The Fruits

Recently, I saw a meme on Facebook and, as part of the LGBT community, it hurt me.  I posted two installments explaining my view of the Gospel, and now I want to address another Christian concept that blurs the truth of how many of us view each other in Christ.  I feel this is another area that is important to understand before I specifically address the meme.

Many of these thoughts and explanations were derived from the book, Religion vs Jesus Do vs Done by Preston Greene, though I also recommend checking out books by Andrew Farley.

Too often, we Christians go through motions to help us decide if another person is a Christian or not.  We look for “proof” that they are saved, and if we don’t see it, we decide they really CAN’T be a Christian.  This concept gets a little murky when “life” gets in the way.  For example, one might say “no one who breaks the law can be a Christian”, but when you point out that speeding is breaking the law, the explanation is often further refined to mean “when you break IMPORTANT laws”.  We also often hear the phrase, “to be a REAL Christian, your life needs to produce fruit”, or “the fruits of your life will show if you’re a Christian.”  Today, we will talk about fruit and its place in our salvation.

The Fruit of the Spirit is detailed in Galatians 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Many religious people look for these as proof that a person is a Christian.  If they believe the fruit is not present, they often decide the person is not REALLY a Christian!  They might also go to Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6 and take it a step further – not only are you not a Christian, but YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!  (I suppose that’s one and the same, but you get my drift.)  If they aren’t producing these fruits, then they must be going to hell.   I am here today to share, I believe these views are wrong.

Preston Greene in his book asks some questions before breaking down the scripture in Matthew and John.  These views are based on the Christian belief of salvation through Jesus as being saved.

1. Can an unsaved person show love?

2. Can an unsaved person show joy?

3. Can an unsaved person show longsuffering towards humanity (through charity)?

4. Can unsaved people promote peace (Gandhi)?

If you are honest, the obvious answer is yes to all the questions. Let’s take this a step further, shall we?

1. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses show these fruits? (If you didn’t know, they don’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and think you have to earn salvation).

2. How about Mormons? Do they show fruits of the Spirit?

3. Do peace loving Muslims show any of these fruits?

The truth of this is ALL of the above show the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians.  It’s hard to deny it even if you’re trying to insist that showing fruit is the true measurement of proving salvation in Christ.  If this were not true, why would Matthew 7:15 warn against “wolves in sheep’s clothing”?  1 Cor 11:13-14 tells us that anyone can act like they’re a Christian by displaying this fruit, heck, even Satan appeared to be an angel of light!  The fact remains that these attributes can be manifested by people who are not Christians.

But what about Christians?  Is there something in the Bible that shows that Christians always show these fruits once they receive Christ?  In truth, they show the exact opposite.  Preston Greene said it this way (emphasis mine),

“The church at Corinth was carnal, but were babes in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). They were a saved church; sanctified (1:2). However, they were sinning all over the place. Some of their sins were envying, strife, and divisions (3:3). A believer has relations with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:5), there were lawsuits among the believers (1 Cor 6:7) there was fornication (1 Cor 7:2), there was drunkenness at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21). How many fruits of the Spirit were they showing? Not many, but they were saved.

With reason and scripture we can conclude that fruits of the Spirit are not evidence of salvation. If the unsaved can do them without the Holy Spirit and saved people can all but ignore them, why do the religious insist it is mandatory that they should be exhibited? Because that’s what the “religious” do. Their mantra of “do” for salvation exceeds Jesus’s “done”.”

But what about Matthew 7:15-20 and John 15:6?  Let’s break it down.

