Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What Did Jesus Have Against the Pharisees?

faces
I’m sure you’ve seen some version of this:
"The only people Jesus criticized were the religious people."

They mean the Pharisees. They were religious people, and Jesus was awfully hard on them. But was it because they were religious? What did Jesus have against the Pharisees?

Jesus said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4). The problem wasn’t that they wanted people to be holy; it was that they made up their own rules. They believed the 613 commands in the Hebrew scriptures weren’t enough to make a person holy, so they made more.

With respect to God’s actual Law, they were very concerned about the minutia, but they didn’t care about people: “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23). Notice, Jesus wasn’t saying they shouldn’t have tithed of their garden herbs, but that these little things don’t take the place of justice and mercy.

No, frequently they didn’t care about God’s actual Law. As Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9). They set up rules to allow people to avoid taking care of their parents (Mark 7:10-13) or lie (Matt 23:16-23).

They focused on the externals. They loved being thought highly of: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (Matt 23:5-7). But they didn’t worry about the internals: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt 23:27-28).

Can modern Christian be like Pharisees? Absolutely. We can elevate religious trappings over doing good. We can certainly add rules to the scriptures (eg, Thou shalt not dance), and we can pick the rules we like to follow and ignore the rest. Some desire to be respected without bothering to be respectable. Don’t be like that.

Defending the unborn is not being a Pharisee. Opposing same-sex marriage is not pharisaical. Calling out sin as sin is not being a Pharisee. We have to avoid judging hypocritically (Matt 7:1-5). We have to follow the example of Jesus and be full of grace and truth (John 1:14). But our Lord expects us to stand for the truth.


Related:
Hedges

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

What is CRT?

Critical Race Theory by Delgado and Stefancic
What is critical race theory? What do proponents want? Is it just a legal theory or something more?

Where better to turn for answers to these questions than one of the founders of the movement? Critical Race Theory (Third Edition) by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (his wife, so hereafter, the Delgados) is a popular level introduction to the movement among legal scholars and civil rights activists. This is not going to be a book review: Rather than waste time telling you what a poorly written book this is, I’m just going to distill its contents as a series of questions it should have clearly answered.

The authors frequently emphasize the variety of thought among CRT proponents (called “crits”), and this book — first written in 2001 and revised in 2017 — cannot tell us how it has evolved in recent years, but I think it is fair to say that CRT is at minimum what the Delgados describe.

Because this is going to be longish, here is an outline for those who want to skip to a specific question.

Premises
What is CRT?
 What do crits believe about race and racism?
   What is racism?
   Why do white people do this?
   What responsibility does an individual white person bear for this system?
 How can our society learn about race?
The Goals of CRT
 What do they want?
 How would we achieve their goals?
Is CRT “just a legal theory?”
Is CRT anti-Christian?
Conclusion

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Communion: Past, Present, and Future

bread and wine
When we partake of the Lord’s supper, we peer through time.

Past
“The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you’” (1Cor 11:23-24 NKJV).

When we eat the bread, we revisit the night he was betrayed with a kiss. Remember the cost of your salvation. Look upon the body which was broken for you. “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Is 52:14). Gaze upon the Son forsaken by his Father because of your sin. And then renew your commitment, “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).

Present
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood...’” (1Cor 11:25).

We live every day in that new covenant. The blood that was shed that day continues to be poured over your sins. Today you have peace with God. Today you are a child of God. Today God has cast your sins as far away as the east is from the west. God continues to give you grace for today because of that blood that was poured out. Remind yourself that, in Christ Jesus, you are clean. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Future
“I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29).

The new covenant came with a promise that one day we will see Jesus face to face. He is coming back for his bride. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3 NASB). He has gone to prepare a place for you. You will be conformed to the image of Christ. Every tear will be wiped from your eyes. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

And so we wait. He has promised, and we know his word is good. Until that day, we look back, and we look forward. We partake of the bread and the cup in remembrance of him. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Cor 11:26).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!


Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Aliens and Strangers

Change is hard. Changing your mindset is the hardest kind of change. Mindset changes don't usually occur automatically, and they often happen rather slowly.

When COVID-19 arrived and white collar America started working from home, I continued following twenty-year habits built around work. I continued to eat a processed convenience breakfast. I still planned all meals around being out of the house for 11 hours. Over the course of months, I slowly noticed things I was doing that didn't make sense anymore and made changes, one at a time, to take advantage of working from home. Turns out I can prepare a healthier breakfast when I don't have to commute. I can also put something in the crockpot at noon or in the oven at 4 and go back to work. I can step away from my computer for a lunch break and exercise or put in a load of laundry. I can sleep later. Or I can get up and read all those books I always wanted to read. It was all about learning to see things differently.

