Luke 20:45-21:4

While everyone was listening to Jesus, he said to his disciples:
Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes, and they like to be greeted in the market. They want the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets.  But they cheat widows out of their homes and then pray long prayers just to show off. These teachers will be punished most of all.
Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box.  He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies.  And he said, “I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others.  Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had.”
            You often cannot tell a fake by the external appearance.  A pious religious person on the outside may not necessarily be a genuine Christ follower on the inside.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Christ’s day liked to do things for a show, for the attention.  They were important and respected people, desiring and enjoying the accolades of others.  They lived to be noticed.  But it was really all just a façade, a carnival sideshow.  The outside and the inside were not synced together.
            There is a marked contrast between the rich Pharisee and the poor widow.  Whereas the rich religious man put a wad of money in the temple offering for everyone to see, the impoverished widow put barely anything in, but it was everything she had to give.  The widow’s outward giving and inward disposition were perfectly matched.  She gave everything out of the abundance of her heart.
            The kingdom of God is not a matter of outward eating and drinking and ostentatious displays of spirituality, but is a matter of inner righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Aim for the heart, and the hands will follow.


            Loving God, my heart longs to worship you with everything I possess.  Transform me from the inside-out so that all my thoughts and motives may humbly express my words and actions.  May Jesus be praised.  Amen.

Spiritual Blindness

Jesus had a lot to say about spiritual blindness.  He didn’t like it.  Some of his harshest words were reserved for those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present.  Yet they are in darkness.  Having spiritual blindness is terrible to Jesus because it not only keeps the blind person in the dark, but slams the door of God’s kingdom in other people’s faces.
Many of the Pharisees of the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually doing the wrong thing.  One of the eye-opening realities I learned when I first started studying church history is that the early heresies that were condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided.  They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ when in fact they were teaching really bad doctrine.  They were unintentionally slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of ordinary people.  And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in 19th century American Religious History, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War.  I learned that they had a biblical defense of the institution of black chattel slavery.  Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people.  They were super-slamming the door of God’s kingdom right in faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.
            We can unwittingly super-slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all, and turn around and avoid certain people; when we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from service; and, when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture.  The seven deadly words of the Church that slam the door of God’s kingdom in people’s faces is:  “we’ve never done it that way before.”  Never mind that there are people trying to enter the kingdom of God – that is against our tradition!  However well-meaning and sincere that might be, it is sincerely wrong because it leaves people who need to be saved by God’s grace on the outside and unsaved.  And that kind of practice will bring the condemnation of Jesus every time.
Jesus gave us some telltale signs of spiritual blindness, which he calls “hypocrisy” (Matthew 23):  hypocrites don’t practice what they preach; they keep other people out of God’s kingdom with their burdensome legalism; they focus on externals and ignore the inner sanctum of the heart; and, they major on the minors.
            But condemnation and warning is never the last word.  The last word to everything is God’s grace.  At the end of his tirade of pronouncing woes on the Pharisees and those like them, Jesus did something that we would do well to follow:  he broke into a tear-filled, heart-rending love song for his wayward people.  Christ was not just concerned to blast the bad guys; he has a deep pastoral sensitivity to people, all people, so that they will come back to the true worship of God.  May it be so, Lord Jesus.

Real, or Fake?