Matthew 7:15-20

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Preston Greene responds with this:

From a first look at this passage, it appears that if one does not produce fruit, he or she is going to hell. First, this passage is about false prophets (verse 15), not the born-again believer. Verse 16 reads, “You will know them (false prophets) by their fruits.” Well, this is not referring to fruits of the Spirit, as Satan presents himself as an angel of light. Notice verse 18: “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit”. Do you sin? Then guess what, you are not a good tree. The only good tree is Jesus. Jesus said, “Why callest me thou good? There is none good but God” (Luke 18:19). Then we get to verse 20, which reads, “Wherefore by their fruits you will know them.” Well, if false apostles transform themselves into apostles of Christ and Satan presents himself as an angel of light, what does “fruit” mean? The answer is in Luke, which talks about the SAME thing.

For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart HIS MOUTH SPEAKETH. (Luke 6:43-45)

This is what fruit means in this passage. It is doctrine and what that doctrine produces (fruit). There are only two ways to see false prophets. One, if they prophesy something and it does not come to pass then they are not from God (Duet 18:22). The second area is “what is coming out of their mouths”. If you study your Bible and learn, you can tell someone is false by the words they speak. Bad doctrine, or false doctrine, will not produce for the kingdom. For example, what type of fruit were the Pharisees producing? What does Scripture teach us?

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt 23:15).

Their fruit was to proclaim salvation by the works of the law to their disciples, to root their disciples in that doctrine that they became more a child of hell then their teachers! This was the “fruit” of the Pharisees (ClearGospel.org). As a result, we need to abide in Jesus (correct doctrine) to produce fruit (converts) for the kingdom.

John 15:6

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Preston Greene responds:

Jesus said to believe (trust) in Him for salvation. IF you have done this, you have abided in Jesus to do what was needed to have everlasting life. Remember, Jesus promised not to cast you out; He will never lose you and nothing will pluck you out of His hand (John 6:39 and John 10:28). Jesus CANNOT contradict Himself. Second, Jesus is talking to believers (disciples). Look what he says starting in verse 3.

John 15:3-5

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

You can read Preston’s book explaining the reference to fire, but note the MEANING of the fruit as noted in his book (emphasis mine):

Jesus uses this as an “idiom” or metaphor. IF one does not abide in him, he or she is “useless”. Useless branches are tossed away. This does not mean saved people can go to hell. That would contradict so many passages of scripture. Jesus is just saying that if you don’t abide in him (to bear fruit), then you are as useless as a branch bearing no fruit and will be set aside. In other words “God won’t use you”. Can a believer produce no fruit and go to heaven? YES. The Bible is clear. Salvation is by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus. In 1 Cor 3:11-15 we read how we, as born again believers, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where our works will be tested for reward. Some will have all their works burnt up, but they themselves will be saved. If they had “borne fruit”, that fruit would not have been burnt up, but rewarded. We conclude with verse 8, which tells us the context of the passage. Salvation is NOT in view here. Discipleship is in view here: “so shall ye be my disciples”. Salvation and discipleship— always keep them separate.

For salvation, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). For discipleship (service) Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me”. Discipleship is NOT easy with a light burden. They are talking about two different things. The religious confuse salvation and discipleship; please don’t make the same mistake. Salvation is FREE. Discipleship is costly, BUT will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ. If you abide in Him, you can bear much fruit! Are you in the doctrine of Jesus or the doctrine of the Pharisees (religion)?

In summary, we cannot know man’s heart and it is very dangerous to declare that someone is not a Christian based on your view of their works, or fruits. Their salvation has nothing to do with their works, as their salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Please don’t confuse salvation with discipleship.

Peace!

The Gospel – Part 2

This is the second part of my “review” of the Gospel.  Since the Gospel is so important, there will be more info provided before I get into the “meat” of this topic related to the meme.

Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

So, Jesus took care of all the work to remove our sin and provide us a means to enter heaven.  The only thing we need to do is accept His actions (sacrifice) and acknowledge His death and resurrection that conquered death (or sin).

It seems very clear to me that the only reason we are righteous, holy, or can enter into heaven is because we believe and trust that the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us.  Nothing we have done or will do can accomplish this amazing feat.

Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

You’ll notice that these scriptures do not add anything to the list to require justification.  In fact, it clearly says that works, or actions we attempt to offer to God, do not justify us.  So we cannot act holy, we cannot be a better Christian or even a better person by doing ANYTHING as it relates to our righteousness and holiness.  That also means that things that we do on earth do not negate the blood of Christ, because we have nothing to do with the process in the first place.

Grace is a FREE GIFT that Jesus gave us even though we didn’t deserve it.  If I gave you a gift for your birthday and then handed you a list of things you must do to DESERVE that gift, you’d think I was crazy.  Jesus did not give us a list of things we must do to be saved, and it is crazy when we add conditions to people to “prove” they are saved when their salvation is 100% a gift provided for each of us.  It can be argued that when we humans insist that we must take part in our salvation and add criteria (works or actions) to REALLY be saved, we haven’t really and truly accepted the Grace (free gift) of Jesus, but instead rely on our own efforts for salvation.

Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

To be saved, we must trust in Jesus and repent.  Here I’ve taken the wording directly from the article linked below:

WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS NOT:

1. Saving repentance is not being sorry for your sins.

2. Saving repentance is not turning from your sins or reforming your life.

3. Saving repentance is not the willingness to turn your life over to God so that He can direct your path.

Saving repentance has absolutely nothing to do with regretting your sins or resolving to turn from them. God is willing to save you just the way you are. The Bible says:

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

WHAT SAVING REPENTANCE IS:

Saving repentance is to stop trusting in gaining eternal life through religion, religious rituals, or obedience to God’s laws.  The word “repent” comes from the Greek word which means “to change one’s mind.” Those who believe that eternal life can be earned through good works are commanded in Scripture to change their mind or “repent.” They are told to stop trusting in their works, and come to God on the basis of grace through faith alone.

When we’ve trusted in Jesus and repented from our own effort, we receive real assurance that we are saved – we are Christians!  We know when we die, we will go to heaven.

John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Again, this scripture does not go on to say “and go to church, and refrain from using foul language, separate from sinners, etc.”  Because, that would mean our efforts really control our salvation and that is absolutely not the Gospel.

Additionally, if any of us sin after receiving the free gift from Jesus (and if we are honest, we realize we all continue to sin), we are still secure in Christ.  The blood of Christ finished ALL sin; past, present, and future.

Hebrews 10:10-12, 14 says, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Before I end this, I want to emphasize that I am NOT saying, nor do I believe, this means we can continue to sin and run around doing anything we want.  There are real and painful consequences to our sin on the earth.  Relationship can be broken, lives can be lost, we can absolutely fill our lives with pain, and we will not be very good ambassadors for our Lord.  God wants more from us, and His Holy Spirit that is in us will help us to grow in Him to become more like Him.  But even as we sin, because of the free gift of Grace, nothing can separate us from God.  That is the Truth.

I welcome any comments on this and will base subsequent posts/vlogs based on this foundation. The article I used to help explain the Biblical Truth of Grace can be accessed here.

The Gospel – Part 1

This is the first part of my “review” of the Gospel; the vlog was a bit long so cut it down some.  Even still, this vlog is longer than I’d like – I promise I will work on that!  Since the Gospel is so important, there will be more info provided before I get into the “meat” of this topic.

Recently, I saw this meme on Facebook and, as part of the LGBT community, it hurt me.  But more than that, knowing it was from a family member who has known me most of my life and (I thought) had seen the fruits of my relationship with Jesus, being “told” I was not a Christian broke my heart.  I wish I could say that I didn’t turn that hurt into anger, but I rode that rollercoaster as well.  But in the days following seeing that meme, other aspects of the message it portrayed bothered me as well.  And today I want to share with you some thoughts, not to defend my position in Christ so much as to defend the Gospel…..and to encourage you as you traverse your faith with the present climate too often presented to LGBTQAI+ today.

