Think about the Apostle John reclined on Jesus’ chest. Is this the Lordly relationship the Pharisees sought? No wonder it was hard for them to recognize him as their Messiah. And just think what it would have meant to their existence had they received and accepted him. Walls of isolation and separatism would have to be shattered. Formalism would have to be abandoned. Could a Pharisee transform enough to lay his head on Jesus’ bosom? Could he surrender that much of himself?

Jesus destroyed the protocols becoming a friend and brother. He changed the way we think of ourselves in the larger landscape of “religion.” He is gentle but longs to occupy all the private corners of one’s life. We can appreciate how uncomfortable that might make a person. He didn’t come demanding to be worshiped as a king, though he had that right. He came requiring much more. He asks for our lives; for our lives to be intimately wrapped around his and he offers himself as our lover. Wow! It is a bit much to wrap your head around, but it has the sweetest aroma about it. It calls us forward, even into the uncomfortable.

Stoned Again

John 8: 59

Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.

Yesterday I shared a very similar verse with you. Jesus drove the Jews crazy. He inspired murderous intent in them. What was it about him that aggravated them so? Think of it this way. Jesus told them the truth, the absolute truth. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the truth inspired such malicious actions? Here is another point to ponder. The Jews actually thought they were doing good in their persecution of him. They were trying to protect the church and the faith. They accused Jesus of blaspheme when he told them the truth and they believed that blaspheme should be silenced because of its potential damage to the church.

Another problem with what Jesus preached was that it was new. Rather than taking into consideration what Jesus proclaimed, they rejected it out of hand. What was the source of their fear? Why does a person’s articulation and sometimes even just their existence rattle people so? The Pharisees should have known that truth wills out. It will survive no matter what you do. The false will fade and wither. They even admitted that others had come previously claiming to be the Messiah but, their testimony did not last.

Jesus was aware of their justification of their thoughts and acts. He warned us that we would face this same dynamic. “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16: 2). There is no need to be so reactionary and persecute people for their beliefs. God is bigger than any false doctrine. Moreover, there may be truth in what is said. Perhaps, though, it is the truth which frightens people most of all. And to be honest, it is not really the church which we seek to protect by our vehement rebuttal of opposing thought. We are in truth seeking to protect our thoughts and our way of life and that is the case even if our belief is wrong. We will fight to the death for a philosophy which isn’t even truth because to entertain an opposing idea challenges us. Why are we so afraid? What can another’s opinion do to us? We don’t have to force our ideology and views down other people’s throats in order for Yahweh to be seen as the glorious God He is. He is bigger than any paradigm we have yet constructed. Furthermore, Jesus has told us that he is doing a “new thing” so we need to relax and trust him and trust that he is well able to reveal truth amongst an abundance of opinion. Believe me, the prophets God is sending into the world are going to shake us up. They are going to challenge us. That’s okay. Father is well able to care for us and lead us into all truth.

It is very easy to look back at the Pharisees and the Jews and criticize them for their shortsightedness but we have become the modern day Pharisees. We serve a form of religion rather than the truth. Our opinions and doctrines sit on the throne of our faith rather than the Word of God. We listen to old, worn out theology and never even question whether it is rooted in the Bible. So much of what we defend is from Christian culture rather than the heart of God. Jesus came sharing good news. He went about doing good, (Acts 10: 38) not beating people up with the law. The commission he gave us was to continue his mission, to spread the good news of the gospel. We don’t need to try to convince people they are wrong treat, them as outcasts or slay them with our words. We only need to share the love of God and allow them to do the same. Whatever is true will prevail and we will be a unified body walking in the glory of our Lord.

The Righteous Judge

James 4: 12

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

 I have an even better question. Who are you to judge yourself? You see, all judgment has been given to Jesus: ALL. We have no more business judging ourselves than we do in judging others. This is one thing that really makes Jesus angry. Read the gospels. When was his ire piqued? It was always over the sanctimonious Pharisees. How dare we judge what Jesus has sanctified.

