Complete Surrender Versus Our Pharisaical Tendencies

Look at me! I am a SuperChristian. I pray. I fast. I read my Bible daily. I give more than my ten percent because of the missions I support. I am the authority on all matters of Scripture. I believe that there is one way to follow God. If you're in doubt of what that way is, just ask me. I'm generous and will gladly share some of my time to enlighten you. Even if you're not interested, I think I will take some time out to enlighten you. For I am SuperChristian!

None of us are as extreme as the fictitious SuperChristian, but we each have a tendency to be religious for the wrong reasons. Whether it is to show off our own spiritual progress or to control others, we sometimes morph our faith into a religion. It becomes even more destructive when a group of SuperChristians assemble to do church - rather than be church - for all the wrong reasons. Lives are ruined; faith is squashed; and seekers have their seeking extinguished.

If we have not completely surrendered our hearts to Christ – if we just go through a few religious rituals or even a lot of religious rituals, then we are no better than the Pharisees. The Pharisees, individuals from one of the religious groups of Jesus’ time, thought they would have been the people who would have listened to the prophets instead of killing them, but then they led the charge to kill Jesus, the prophet of their time. Like the Pharisees, we often think they we every “I” dotted and every “t” crossed; we have no need to be open to anything else because we have it all figured out.

But without humility and a complete surrender to Jesus, we are creating a religion that we like rather than submitting ourselves to Jesus and the Spirit to live out the faith that He wants. When it is about me and how great I am, I am tempted to be like the Pharisees. My selfish side wants to appear perfect and have the crowds follow me without really humbling myself and serving them. It wants to fast, give to my local church, support missions, pray, and read the Bible while making sure that everyone knows how well I do those spiritual practices. It wants to appear that I help people without really ever making a sacrifice. I have more than a little Pharisee in me. We all do if we are honest with ourselves.

The writers of the Gospels would not have spent so much time telling us about Jesus’ conflicts with the Pharisees if we all didn’t harbor a pharisaical tendency, the tendency to love religion or religious practices more than God Himself. But Jesus gave the answer to the problem, and that is humility. He warned us of this tendency. Our response should be to keep examining ourselves. Am I doing this religious act for God or for man’s glory? Am I truly seeking God and His Kingdom with my whole heart or am I seeking my kingdom and my will? Am I just going through religious motions or do I love God with my whole being? God does not want empty religious rituals; he wants every ounce of us.

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5:18-24 (ESV)].
Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees, only He used more words.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation [Matt 23:13-36 (ESV)]

Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

For those who might think all of the evil in America are on the coasts, here comes a chart graphing what areas struggle with what sins.

American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

Two Great Yet Overlooked Graphic Novels

Two of the best graphic novels that have not received any attention in the early days of the twenty-first century are going to be highlighted here today.

The first is Percy Gloom. Unfortunately, this great story of Percy struggling to find his purpose in life does not even break Amazon's top 400,000. It should make you laugh, cry, and contemplate life. You can get it used and shipped to you for less than $10. It is well worth it. I've read my copy multiple times and have given away a few.

Next up is Orc's Treasure. It does not even break the top 1,750,000 books on Amazon. That's a real sales stinker. Anyway, it's an amazing book that illustrates the point that we (if you are an orc like me, that is) have a difficult time in seeing what is really valuable. You can get this baby for under $8 and snuggle up with it. It is a quick read, unlike Percy, but is very thought provoking.

A Summation of the Teachings of Alexander Campbell by Frederick Kershner

A summation of the teachings of Alexander Campbell by Frederick Kershner. Taken from Dean Mills' Union on the Kings Highway (The Campbell Stone Heritage of Unity Series) (45-46).
1.That the Church is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, including all who profess faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things.

2.That although the Church exists in local congregations, each should be charitable towards the others, receiving one another as brethren and walking by the same rule.

3.That nothing can be made conditions of fellowship and obligation except what is expressly taught in the Scriptures.

4.That although the two Testaments form the entire revelation of God and are inseparable, the New Testament is the perfect constitution for worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church.

5.That no human authority has power to impose new ordinances and commandments or add anything as a term of fellowship that is not as old as the New Testament.

6.That logical inferences and deductions from Scripture based on human wisdom cannot be made binding upon the consciences of other Christians any further than they understand them.

7.That inferential truths resulting from human logic ought not be made conditions of fellowship since not all Christians attain the same degree of knowledge.

8.That Church membership is conditioned upon profession of faith in Christ and obedience to Him, and not upon attaining particular degree of knowledge of Scripture.

9.That all who make this profession are children of the same Father and should treat one another as brothers.

10.That division among the children of God is anti-Christian, anti-Scriptural, anti-natural, and produces confusion.

11.That all division can be traced to either a partial neglect of the Scriptures or making human innovations conditions of fellowship.

