On being a modern day Pharisee

I came across something I wrote in a Facebook post a few years ago and wanted to post a modified and expanded version of it here. It is not uncommon to hear someone call a Christian a Pharisee because they take a firm stand on Christian faith and practice. Unfortunately, I think misconstrues a Pharisaical position with the requirements for Christian faith and practice that Scripture commands. Christians should be people of conviction and a desire for obedience. Scripture does call for repentance, to change our minds about following sin, and following Christ instead. I’ve also heard Pharisees identified as people who love law. Well, that’s insufficient because Paul says the law is good and provides us with an ethical standard. We should take God’s moral law serious. 

I think we need to consider a bit more about the rise of the Pharisees and what motivated them to take the positions they took. The Pharisee sect arose during the second temple period after the return from exile. Now let’s think for minute what was going on at this time. Israel was back in the land that God had promised but was without God’s promised leadership of a king and God’s beacon of light to the nations. Israel was operating under a kind of plan B status because of their rebellion against God, who swore to remove them from his presence. The Pharisees were a separatist group who took God’s law most serious, especially in light of the loss that Israel had experienced. They did not want to lose again, if you will, and sought to tighten the reigns to make sure that every jot and tittle of the law was obeyed. 

But in their separatist mentality, the Pharisees’ concern for righteousness before God caused them to uphold their own righteousness as the standard against which all was measured. This actually caused them to add to the law just to make sure everything was “right” before God. They were more concerned with preserving their way of life than following the giver of life, especially if it meant seeing beyond the comfort of what they had determined as righteousness. This is why Jesus rebuked them. 

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. (Matt. 23:23-26)

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Freed for thankfulness

Photo; courtesy of the Food Network

This is a personal reflection and one that I hope is encouraging to those whose Thanksgiving, but moreover, life circumstances don’t look as we wish.

This was another year of wrestling with meat for Thanksgiving. I’m not a big fan of turkey, especially white meat and find other kinds of meats more palatable. In year’s past, I’ve done Cornish hens for Thanksgiving but there is something about have some leftover bird for days that suits the spirit of the season. Last year, I finally broke down and brought a turkey as I was motivated to attempt brining and bringing some cajun flavoring to lift the bird out of it’s flavorless doldrums. Fortunately, I was able to find one small enough for this experiment as it was for just the two of us: myself and my son.

I’ve spent Thanksgivings all kinds of ways, including one year in Jamaica with my grandparents, uncles and aunt. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with big family gatherings with my step-mother’s family for many years. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my dad and his friends, I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my husband’s family when he was alive.

This brings me to the struggles I’ve had with Thanksgivings especially since I’ve been in Dallas these past nine years. When I moved here in 2008 to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, though I came with the intense desire to for theological training in order to help people and encourage faithful discipleship, another desire descended upon me something fierce. Having been a widow since 2004 and uttering a simple prayer a few months after my husband’s death that though I had not known “good” in the relationship/marriage department, that God would grant me this wish and prayer. Continue reading

We are all guilty

Well, it’s been a dozy of a week on social media. The allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore continue to mount as does his adamant denial. Not only that, he has chalked it up as a grand political conspiracy, ‘it’s that other side.’ He will not back down. Now I can’t say for certainty these allegations are true though it is pretty hard to dismiss five separate stories. Given the seriousness of the charges, the thought of there being any truth to them gives me a chill regarding the lack of ownership. But I do recall another time a very prominent political figure was charged with inappropriate sexual behavior that initially met with the same response: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Of course we know how that story went. His adamant denials were dashed with the reality of truth. He was guilty.

This is just a small snippet of denial-defense-blame menagerie that not only has peppered the news. This happens everywhere. Incidents go down. Blame is assigned. Some will even take the opposite approach in blind support of the prominent particularly when driven by strong political or familial affiliations. Others will be quick to throw out unexamined charges of guilt especially against those on the “other side” wherever that is. Social media is rife with virtue signaling.

But here’s the thing. We might be sitting back in smug satisfaction that “these people” are morally corrupt, resting in their fame and power to hide their guilt all the while projecting innocence.  We may not be guilty of sexual misconduct, exploiting the vulnerable, or protecting prominent positions. But make no mistake, we are all capable of participating in the same kinds of charades we so easily denounce in other people. We can be guilty of wrong and project ourselves as right, hide our transgressions behind a veil of virtue, and point our fingers to the ones who can’t see all the while clouded by our own lenses. We’ll justify it because our sins are acceptable, masquerading as Christian concern–pride, self-righteousness, envy, and a lack of love. Sometimes the lies go so deep that we’ve even fooled ourselves in believing our own mess. Continue reading

When it all falls down…

This post is not for everyone, though I suspect at some points or another in our Christian life it will resonate with just about everyone. But for now, if you feel like life is going pretty smoothly, your prayers have been answered, your heart is full and you otherwise are experiencing a relatively satisfactory life, you might want to sit this one out.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this and it’s all fallen apart or it hasn’t worked out or its just not happening, in spite of the all the earnest prayers by yourself and intercessors, regardless of how noble and God-honoring the cause…

That loved one still died, that spouse still walked away, that miscarriage still happened, that marriage still ended in divorce, that adoption still fell through, that infertility or singleness still persists, that company still crumbled, that bankruptcy still happened, those family relationships are still fractured, or some other life desert or breakdown has occurred and persists.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve prayed. It doesn’t matter how many have prayed. When life dishes us a bowlful of disappointing lemons in spite of trusting God, and believing for his hand of goodness, the gap between making lemonade can seem like a chasm too far to bridge.

You have trusted in Christ as your Lord. You rejoice in your salvation, the redemption and forgiveness of sins. You know that God is sovereign and does as he pleases. You know you must bear the cross, that you are not your own and you serve a God who sees and who cares. You take this to heart and vow to keep trusting him, through the fog of bewilderment. Continue reading

Newsflash: the Bible will hurt your feelings

Photo credit: mcaonline.org

The internet has been abuzz the last few days over the Nashville Statement, delivered from a joint conference between the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  The statement succinctly lays out a case for the sexual ethics expressed in Scripture and believed by the church since the dawn of it’s inception.

Given the contemporary mood regarding sexual identity and orientation, it’s no surprise that vitriol against the statement has splattered all over the internet in repudiation of what the statement expresses. No surprise either from those in the progressive camp that claim both Christianity and endorsement of homosexuality and transgenderism (as if the two can co-exist), a renouncement with the claim that the statement does harm to the LGBTQ community. What’s a bit more surprising is the pushback from those who for the most part affirm what the statement endorses but quibble with the impact it will have for ministering to those who claim this identity. There are other reasons cited but for the purpose of this post, I’m honing in on this particular line of reasoning.

In other words, a common thread I’ve seen from both the progressive camp and the ones who affirm the statement but have reservations is this: it will hurt the feelings of those with this identity. Put another way, being sensitive to the concerns of those who feel themselves oriented in certain directions is a pastoral concern at least, and in more unfortunate cases, a license to release people from feeling bludgeoned over their particular orientations. They should be free to live without condemnation.

Now, I get that we do need to be cognizant of struggles of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. As Christians committed to the sexual ethics and gender identity sourced in God’s creative mandate, we do want to take a firm stand of what the church has rightfully recognized but at the same time be compassionate towards those who find contradictory tendencies within themselves when they are confronted with this reality. We don’t want to be insensitive jerks and lack compassion towards those who have to reconcile inordinate affections with what Scripture commands. I surely understand the need for pastoral care and tending towards those who at least want to do the right thing but struggle. Continue reading