I am as guilty as anyone. Recently my trip to the beach coincided with fall bike week, bikes as in motorcycles. Some bikers are accountants during the week but we also encountered some folks that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley at night. But that is a judgment isn’t it? This fellow passed me on the street and I could feel myself recoil. He was covered in tattoos, his hair was dirty, his teeth needed some work and of course he was dressed in jeans and a leather vest. Now for all I know he could have been the nicest person at the beach but I felt myself wanting to give him a wide berth. I did catch myself though and tried to see him through Jesus’ eyes and then it occurred to me that Jesus went to the cross for this guy. Who am I? Am I really any cleaner than he?

God gave all judgment to Jesus because he is the savior, the life giver. When Jesus judges it is in order to bring salvation, hope and blessing. We condemn people. When we exercise judgment then we are calling what Jesus calls holy unclean. We begin to look like Pharisees.

For those of us who are tough on ourselves we must recognize that self-condemnation, judgment and persecution are not saintly exercises. We are God’s precious children. How would you feel or react to someone criticizing your children? Do your really want to call one of God’s children unclean? Not me! I’m guessing that is the one way to incur his wrath. Our energy would be better spent thanking God for making us His righteousness in Christ Jesus. We may not demonstrate perfection in our actions but the perfect lives within us. We are temples of the Holy One and that alone makes us worthy and beautiful. I may disappoint myself sometimes but God sees fit to make His abode within me. And honestly, as the Apostle Paul has taught us, it really is in my imperfection, in my weakness that His glory shines. Whatsmore, if I am busy judging and condemning myself it means that my eyes are on me rather than on Him and that is the deepest cut of all.

We have not been given the authority to judge anyone and the reason is because we seed the soil of our spirit with corruption when we exercise judgment. It is poison to our spirits and it is from our spirits that life comes forth. We all want to harvest a crop of abundant life so we must take care of the soil and note what kind of fertilizer and seed we are spreading. If we put toxic material like judgment and unforgiveness in the fertile soil of our regenerated spirit it is going to have a devastating effect on the life giving spring of our spirits. We really must ponder this and allow Jesus to speak into our lives about the toxic environment we are creating in His temple. It doesn’t matter who your judgment is aimed at – it is all forbidden you. So whether it is tattooed motorcycle riders, rock and roll musicians, gays, the “other” church or even yourself, you are killing your crop which is the abundant life of blessing and health when you engage in it. All judgment belongs to Jesus and he has not shared his authority with any of us. I would even say that it is a high offense against Jesus and the position God has given him. Moreover, we take on the mantle of Pharisees when we engage in judgment and the last thing any of us wants is for Jesus to see us as Pharisees. Release all judgment. You will find freedom and peace.

Grace Does Not Discriminate

John 4: 9, 27, 40, 41

The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word.

Everyone needs a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. It will change a life forever. This is the story of one Samaritan woman’s encounter with the Lord. Not only did it change her life but many came to believe because of her testimony. This story is recorded in verses 4 – 42. I have selected a few key verses which show the unusual nature of this encounter.

Jesus was sitting at Jacob’s well while his disciples went into town to buy food. A woman of Samaria approached in order to draw water so Jesus requested a drink of water from her. She was astonished. First of all, Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans. Second she was a woman. Strike two. Given the social structure of their times this woman should have been overlooked and she should never have had a personal encounter with the Messiah. Fortunately for all of us, Jesus is not constrained by social mores. He lives in the light and in truth.

The Samaritans and the Jews had a vicious debate over where to worship. That sounds ridiculous today but they were virulent in their disagreement, so much in fact that Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. But this is not so different from today. There are cultures today that view others to be as low as dogs and wouldn’t even stoop to help them if they were in mortal peril. Even in our own country, the land of the free, we have a history of treating a group of people differently than others. Every ethnic group that has migrated here over the short history of our country has had to fight against racial prejudice. The Irish were treated horribly, the Poles, Japanese, Chinese and so on. And of course, there was the importation of Africans who did not migrate here willingly but were captured and brought here against their will. Each time the disfavored group was eventually accepted but they were replaced by another. Unfortunately, the church is sometimes the slowest group to accept integration of others. Women are still considered as subordinate actors in some congregations today, even in the face of this story and many others in the telling of Jesus’ earthly experience.