Some things are pretty unrealistic.  But for most things in life, you often cannot tell a fake by the external appearance.  When it comes to Christianity and the true worship of God a person might give a good outward performance, but actually not be the real deal because he or she is full of bitterness and death on the inside with a heart far from God.
What is sobering for devoted believers in God is the reality that the Church may have people who are religious on the outside but not really be a Christ follower on the inside.  Having all the outward signs of faith without an inward reality is like putting perfume in a vase – it might smell like flowers but the flowers aren’t really there.  
            At the heart of Jesus Christ’s teaching is to be humble and avoid pride by not comparing ourselves to others and wondering if we are getting our due attention; rather we are to compare ourselves only to Christ and the Word of God and, so, become truly meek and humbly serve others out of a genuine heart that loves God.  What we proclaim and profess cannot be separated from who we are.
Jesus condemned the religiously committed Pharisees because they put heavy burdens on people and were unwilling to help them carry those burdens.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry he approached the crowds with the understanding that they were following him for a variety of reasons, some noble and some not so noble.  Some of those people heard of Jesus and genuinely wanted to be healed.  Some followed him because their hearts burned within them when he spoke and they wanted to know God better.  Some desired a true way of living and saw in Jesus fresh hope for their lives.  Yet others followed Jesus around wanting to see the next cool miracle, to maybe get a free handout, or just to hear him so that they could tell all their friends that they heard him speak and saw him heal.  Jesus was always trying to press and challenge the vast crowds of people into a genuine, real righteousness from the heart that would submit to God’s kingdom.  But the Pharisees and teachers of the law kept undermining Jesus, talking behind his back, and tried to stir up resentment against him.  
            The Pharisees’ motives were not to help people know God better through service, but to just talk a good line.  Interestingly, Jesus did not chastise them for what they taught (Matthew 23:1-12), but leveled condemnation on them for not helping people live-out their obligations.  The Pharisees knew their bibles and had a high view of Scripture.  The problem was not so much their doctrine but that they did not practice what they preached.  It isn’t so much what the Pharisees taught as howthey taught it – it was neither gentle, nor had any grace.  People need one another in order to truly live for God, but if there is a double-standard that exists among folks in the church then there is only heavy loads that aren’t getting carried because some individuals think they are above helping others or think too little of themselves and believe God could not use them.  In both cases the person declares “someone should do something!”  Someone should give, someone should pray, someone should visit, someone should tell that person about Christ, someone should help.  To which Jesus would say that someone is you!
            Jesus also condemned the Pharisees because they loved to do things for a show, for the attention.  Everything the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did was for others to see.  They thought they deserved the accolades of others.  We can be hard on the Pharisees, yet whenever we plaster on fake smiles, only obey and serve when others are looking, and/or pretend like everything is just peachy keen when we are dying inside then we have fallen under the same condemnation and are in need of putting aside caring so much about how we look to others and grieve, mourn and wail asking the God of grace to have mercy on us.  We can be so obsessed about the right thing to say that we never say what is really on the inside because we think it isn’t spiritual enough and we fear looking bad.
The Pharisees also were men who sought status and prestige.  Respect and honor was everything to many Pharisees which is why they wanted the positions of prominence and insisted on being recognized for whatever they did in the synagogue.  In public they insisted that the people respect them in their greeting and acknowledgements.  They did not want to look bad, ever.
            But facades will not do for Jesus.  Pharisees are very predictable because they always act with the spectator in mind, and seek to elicit praise and respect everywhere they go.  To Pharisees, it does not matter what is on the inside as long as the outside looks good.  In his autobiography, Be Myself, Warren Wiersbe writes about his first church building project as a young pastor in Indiana. He and the church’s building committee were working with a church architect. At one of the committee meetings, Wiersbe asked the architect, “Why do we need such an expensive, high ceiling in the auditorium? We’re not building a cathedral. Why not just build an auditorium with a flat room and then put a church façade in the front of the building?” Wiersbe writes that in a very quiet voice, the architect replied, “Pastor, the building you construct reflects what a church is and what a church does. You don’t use façades on churches to fool people. That’s for carnival sideshows. The outside and the inside must agree.”
So, what do we do when we realize that the outside of our lives and the inside don’t match?  We become humble and meek just like Jesus.  We are to revere and honor God, not people.  Putting people on a pedestal is not good because they are just people.  Instead of the mentality “look how great I am!” we are to treat everyone as an equal because at the heart of thinking people owe me something is the idea that I am better than the other person.  The answer to that attitude is to adopt Christ’s meekness and humility.  The zeal to feel important and respected is to be transformed into the desire to serve others.
            The way up is down.  We are to descend, not ascend, into greatness.  So, what does humble meekness look like?  Taylor University is a Christian college in Indiana. Years ago, an African student, Sam, was going to be enrolling in their school. This was before it was commonplace for international students to come to the U.S. to study. He was a bright young man with great promise, and the school felt honored to have him. When he arrived on campus, the President of the University took him on a tour, showing him all the dorms. When the tour was over, the President asked Sam where he would like to live. The young man replied, “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” Over the years the president had welcomed thousands of Christian men and women to the campus, and none had ever made such a request.  “If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me.” That’s the kind of meekness Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes.
If there is a job that no one wants to do, I’ll do that job.
If there’s a kid that no one wants to eat lunch with, I’ll eat with that kid.
If there’s a piece of toast that’s burnt, I’ll take that piece.
If there’s a parking space that’s far away from the church, I’ll park in that space.
If there’s a need is someone’s life, I’ll meet that need.
If there’s a hardship someone has to endure, I’ll take that hardship.
If there’s a sacrifice someone needs to make, I’ll make that sacrifice.
            The greatest among you will be your servant.  Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.  This applies not only to individuals but to groups of people and churches as well.  If we never get out of our comfortable little band of people, then we need to ask ourselves why not?  If we never look beyond the four walls of the church building in order to serve someone, we need to ask ourselves why not?  If we have a chronic critical spirit toward someone then we need to ask ourselves if the genuine article is within us?
            The kingdom of God is not a matter of outward eating and drinking and displays of spirituality but is a matter of inner righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  May we all serve one another deeply from a heart of love and grace.