And that was an easy one. When I was a teenager, I lost a lot of weight — about 45 pounds. But I had years of practice thinking of myself as fat. Even as I bought smaller clothes, I still thought I was overweight, and that colored how I interacted with other people (read, girls) for many more years.

Another example: When I first got married, I continued to think of "my money" and "my time" even though someone else had a claim on both. It took a conscious decision to think differently — though I, ahem, had help remembering.

Have you realized you're not what you were? You're not a sinner anymore; don't see yourself as a slave to sin but a saint (Rom 6:18). You're not your own anymore; you've been bought with a price (1Cor 6:20).

And you don't belong here anymore; Christians are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). That makes us "aliens and strangers" (1Pet 2:11 NASB) in and to this world. We can be citizens of heaven and still act like citizens of earth, but we should learn to think and live like we really do belong to another Kingdom — to make a mindset change.

Think about how you would live if you moved temporarily to another country. How would your life look compared to the average native's? You would participate in that culture, but only to the extent you felt comfortable as a sojourner. You might engage in some of their holiday celebrations, but you wouldn't let them interfere with yours. You might have an interest in local politics, but it would be as someone who will be there only for a short time.

Now what if you were part of your country's embassy to that nation? You're still a foreigner, still a sojourner, but you have a job to do representing your home to these people. We are Christ's ambassadors (2Cor 5:20) living in exile for a time in this world as we wait for his kingdom to come.

Let's remember who and what we are:

You are a child of the King, here for a little while to represent your Father to a world with ways that are diametrically opposed to the ways of his kingdom. One day you will go to his court, and you will want to be fit for life in his kingdom. And you will want him to approve of the way you represented him during your stay.

So you won't want to let this world taint you with its ways. You'd want to keep your Father's mission in mind when you interact with the natives. And word from home would be more important than the goings on of the locals.

So look at your life and ask yourself if an "alien and stranger", a heavenly ambassador to this land would do things that way. Find one thing and change it. Then find something else. Repeat until you're home in glory.


Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Going Deep

Bible and coffee
As the new year approaches, you're probably starting to think about what Bible reading plan you'll use next year. There are lots to choose from, but most come at the subject from one perspective: breadth. Most have you read the Bible in a year; some have you reading the NT twice in a year. If that's what you want to do, more power to you.

We can approach the Bible differently, though. Having a broad familiarity with the Bible is good. So is having a depth of knowledge. It's good to get into the Bible; it's better to get the Bible into you. So if you've read through the Bible more than a couple of times, perhaps it'd be a good year to slow down. Way down.

Bible-in-a-year plans abound, but basically if you average three chapters a day you'll get through the Bible in about a year. What if you, instead, read one chapter three times? Don't just read the chapter but ask it questions and spend time reflecting on what you learn. Yes, that means it would take you three years to read through the Bible. But you'd probably know it better.

Other approaches: John MacArthur talks about reading a book every day for thirty days (breaking up longer books into sections that are treated the same way). With this approach, it'll take several years to read through the Bible.

Maybe thirty times through is more than you've got the patience for; how about five times? Reading a short book, for example Ephesians, through in one sitting every day for a week will help you see the whole message of the book and how the parts connect.

Don't be afraid to read commentaries, either. Going slowly through a book with a commentary in hand, written by someone who's spent years studying that book, can be very illuminating.

I think my approach in the coming year — the next few, actually — will be to read a book through a couple of times and then go a chapter at a time (maybe less). I'll read the passage once to get the big picture then go through it again asking questions of the text and meditating and praying on the answers.

What questions? These have been endlessly useful:
  • What is the main message of this passage?
  • What does this tell me about God?
  • What does this tell me about human nature?
  • Is there anything here I need to know, stop doing, change, or start doing?
There are other questions you might ask, of course (see below), but these are easily applied to any passage and easy to remember.

But whatever approach you take, I hope you'll make a plan to be in the Bible regularly in the coming year. The world is constantly trying to conform us to itself. Either we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, or we will be conformed to the world. There are no other options.


Other questions:
The 5 W’s & H in Bible Study
7 Arrows of Bible Reading

Related:
The New Testament Out of Order
7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year


Image via Pixabay