12.That purity of the Church is contingent upon a pure membership and a qualified ministry that follow the example of the primitive church.

13.That any human expedients necessary to this endeavor must make no pretense to sacred origin so that future changes in them will not produce contention or division.
I think we run into problems in deciphering "what is expressly taught in Scripture" and what are "logical inferences and deductions from Scripture." Some of our logical inferences and deductions seem so obvious to us that we think they are expressly taught.

On Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity, Non-Instrumentals, Paid Ministry, and Following God's Calling

I received the following question from my friend Shannon:
Years ago when you were so anti-paid ministry and buildings, etc..., was much of that motivated by Pagan Christianity? I remember that being very influential. Now that you have moved into paid ministry, is that still a book you recommend?

I have feared reading it (though I have heard good things), because I wonder if reading how "everything we're doing is wrong" would do more to discourage and confuse me than to challenge and invigorate me. You know what I mean?
Here was my reply:

I actually had not read Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices or any Frank Viola book at the time when we planted the house churches in Lansing, but I have just read Pagan Christianity. I started to work through it for Sunday School with the intention to show that most of our practices are not essential and can be changed to whatever is effective. It was way too divisive. I dropped it after week one. I can understand why some think it is divisive, but I just find it so liberating.

We did go through the chapter on sermons, The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow, in a preaching class I taught for people who would like to preach in our church. Viola is against the sermon. I agree with him that it can be a somewhat ineffective form of education, but it can also be a useful well to present a well, thought-out case for a subject. I shared Viola's chapter in the class to show that we have liberty to do whatever we think would best convey the Scriptural message in our sermons. We need to choose effective, yet Christ-like methods where we are not given a Scriptural command. Now some will say that the Bible tells us to preach the gospel, to them I would say read Viola's chapter on the sermon. Our form of preaching was not even around when that was written. Just because we use the same translated word, does not mean we are doing the same practice.

My problem with Viola's book is that Viola is like a non-instrumentalist when it comes to his method of deciding what is a right or wrong practice in the church. For those who do not know what I mean when I say "non-instrumentalist", it is those who believe that practices cannot be in the church unless they were expressly taught in Scripture. In the Restoration Movement, which I am happily a part of, there was a division over the instrument. Some argued that churches should not use instruments in worship because they are not used in the New Testament. Others argued that there is liberty where the Bible does not expressly teach something. If it isn't in Scripture, Viola presumes, like the non-instrumentalist, that we should not do it. I think that if it is not in Scripture, then we have liberty to do what is most effective. On a side note, I have seen many instrumental Churches of Christ/Christian Churches who take this non-instrumental approach to Scripture on all issues except the instrument. There is an old saying that our movement adopted: In Essentials, Unity. In Opinions, Liberty. In all things, Love.

Viola's book is a great read. It puts modern church practices in perspective, but you just have to realize that his conclusion is different because he comes from that non-instrumental (although I'm sure that he is from a different background) strain of interpretation.

As for paid ministry, it's effective in some areas. This town I am ministering would not accept a non-paid minister. In other areas, I would still advise tentmaking. The key is doing what is effective. The problem people, like me, have is that we often confuse our calling with God's universal truth. At the time of my dislike of paid ministry and buildings, my calling was for me to be a tentmaker, and I mistakenly thought that everyone else needed to be a tentmaker. Now my calling is different. God has room for both paid ministers and tentmakers, for buildings and houses, for praise bands and pianos, etc. We need to be sensitive to what God is calling us to and realize that everyone does not have the same calling.

In all of this, we need to remind ourselves that God calls us to be faithful, not effective.

A Thief, A Cute Princess Ring, and Our Trivialization of Jesus

Aria has a cute, princess toy ring that she loves. It's in a little box that she carries around. She carries it more than she wears it, but that's okay. She loves it.

The bad thing for Aria is that Eli realizes that she loves it. He has this tendency to take it away from her to get a rise out of her. On Wednesday, he was trying to take it away by squeezing her arm. He must figure that if he squeezed hard enough, she will drop it. Aria started crying and yelled, "Bad Eli." Eli, while still squeezing her arm and attempting to get the ring declared, "Aria, 'bad' is a mean word." He was right; we teach them not to call anyone "bad." But his actions were much worse than than Aria's words. Eli knows what is right, but he refused to do it while still keeping the moral high ground of teaching what is right. Although that is behavior that needs correction, it is pretty typical of a five year old.

It is very unbecoming of an adult. To teach the truth while not living it is not an action that God looks favorably on.
"Practice and observe whatever they [the Scribes and Pharisees] tell you— but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" Matt 23:3-4 (ESV).
In 2006, Al Gore, at one of his three houses, a twenty room house with eight baths, consumed twenty times the amount of energy that an average American consumes.