Before I get started, I also want to emphasize that these are my beliefs based on my years of reading the Word and having a relationship with Christ.  As such, I will not demand or insist that MY views are right, though I hold that very strongly.  In that vein, I pray that others who hold different views act accordingly and do not insist on their own way, which should be avoided as per 1 Cor 13.  My beliefs, which are constantly being refined by the Holy Spirit, are to guide my life……not yours.  Your beliefs are to guide your life, not mine – though I don’t mind sharing thoughts and speaking with others who have different views.  Also, at the end of this post is a link to a document that I referenced for this post and I encourage you to check it out.

This segment is to first establish what THE GOSPEL means to me, and to share my understanding of its definition based on the Bible.  It is foundational for establishing our position in Christ and no discussion can really move on until you, my readers, know the foundation I am coming from.

The Gospel means “good news”; it allows us to have a loving, meaningful relationship with God.  It also assures us that ALL who believe in the saving work of Jesus will spend eternity with Him in heaven.  The Bible is clear that we all have sinned and therefore are not qualified to enter into heaven.

Romans 3:23 says “ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Ephesians 2:5 says, “…..we were dead in our trespasses….”

Because of our sin, we were separated from God because He cannot abide sin – sin created an unbreakable barrier for each of us.  I don’t dispute this at all – our sin definitely put us in a place where we could not enter into a meaningful relationship with God and certainly caused us to not be able to go to heaven.  For thousands of years, people tried to address the sin in their lives by trying to be better; they tried to follow the Ten Commandments, went to church (or temple), tried to love their neighbors, prayed, got baptized……even today our lists are long in our own attempts to become holy.  But the fact is, 100% of our own efforts do not get the job done.

Isaiah 64:6 says, “….all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”

Our efforts don’t do much – it is like mopping the floor with a muddy rag.  Our efforts may be absolutely sincere, but they have never worked and never will.  Our efforts will never erase the sin in our lives or break the barrier that keeps us from God.

That’s where Jesus came in, as described in the good news of the Gospel. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

It is only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that the barrier created by our sin has been broken.  He alone provided a means for us to have a relationship with God and the ability to enter heaven (or be saved).  This is a hugely important concept, because it gives credit where credit is due.  And because of this action, all sin (past, present, and future) was placed onto Christ.  All the guilt and punishment caused by our sins were imputed on Christ and he bore all of it in our place.

Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus literally was punished for our sin (past, present, and future); the wrath of God was poured out on Christ as He hung on the cross and finally died.

Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

Matthew 27:46 says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ death paid for our sin COMPLETELY.  God’s justice was completely satisfied, removing sin’s stain once and for all.

Isaiah 53:10-11 says, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The phrase “It is finished” was actually an expression used in Rome in the time of Christ when a debt had been paid in full.  When Jesus shouted this just before He died, He was indicating that He had made a perfect, complete and final payment for sin.

Here is the link to the article I referenced in this post.

Our American Ethos

Having just celebrated the USA’s 243rd birthday, combined with the fact I just finished two weeks in Europe, I have been thinking much about what makes my country of birth great. Our constitution is pretty amazing, for sure. The freedoms it promises I often take for granted and explaining differences abroad to the kids made me feel proud. The diversity we have also makes me smile, especially when I consider the bulk of my life was spent in Southern California where dozens of countries were represented with my neighbors alone. And, as much as I love pasta, it’s nice that within 20 minutes of my home I can eat at least 6 different ethnic meals. The list could go on and on.

However, being abroad also made me see outside of my “normal” in many different ways. Throughout my life, but most especially in the last few years, living in the US has started to expose our collective need to separate, to divide while also highlighting a patriotism that seems like a stranger to me. In sometimes tacit fashion, the definition for a “true American” has become blurred to me. We have all seen the viral videos of white Americans confronting others who are not speaking English (here is one such incident but there are many, many more https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/412647-woman-demands-to-see-passports-of-spanish-speaking-family-at). Many of us are either decrying the “dangerous people storming our borders”, or are watching in pain as hundreds of children are being held for weeks at a time without basic necessities such as water, toothbrushes, and compassion. But that is another post in itself.

