Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Yeast of the Pharisees

"Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

Beverly used to make bread. Someone gave her some "starter." It was basically yeast that had been passed down from one person to another for who knows how long. It just continued to multiply.

The yeast of the Pharisees is thousands of years old. And it is real easy to pass down. It is hypocrisy. Let me clarify something here: It is not hypocritical to try to be something -- and occasionally fail. Hypocrisy is pretending to be something you never intend to be. It is a question of motive.

Example: The way Jesus described the Pharisees' fasting. They would make themselves look haggardly, but they had no intention of being broken in heart. It was just a pretense.

Let's beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. It is alive and well today. But God is not fooled by it. In fact, Jesus says, "There is nothing consealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." In other words, our motives will be revealed. So, God -- create in me a clean heart! And renew a right spirit within me!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Whoa to Those Woes!

They must have felt blistered that day. It was the day that Jesus laid his six woes on the Pharisees. He criticized them for their hypocrisy. He confronted them for their concern about portraying the right appearance, while inside being rotten -- full of greed and wickedness. He pointed out how maticulously they tithed from the leaves of their garden herbs -- but they neglected justice and the love of God. He chastised them for competing for the most prominent seats in the synagogue. He compared them to unmarked graves.

Those bad Pharisees! Nothing but hypocrites, right?

But then one of the experts in the Law spoke up. "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." And it's then that I realized how much I related to him. Because as I read back over those woes, I see too much of myself in what Jesus says. Concerned about appearance more than motive. Keeping nitpicky rules, but missing out on the heart of God. Seeking the approval of men more than the approval of God.

Oh, God! Please break me free from "religion." Crush my heart -- so comfortable with going through motions that have been programmed for a lifetime -- and remold it to be like you!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

When You Can't Do Anything Right

One day, Jesus drove a demon out of a mute man. When the demon left, the man spoke. The crowds reaction? "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." Incredible!

Beelzebub's identity is found in 2 Kings 1. The name means "Lord of flies" or "Lord of filth." Can you imagine associating Jesus with that? Ascribing the graciousness of God to Satan. No wonder Jesus refers to this in Matthew 12 as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Pessimists are everywhere -- even in the church. One author refers to them as "spiritual Eeyors." "It won't work." "You shouldn't have done that." "I don't like it." "Why did you do it that way?" Someone has said, "A pessimist is someone who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks." I know, because I have to fight pessimistic thoughts myself at times.

I love the following story: A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. Opposite in every way. One was an eternal optimist, the other a doom-and-gloom pessimist.

Just to see what would happen on Christmas, their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure. That night, he passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting among his gifts, crying. "Why are you crying," he asked. "Because my friends will be jealous. And I'll have to read all the instructions before I can play with this stuff. I'll constantly need new batteries. And the toys will eventually break," the pessimist twin said.

Passing the optimist's room, the father found the boy dancing with joy in the manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked. To which the optimist said, "With all this manure, there's got to be a pony!"

Lord, help me that when life dumps manure on me -- I can still see the gift!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Pearl Harbor Day

A day that will live in infamy. That's the way Franklin D. Roosevelt described what happened 63 years ago today. In many ways, it was an event that changed the world. It united our country like perhaps nothing else ever has. Gas was rationed. Tires were rationed. A number of foods were as well. No cars were built during the war years. War bonds were sold to finance the war. Factories -- nearly overnight -- were turned from manufacturing consumer goods to manufacturing military goods. Husbands and wives were separated for extended periods of time. A nation pulled together for the common good.

Contrast that with what happened only three years ago. We were attacked. More lives lost (civilian lives, mind you) than were lost at Pearl Harbor. We face an enemy who thinks they are pleasing God by killing the infidel (that's us, by the way). And yet, those events have divided us rather than united us.

Why? What's the difference? Could it be that we are just too spoiled today? Could it be that we expect instant gratification? Because the same attitudes that are playing out on a national scale also are being seen in our churches. Rather than pulling together to promote the kingdom of God against the spread of Islam, we're biting and devouring our own. Churches are dividing like an amoeba.

Thank God for a generation that was willing to sacrifice for the common good! I pray that somehow their ideals will rub off on us.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Gift Giving

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Christmas season is in full swing. Our minds are on gift-giving. Last week, Beverly sent out an email to our adult children and their spouses asking them what they wanted for Christmas. She didn't have to ask Malaya (our granddaughter) because there is nothing left that Malaya hasn't already gotten from Grammy.

Why do you suppose Beverly would send out such a request? Because we want to get our kids what they need -- or, yes, even want. After all, our desire is for them to be happy, content and satisfied.

What Jesus tells us is that whatever feelings we have for our kids and whatever desire we have to meet their needs does not even compare to how our Father in heaven feels about us. He doesn't tease us. When we ask for a fish, he doesn't give us a snake. And when we ask for him to lead our lives to where he wants us to be, how do you think he answers? By leading us to where he is not? Of course not! He will lead us to where he wants us to be. He is our Father. And he cares more about our needs -- and, yes, even our wants -- than Beverly and I do about our own kids.

Could there be a more comforting thought?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Chosing What is Better

If any character in Scripture reflects American culture, maybe it's Martha. Busy, busy. Lots of activity. As Luke puts it in chapter 10: "Distracted by all the preparations that had to be made" (v. 40) and "worried and upset about many things" (v. 41). She holds to the opinion that she is such a hard worker, and her sister is a slackard.

Which brings us to Mary. What's she doing while there is so much preparation to make? She is sitting! Inactive. What a waste of time! How can you accomplish things when you're sitting?

Well, according to Jesus, there are times when that is the best thing we can do. Because Mary was sitting before the Lord. At his feet. Listening to him. And Jesus tells Martha that Mary "has chosen what is better."

Let's remember that during this busiest of times -- to chose what is better.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The One Who Showed Mercy

Mercy. One of Webster's definitions is "a compassion shown to victims of misfortune."

This morning's reading from Luke 10 is the story of the Good Samaritan. I've preached this text many times. I've made the points about the religious guys walking right by the dying victim. I've self-righteously talked about their being caught up so much in their "religiousity" that they didn't practice true religion.

But today it hit me: I'm those guys. I move within my routine. I'm busy. There are things to do and places to be. Sunday waits for no man. And while I don't think I would ever intentionally walk by a person in such need -- I wonder how often I don't even see him.

After telling the story, Jesus asked which of the three men did the right thing. The answer? "The one who had mercy." The one who had a compassion which was shown to a victim of misfortune. And then Jesus said, "Go and do likewise." It's not enough to know the right answer. We must also put it into practice.

Lord, lift my eyes so that I see people as you see them!