In a 2007 interview between ABC news and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research's President, the center stated, "If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn't care. But he tells other people how to live and he's not following his own rules."

He jets around the world teaching us to take steps to curb our energy consumption and our carbon footprint. That's great. But like the Scribes and Pharisees, do as Al Gore teaches, not as he does.

Like Al Gore has done with his stance on environmentalism, we have this tendency to just want to intellectualize our faith and not allow it to change our lives. We lie to ourselves and say, "If we think the right thoughts, if we believe the right doctrine, if we have participated in the right religious rituals, then our life is right." That just is not the case. If our thoughts do not transform who we are at the core of our being, then we turn being imitators of Jesus into a sham of Bible Trivial Pursuit. It might be a fun game for some, but it will be empty of any fruit that God wants to bless those around us with.

Francis Schaeffer wrote:
“Ideas are the stock of the thought-world, and from the ideas burst forth all the external things—painting, music, building, the love and the hating of men in practice, and equally the results of loving God or rebellion against God in the external world….The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a contentless experience internally received, but it is contentful ideas internally acted upon that make the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were mechanical pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for man is centrally in the world of thought.”
In simpler words, "Thoughts, without corresponding actions, are worthless although they are usually necessary to produce those proper actions."

Let's not just say the right words; let's live the life God wants us to live.

Mother Teresa's Feet and Sacrificial Giving

An excerpt from Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (167-168).

There’s an old story from the desert fathers and mothers, people of deep faith who found it necessary to go into the desert to find God. They lived in little clusters of communities (much the way many of our communities now live, only our desert is the inner cities and abandoned places of the empire). Someone had brought one of the communities a bundle of grapes as a gift. That was quite a delicacy, maybe sort of like giving someone chocolate truffles today. They got so excited, and what happened next is fascinating. Rather than devour them all, they didn’t eat a single one. They passed them on to the next community to enjoy. And that community did the same thing. And eventually, those grapes made it through every community and back to the first community without being eaten. Everyone simply wanted the others to experience the joy of the gift. I’m not sure what ever ended up happening with those grapes. I think maybe they had a big party, or maybe they made some wine. But no doubt God was happy. One of the quotes on my wall reminds me of this daily: “The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them away.”

Mother Teresa was one of those people who sacrificed great privilege because she encountered such great need. People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Sometimes it’s like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery, like a beautiful wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn’t going to ask, of course. “Hey Mother, what’s wrong with your feet?” One day a sister said to us, “Have you noticed her feet?” We nodded, curious. She said, “Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet.” Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet.

The Satellite Sheik "Ahmad al-Shugairi" - On Fundamentalism

Although he claims to not be a sheik, Ahmad al-Shugairi teaches religion over the Arab networks. His show attempts to express moderate Islamic views to the fundamentalist culture in the Middle East. The glimpse that he gives us into the struggle between the moderate and fundamentalist Muslims sounds very similar to the struggle within Christianity.

For his fifth season, all of the episodes have been filmed in Japan. He wants to show the Arab world that the Japanese "are implementing a lot of the things that we are just preaching." He claims that the Muslim culture focuses only on "alcohol and sexual issues." If they abstain from impropriety in those two areas, then they think they think are right with Allah. Beyond that, they are not focusing on the teachings of Islam. It sounds a lot like the problem facing many American Christians. Focus on a few true points and lift those up to the place where your adherence to them makes you presume you are right with God. Forget that God desires your whole heart and not just a handful of actions and abstentions.

Here is a portion of the On The Media interview between Brooke Gladstone and Ahmad al-Shugairi:
I'm just trying to make the Arab world feel jealous from the Japanese streets. I mean, I ask the Arab world, if the Prophet Muhammad came today, who will he see implementing his teachings more, the Japanese or the Muslim world? A big question mark.

And I say that, by the way, also about the U.S. Most of the prophetic teachings are practiced in the U.S. much more than they are in the Islamic world. Our problem is we focus on two major things and we just shove everything else aside. We focus on alcohol and sexual issues.

So we see the U.S. — they're open in these two arenas, so we say we're better than them because we don't have those. However, we forget that these are two out of a hundred. Barack Obama’s presidency is a great implementation of a human virtue that Prophet Muhammad and Jesus before him promoted, which is all humans are created equal.

When you see an African American leading the most powerful country in the world, out of election, not out of force, and this cannot be implemented anywhere else in the world, anywhere else, this needs to be acknowledged.
This made me examine myself, the church I am in, and Christianity as a whole. Are we living out the gospel more than those who do not even claim to be part of Jesus' Kingdom? Do we just cling to a few practices, albeit true practices, and claim that those practices or abstentions make us right with God? Do we preach doctrines so often that they become hollow and meaningless? Are we living out life as the body of Christ here and now; are we Jesus' hands and feet in this world?