In our country, there is this “rule” that you must speak English to be truly American, at least it feels that way. While no language has been designated as official for this country, most agree that English is needed for success in this land. In the 1980’s, a push was made to make English the official language, originally so that federal funds could be allocated for language classes for immigrants so that they’d have an easier time getting work and establishing themselves in American society. Shortly thereafter, it was morphed from that to a way to “keep America great” but assuring that English (aka “white Americans”) would retain its place in this country. That push was influenced by Nationalists (some of the racist bent, but not all). It went from a way to help immigrants to succeed to forcing immigrants to turn their backs on their heritage and, yes, even give room for English-speaking Americans to confront and belittle anyone who dared to speak another language on our sacred soil. Had I read that information a few years ago, I’d have scoffed. But the reality is, today that is abundantly true.

So it is with great disappointment that I’d like to share that this American Ethos is quite literally BS. Not only because I believe our country was meant to be an amazing experiment in democracy and DIVERSITY, but because it is extremely hypocritical. In the last two weeks, I have been to Paris, Florence, Pompeii, Positano, and Rome. THE MAJORITY of every person I interacted with spoke at least some English. Deana and I tend to avoid tourist stops when shopping and eating, and we were often off the “beaten path”. You’d think that we’d encounter people who did not speak English. We were surprised. Even years ago in a small town about 8 hours from Moscow, we met many people who could converse with us in English. Our own ability to speak the local language recently and in Russia was horrible, at best.

I’ve even met some people at my work’s Buenos Aires location that have never been to England or the USA who speak English. When I am there, I try my best to speak Spanish, but let’s be real – had the tables been turned and I moved there to work, I am confident that if I spoke to my family in English I would not be confronted or ridiculed.

Some of you reading this might be thinking, “well, the USA is important so it makes sense that the world speaks our language.” I don’t disagree with you. But what I AM trying to say is, we are a lazy bunch. Somehow we’ve moved from patriotism to Nationalism. Nationalism is ” identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” In doing so, we want everyone to bow to us (or our language, our preferences, our definition of anything) while we also expect to be accepted “as is” when we enter into other nations. We don’t put our own requirements on ourselves and hold onto our language of birth in arrogance and maybe even defiance. We want to say we are better than others because of where we were born while paying big bucks to visit other countries for vacation. We often don’t even invest much of our time to learn other languages and just expect them to be able to meet our needs on our terms when we are there.

This was a humbling lesson to experience in real time, to discuss with our youngest kids, and to remember that all humans have a right to live in this world. I am a Proud American, but that does not mean pride is exclusive to me and mine. We are better than that people!

Peace.




Den of Vipers – Part 3

This is based around Mark 3:1-5 ESV

Many Christians today have built their day-to-day dealings and world view around the Bible, or so they claim. Hear me, I don’t think having a Christian or Biblical World View is wrong – I went to a Christian University because of mine – but sometimes we followers lose sight of the real goal in doing so. Too often, we create parameters or definitions of morality and then hold people around us to those standards that they might not even follow. Or we interpret “the rules” we follow in the Bible and treat them as more sacred than God, losing site of the ultimate goal in the first place.

Take the recent push for “religious freedom” laws spreading across the USA. In the name of Christianity (which the USA is not supposed to honor more than other religions), employers and businesses are being given the right to refuse services to people they define as outside their belief system. Most often, these people are homosexuals. So, in some states, a restaurant can refuse service to a gay couple or a doctor can refuse to offer medical treatment to a gay person. Why? “I do not agree with their lifestyle, the Bible says it is wrong.”

When Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees and Scribes had PLENTY of things they called wrong as well, most of which they based on the Bible. As previously shared, eating with the “impure” was a big no no, and yet Jesus did it and chastised the leaders when they called Him out. “True” Jews followed strict rules, even when they were under the power of Rome, and were fearful of being kicked out of the faith if they failed. One such rule was honoring the Sabbath; the Pharisees already had a run in with Jesus when His disciples pulled grain to eat on the Sabbath, so they were watching for a misstep to give them authority to arrest Him. Here’s how the new situation went down:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 

Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law because it lacked love and compassion. It made rules more important than people, just like I believe the new “morality laws” under the banner of “religious freedom” do today. The rules the Pharisees insisted on and people today insist on not only are not founded upon love, they do not incorporate the law of love that Paul wrote so much about. Jesus instead did what was good and kind and loving: he met that man’s need in love and healed him – even on the Sabbath. And I believe Jesus would provide food service to a gay couple and medical service to a gay man.

I pray that we, especially those in this country that are Christians, stop manifesting this problem today. May we stop struggling with letting rules be more important than loving people. May we definitely strive to be good and do what is right, but not forget the bottom line of LOVE.

Den of Vipers – Part 2

One of the things I love about riding my motorcycle is the sense of community I feel with other riders. If you’ve never ridden, there is a common thing that happens; when other riders pass you, we wave at each other. It doesn’t matter if you are on the same kind of motorcycle, if you are wearing leather, the size of your engine, if you’re a weekend warrior or hardcore biker, if you’re a guy or not……we always wave. There are no conditions involved, and there is a sense of relating without knowing more about the other person other than they are riding a motorcycle. There is an unspoken agreement that we have each other’s backs and appreciate each other.

As simple and silly as this may seem, it is truly beautiful to me. How much better would the world be if we all acted this way with other strangers we interact with throughout our days?

In the world, however, things are not so simple and certainly not as friendly. For thousands of years we, as humans, have created lines to separate each other. We divide communities by race, by politics, by religion, and millions of other ways. Too often, by creating these segments we allow ourselves to create perspectives that designate a person’s worth (or lack of it) by what side of the line they exist. And that is wrong.

When Jesus walked the earth, this was also true. The Pharisee, the Scribes, and the Sadduccees were all experts on the Torah and the law it taught. Not many during the time Jesus was about had access to the Word, and therefore relied solely on the leaders to tell them what needed to be done to stay in God’s good light. As the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadduccees all believed that following the law to the “T” was the only way, they provided little help to people who were illiterate and often poor. Further, as they were “experts”, they often felt they were better than most every other group that existed during this time. After all, not only could they read, but they insisted they KNEW the law, and because of that were of a higher social order than the majority. The Sadducees, who consisted of rich, almost aristocratic families, had an added layer of prestige that made it easy to look to the rest of the community as “filled with others”.

Then Jesus hit the scene. He did not come from a rich family. He was not a Pharisee or a Scribe. He, in fact, was shaking up the traditions and even the authority of the leaders, which made Him not only suspect, but endangered the foundation in which the leaders had built their “line” of separation. This is abundantly clear in many scriptures, including this which is found in Mark 2:15-17 ESV

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

To the religion leaders, communing in any way with “tax collectors and sinners” was a horrible thought. They taught that doing so would make a person unclean, and being unclean meant you could not commune with God – who they taught did not associate with the impure. They had created a mechanism to draw so many lines, it was almost impossible to live let alone create a community. Jesus, however, was clearly saying that avoiding people didn’t help them in any way, especially as it related to God.

It is easy for any of us to create a line to differentiate ourselves from people or actions we do not like. Especially in the religious context, that has been tradition for far too many centuries. Even in the political realm, we humans have created a “community” where acting as if it is “us against them” is more righteous than getting along. And none of that has anything to do with Christ or Christianity if we truly listen to the teachings of our Savior.

