Enduring Ethics – Mirror, Mirror…

MirrorRick always had a way of delivering a one liner – humble but honest, seasoned with reality.  One day he looked at me and said “with just a little work, we could be the Pharisees of the 21st century.”  The “we” was our church, our denomination… us.

He was reminding me, and others in leadership, that its seldom as simple as “them”.  Sometimes its “us”.  The old spiritual put it this way “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin in the need of prayer...”

In Snow White, the evil queen was focused only on herself, repeatedly asking the mirror who was the fairest in the land?  We are usually focused on ourselves as well, but seldom have the courage to ask who is the most Pharisaical in the land?  We assume it’s never us.

Around the mid second century BC a group arose named the “separated ones”.  Their hearts may have been in the right place.  They wanted to stay their country from falling away from God, His instruction, and His protection.  But like some organizations, their charter to preserve degenerated into to lifeless categories of prohibition.  The big idea was lost in a growing mountain of minutiae.

Jesus’ strongest words were reserved for these folk – the Pharisees.  During his last week of ministry, after being followed, hounded, criticized and nitpicked to death by these religious legalists, Jesus unloaded in broad daylight.  Seven times he pronounced a “woe” upon them.  Seven times they suffered direct hits to their system, ego, and reputation.  Seven times the Son of God called them what they were:  hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, blind men, blind Pharisees, snakes, and brood of vipers.  There was no good news.

Why?  Because they…

  1. shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, making it impossible for them to enter.  Their rules were legion, their regulations irrelevant and divorced from God’s law.  Their teaching was critically obtuse, holding no good news at all.
  2. travelled over land and sea to make a single convert that contributed to their disease.  Their missionary work wasn’t to spread the sacrificial love of God through Christ, but rather to extend their complex web of legalities and minutiae.  It took a lot of travel to produce one convert.  And it wasn’t the kind of convert that made anyone’s life better.
  3. took oaths in front of people that sounded good, but excused themselves from actual follow through by careful parsing of the oath language.  Like a multi-national firm seeking tax evasion, these folk wanted public praise without any personal cost.
  4. tithed herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness.  The point of tithing was to teach dependence on God and continually enrich the relationship with God.  That they could tithe on their mint leaves and walk by injustice meant they had no relationship with God in the first place.  Jesus called it “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel”
  5. cleaned the outside of the cup and dish, while ignoring the greed and self-indulgence inside.  They were meticulous about their garments, homes and utensils, but didn’t give a second thought regarding how they secured their wealth from which they feasted.  They cleaned the wrong things.
  6. were like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  They appeared to people as “alive” but on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  They put whitewash on a tomb.  We call it putting lipstick on a pig.  They were dead inside.
  7. they built tombs for the prophets their forefathers killed, while treating the prophets of their own day exactly as their forefathers did.  They thought making monuments for history validated ignoring the prophetic voice in their own day.

The summary is this – they loved titles and honor from people while they made life harder for people while they did nothing to help people.  Vain, legalistic, and unhelpful.  Fail.

The scary part is this: these folks considered themselves experts in the word of God.  They thought they knew him best.  But the fact was they didn’t recognize him when he was standing right in front of them.

How good are you at recognizing Him?  How good are you at hearing his words?  How good are you at seeing your own reflection clearly?  See any likeness to these folks?

While I hope not, it’s good to get a second opinion, to linger, to consider…  “Mirror, mirror?”  Now be honest.


Enduring Ethics – A Tale of Three Cities

Choice Street PreacherYou’ll not find them on any list of “The most desirable places to live”.  You’ve probably only even heard of one of them.  You’d likely be wrong in guessing why two of the three came to their obscure place in history.

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  Three cities.

Not exactly vacation hotspots.  But Jesus had harsh words for them.  These are the cities that He pronounced “Woes” upon.  These places heard a prognosis from the Son of God that would have frightened any real estate investor.

Tyre and Sidon, perennial bad boys of the “Old Testament Urban League” have greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Chorazin and Bethsaida.  The former were the focus of numerous prophetic warnings because of the godlessness of their cultures.  But they are still around today.  People live there.  The latter?  Chorazin is a place of ruins and Bethsaida is not even on the map – can’t find it.

Sodom, the incumbent number one of the annual “Worst Places Ever” list, has greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Capernaum.  The former was sister city to Gomorrah, home to the worst ethics violations in the early Old Testament.  Things were so bad that God himself visited to check out the reports.  It is no more.  God rained burning sulfur on the city and destroyed every living person save Lot and his daughters.  The latter is no more either- a place of ruins and irrelevance.  No fire and brimstone, but also no legacy.

What did they do?  What were these three cities guilty of that catapulted them to the poll position of bad news on Judgment Day?

Simply this:  they did not repent, despite the fact that most of Jesus miracles were performed there.

Did you catch that?  Do you understand what that means?  Let me break it down for you in case you didn’t.

First, most of Jesus miracles occurred in cities that we essentially have no record of in the New Testament.  That means that the miracles we do have record of represent the minority.  This aligns with John’s statement regarding “the many other things that Jesus did” which are not recorded in the Bible.

Second, this suggests that the New Testament is more of a record of man’s response to God’s activity than it is a simple record of God’s activity.  The Holy Spirit could have focused biblical writers on wonders and miracles that residents of these towns witnessed but did not respond to.  But that would have benefitted us nothing.  Instead, we are told of a lonely woman by a well, a blind man wanting to see, and rich man climbing into a tree – all people like us, trying to find our way, needing God to show up and help us a bit.

Third, a demonstration of God’s power doesn’t mean people will respond.  He did a lot in these three cities, but people were generally unimpressed – you know, “people to see, places to go, things to do…”  In the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man, when he found himself in Hell, asked for someone to go back and tell his brothers about the reality of Hell, to warn them.  Abraham’s response?  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Translated – if you’re not listening you won’t hear; if you’re not looking you won’t see.  That’s what these three cities did.  They were shown wonders and didn’t see them.  They were told amazing truths and didn’t hear anything.

Hershel Hobbs wrote…

“…citizens of these cities who rejected Christ will receive a greater judgment than will the citizens of Old Testament cities who never knew Him.  Why will this be so?  Because they sinned against the greater privilege.  They were indifferent to their opportunity.  It is a great privilege to be confronted with Christ.  But it is also a great responsibility.”

So which is worse – committing a heinous sin or rejecting the great sacrifice of heaven for the heinous sin committed?

These three cities learned too late that it’s likely the latter.

Have you?  Are you seeing today?  Are you listening today?  Or are you just too busy to be bothered with privilege?