What Jesus did at the well that day was unheard of. It was against all church doctrine and wisdom. Had the Pharisees witnessed it they would have come apart at the seams. To engage with a lowly woman was bad enough but a Samaritan as well. That was heretical. Of course some people say we are all going to hell because we allow women to preach in our churches and some of us allow every type of person in our doors.

This Samaritan woman was responsible for the salvation of the men of her town because she ran back to town and preached Jesus. The men came out to him at the well and many believed. The first thing that happens when a person accepts Jesus into their hearts is a softening of the heart and outflowing generosity, so these men invited Jesus to come stay in their town. Incredibly Jesus accepted and he stayed two days. I don’t know if you can appreciate how outlandish this was but it was earth-shattering.

Throughout history there has been layer upon layer of prejudice for one reason or another. No sooner do we rise above one prejudice than we adopt another. It seems that we have a need for a disfavored group upon which we can cast our vitriol, but this is not Jesus’ way. He loved the Samaritans and he loved women. He treated everyone as a child of the Most High. He treated everyone with grace and respect, well, with one obvious exception. He didn’t care for pharisaical church leaders, but then that was only because of their actions. My guess is that he still doesn’t like Pharisees. When we withhold the love of God from any person because of some discriminatory prejudice then we have retreated from grace and when we put others under the judgment of the law we have just judged ourselves. We have condemned ourselves. Jesus gave us one commandment, to love one another as he himself loved us, and he demonstrated his own adherence to the commandment of love in his time on earth.

Grace is meant to be given freely, never to be withheld. The entrance of grace into the earth came at a high cost. To withhold it is to blemish the sacrifice of our dear Lord. Our course is simple; love everyone and let God sort out the sinners from the saints.

Jesus and the Pharisees

Luke 11: 42

But woe to you Pharisees!  For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Jesus exclaimed to the Pharisees that they should tithe but in so doing they should not neglect justice and the love of God. They had one part down, at least they were tithing, but they were not showing the kindness, love and mercy that God requires.

Some people say that tithing is an Old Testament idea. Apparently, they forgot to tell Jesus. He says that the Pharisees were correct in their giving of ten percent of their income but that they erred in what they withheld. Jesus told them that the love of God extends beyond the tithe. It must be expressed to our fellows through tenderness, grace, kindness and a gentle heart.

We know that Jesus had real issues with the Pharisees and I find it easy sometimes to look down my nose at them. I like to think that if I had lived in those days I would not have erred the way the Pharisees did. We are more sophisticated in our faith and in revelation knowledge, aren’t we? But then I look around and I wonder . . . are we bountiful in justice and mercy? Do we express the love of God that He has so abundantly given to us? 

And what of the tithe? Statistics tell us that an extremely small percentage of American Christians tithe? This makes me wonder. If Jesus were to tarry, how will future generations perceive us? Will they say that we were much more savvy and dedicated in our faith than our predecessors? Or will they think we were the generation that served God with our lips but our hearts were far away (Matthew 15:8). Is Jesus’ blood calling us hypocrites? Do we serve him only with our mouths but not with our hearts or even our pocketbooks? Tithing should be the easy part, even the Pharisees did that. And if we have withheld our hearts and the gifts of our bounty, how can we change a generation of people?

Judgment has not been given into our hands but intercession has. We do not need a move of the Holy Spirit in order to pray for our church, land and generation. We are living in a better dispensation that the nation of Israel. We have a better covenant based on better promises and with a better mediator (Hebrews 8: 6). It seems that we ought, therefore, to be able to live a life beyond that of the Pharisees; a life of greater enlightenment and grace and of more impactful prayers since we can pray in the name of Jesus. Individually and then collectively we can become the people of God’s hand, a people after His own heart. As we allow the love of God which has been shed abroad in our hearts to bloom and swell it overflows with love for all people and generosity is a by-product of the grace that our Father has shown us. You and I can change our nation, our town and our church. When we clasp hands and faith in the name above all names, mountains must move. Let us be known as the mighty church.