Further, it is clear that the Pharisees did not consider themselves sinners. Too often we forget that we are sinners, too, worthy of death. Those who have accepted the Grace of God through Jesus have been saved from the sting of death, not by anything we’ve done but by a free gift given to us. Yet, too many Christians put on the robes of the Pharisees and claim they are saved, and maybe even no longer sin or at least cannot be called “sinners”, while condemning those who are different.

But I want to be more like Jesus, who I picture would also wave if He was riding past me on His motorcycle, not caring what kind of bike I rode, what I wore, or if I was a sinner (which I most certainly am).


Den of Vipers – Part 1

The bulk of my study here is derived from Matthew 12:1-37 ESV

One of the many characteristics that are brought up today by Christians regarding Pharisees relates to their judgmental attitudes. I think many envision their hatred for Jesus and their part in His crucifixion. I didn’t want to just “go there”, but wanted to understand a bit more where Jesus was coming from and why His interactions with the Pharisees and the Scribes were so dramatic.

Reading from Matthew, the first thing that comes to mind is that the Pharisees had developed a very pristine and detailed rule book to follow in order to be considered holy. It appears, based on these rules and the Pharisee’s call to follow them, they viewed God as a God of Demands. “Do this and don’t do that”. This clearly is exposed at the beginning of this chapter as they confidently confront Jesus because His disciples were plucking wheat to eat on the Sabbath. It is very clear that the Pharisees elevated the rule of not working on the sabbath as a clear sign of the holiness of God. In other words, those who broke this “law” could not follow God, while those he did not break this “law” were holy. Jesus, for His part, clearly references the true law in His response to the Pharisees, clearly indicating where these man-made additions were faulty. He specifically highlights in verse 7, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

You see, I contend via this interaction that the Pharisees’ view of God was skewed and Jesus wanted to make sure others in that time saw it, too. Where the Pharisees believed “follow the rules, God demands it, OR ELSE!”, Jesus obviously viewed God’s role and ethos differently. For example, even as the Pharisees ruled, the Old Testament clearly stated that God was merciful, slow to anger, and loving (Psalm 145:7-9). I believe that is why Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this Truth, exposing that they had changed God’s role and were trying to conform people to a false God.

As Matthew 12 continues, we see the Pharisees stuck to their guns and their view of God. When Jesus attempted to heal a man, they immediately hoped to convict Jesus by asking if it was LAWFUL to heal a man on the Sabbath. Because, again, the Pharisees clearly viewed their definition of the law (do not work on the sabbath) as exceedingly more important to adhere to than aligning with mercy or love (healing); their God did not work that way. Jesus quickly points out the hypocrisy of their question, clearly showing this would not even be raised if one of them had a sheep in trouble on the Sabbath, and ends with “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Through all of the interactions that occurred in this chapter between Jesus and the Pharisees, it seems to have boiled down to this; for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with their definition of the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus declared lustful looks as adulterous based on the desires of one’s heart while the Pharisees only condemned those caught in the physical act of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28). In all of these interactions, the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus lay in His non-compliance to their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that were based on their interpretation of God’s law. Not only did they create and enforce their hundreds of man-made rules, but they treated then as if they were Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13). 

In today’s world, I fear we have all fallen guilty in this regard. Too often, we establish a “game book” that defines if we are righteous or not. If we are “in” or “out”. And, if each of us are truly honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that most of the time, our rule books are stacked to assure WE are in and THEY are out. For example, in Deana’s youth REAL Christians didn’t own TVs, girls NEVER wore pants, secular music was of the devil, and kissing before marriage was fornication. However, the denomination she was in has been exposed to have one of the highest case histories of sexual abuse by their male pastors. Their rules seem to provide a list to check off to assure “righteousness” on the outside of their lives, while it appears not enough on the inside. That is not God’s way.

We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Even, as has been the case in recent months in the USA, create government laws in the name of morality or Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture, especially if we then claim someone is NOT a Christian based on these convictions. So much judgment among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees.