More Than a Pharisee

Knowledge has never been wisdom. We just live in a culture that doesn’t want to admit that.

I have always been attracted to studying theology. Seriously. I was the 9-year-old (Yeah, you read that right) who smiled like an idiot when the pastor was confusing because it meant I got to ask more questions. I was also the 5-year-old that was jealous of the 8-year-old sister because I thought she was the only one allowed to learn the Greek alphabet. I loved geeking out on theology.

If I’m honest, I still do.

God put me on the path to a Christian College 3 years ago. All that basically means is even the Accounting Majors have moments where they geek out about the Greek jargon in the 7th chapter of Mark. Its really fun. It’s even quirkier.. It’s totally safe ground for a Christian.

But it’s also incredibly easy to only gain knowledge and never allow knowledge to turn into wisdom. It’s that constant self-editing moment of asking whether what I’m voicing about my Theological passions and views is actually seen in my character. 

There isn’t an accredited class on that, though, and I would be nervous to use that language with my accountability partner… So, we just ignore it altogether. We’ll get there. Sanctification (being made holy) is all a process. God’ll get to it in me eventually, right? 

Whether you’ve got your feet up Spiritually or not (I love my temporary bubble… I’m just not used to my bubble), let me remind us where the break between knowledge and wisdom leads us.

If we stick with the wisdomless knowledge, we are the modern day Pharisees. I know Jesus called them Vipers and that makes it easy to paint them as some horrible monster within the Church. But let me point out they were the respected, loved and honored teachers of the day. Everyone wanted to be as respected as the Pharisees.

That respect came because of their knowledge. But their knowledge wasn’t enough in the eyes of the Ultimate Master, Jesus Christ.

Instead, God used people like Peter and John to build the Church. People who had the firsthand Scriptural knowledge but also the humility to admit when they fell short and needed help gaining wisdom.

There wasn’t much difference between the characteristics of the Pharisees as teachers and the Disciples as teachers. Outside of cultural norms, they had the same minimal foundation. But the most important difference was there: 

The Disciples didn’t stop with Scriptural knowledge. They let the Master teach them wisdom in order to change their character. By doing that, they became more like the Yahweh they worshiped. 

Too Much Fleece

Gideon of the Bible (Judges 6) was a coward whom God chose to use as a hero. Seriously, the man had no backbone. None. I picture the pre-battle Gideon on the same caliber as a 16-year-old nerd trying to work up enough of his own value to convince himself he’s good enough to strike up a mere “hi” to a cheerleader. Gideon had no heart, no personal understanding of his value… nothin’. Nada. Zilch.

But God wanted him. And Gideon tested God’s voice. Gideon didn’t test it once, (a wee bit of backbone) but twice (the man was an idiot). I read that passage and I often times freak out at my Biblical pencil-necked moron who randomly had the guts to throw out a fleece twice and test God’s will for his immediate future. And then, just as quickly, a smile creeps onto my synical lips.

I’m not only just as bad as Gideon… I make him look like a born-leader and pious saint.

God calls me to step up to a blessing, challenge and title He’s ordained and I do the stupid, “‘Kay, great! I’ll believe you if you…” And God answers.

Three days go by and I turn very female and start wondering if I dreamed up the wet fleece moment, so I reinact the whole thing. “Great, God! I love what you’re up to here. Really, I do. But I just don’t know if I heard you right the first 2 times. So, sorry, Lord, but I’ll believe you if you…” And God answers.

I’ve done so many “For your glory, Lord, prove yourself” prayers in the last 6 months I’m quite certain the next fleece-wetting prayer I throw up will be met with a neon sign from Heaven that says: 

Heavenly Fleece Storehouse Out of Stock    Must Act on Faith Until Further Notice 

(No. God does not work like that.)

Here’s the thing: There came a point where I stopped “throwing out a fleece” to ask for a more intimate look at God’s heart and reality for my life. After the 30th “give me a sign” prayer, I was only praying those “Test God Prayers” to push off the opportunity to trust Him within the orderly chaos of change. 

I enjoyed the fact that I could scream at the heaven’s that the ball was in God’s court, not mine. He needed to  answer my prayer before I took  a leap of faith. If I’m always waiting on God, I don’t have to admit that I have no courage. If I’m always waiting on affirmation, I never have to move away from my comfort zone.

Gideon stepped up to God’s call on his life and saved his people in the most unusual circumstances (Read the story, it’s awesome). But what would have happened if Gideon stayed in his home, crouched in fear and with no courage or ability to trust Yahweh?

At some point, we have to stop asking God to speak and go off of what He has said before. He does, after all, promise us He’ll never change.

Lessons From a Dead Man

I never understood the joy surrounding the story of Lazarus.

In John 11, we are told the story of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, being resurrected. Jesus waited three days to attend to His sick loved one, and by the time He arrived, Lazarus was already dead. It was revealed that Jesus waited in order to show His power to those surrounding the tragedic death, but still, that’s not what confuses me.

Lazarus was dead. Why is that a bad thing? Lazarus was obviously in fellowship with Jesus, so he was in Heaven. Why were we shocking the poor man out of perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit and celebrating it? Dude, it just wasn’t fair.

Don’t get me wrong. Yay, Lazarus is back for his sisters, Mary and Martha. But seriously, the guy just wanted Heaven… and he was just getting comfortable past the pearly gates when God (hypothetically, of course) spoke two words: Go back.

I read Lazarus’ story and I’m brought to tears. Not because of the sign of God’s power in the God-Man Jesus, though such a thing is comforting, awesome and beautiful. I’m brought to tears because, well, what about the price on Lazarus’ heart to be used for God’s glory in such a way?

It’s also a calm yet firm whisper to my heart to remind me I can’t tell God when He’s done making the ashes of my life glorify His name. Lazarus probably wanted to stay in Heaven; going back to suffering on Earth probably wasn’t on his post-mortem bucket list. Yet God wanted to use Lazarus… and so He did.

Often times, I want to scream at the Heavens that I’m done being used in the area of pain, suffering and redemption after shame. Often times, I mutter forcefully, “I’m done. Give me Heaven, already. I was so gosh-frikkin’ close to Heaven forever. Stop using my pain. I want Heaven.”

But then, just like Jesus with Lazarus, I hear Him enclose me with the words, “I did this so others may believe in Me, Child. You will understand when you stand before Me ‘for real’ some day soon. Let Me use you. It’s pricey to your heart, but it’s making you more like Me.”

Lazarus’ story doesn’t always make me cry anymore. It just makes me long for Heaven and the ability to hear Jesus’ grander plan.

True Love

We live in a culture where love is an emotional thing.

I just about died laughing at the look on a friend’s face after I announced, “You’re such a dork- It’s a good thing I love you.” His face registered complete confusion, a bit of joy and a butt-load of hesitation. He didn’t say anything, but his face said it all, “Wait… You feel that way about me?” … No. No. No. Again, for good measure- No.

Thankfully, I’m at a Bible college. All I had to do was stare at him for an extra 3 seconds before he started spurting Scripture. “… Ohhhh. Love your neighbor as yourself. Right, right. Okay. Yeah. Hahaha, yeah. It’s a good thing you love me, Cass. Yup.”

In another conversation, I used the word “love” with the phrase “enough to say no.” As in… “I love you enough to say no.” That didn’t go over as easily. The concept that my love for a friend could be strong enough to be hurtful is just too oxymoron-ish. If I love a person that means I give them what they want, correct? You make me smile, you love me. You knowingly hurt me deeply.. You obviously detest me. It’s simple.

Or not.

The Greek word for “love” in the Biblical command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is agapé. That form of love was once described as “Giving a person what they need the most when they deserve it the least.”

This means, at times, loving someone you truly don’t want to love. It also means there are times when God calls you to do something on another’s behalf (what they need) that they only interpret as hurtful. Love hurts.

Love that is based on an emotional (erotic or “friendly” love- either one) perception is dangerous. Depending only on that type of love is why divorce is the top discussion in a large majority of marriages. You hurt me… You must not like me.. Let’s quit.

Love is allowed to be emotional, and it can be a beautiful thing. But if that’s all love is… It won’t exist very long.

Here’s a thought (that will annoyingly be an open-ended question):

If Love was purely emotional, would Christ – as fully God and fully Man – have actually chosen the Cross and separation from Father God? If love had been optional and based on likability, would Christ see us as worth dying for?

Unseen mourning

Christianity is not for the faint of heart. Every disciple of Jesus Christ knows the warnings He gives. Often times, crowds of believers can be found pouring over the passages that declare we cannot serve two masters. The passage that strikes healthy fear in the hearts of Christians is in Matthew 7, when the Master warns that there will be many that call Him Lord; yet were never known by Him. Christianity costs full surrender. It always has. It always will.

When Christ warns against the hypocrisy mainly seen in the Pharisees in Matthew 6, many people focused on the punishment given to them. When looks of admiration and words of awe-struck wonder were all the men looked for, that was all they received. Christ looked for a heart that did every deed for the Glory of His name and found none. Their flushed cheeks filled with pride at man given praise was the only praise they would receive. Their reward was immediately paid in full. Christ would give them nothing of eternal value because they didn’t want it.

This is often times seen as a passage used to warn against passive allegiance- as it should be. However, what is often times overlooked is the tone of mourning that Christ uses as He depicts the Pharisees. His followers saw it as worthwhile judgment on puffed-up, egotistical leaders. However, Christ also meant it as a plea. A very desperate one.

The chapter warns over and over again that, “They have received they’re reward in full.” An English major will tell you very simply the word “full” means, “all encompassing, complete, or void of emptiness.” To anyone reading Matthew 6 in the English language, it only conveys that there is nothing else the Pharisaically-minded individuals would receive. It’s seen as a firm, swift judgment they brought on themselves.

The Greek word for full, however, is Apechō, which meant to “keep off, keep away, and be distant.” Yes, Christ was warning that the Pharisaical attitude left little else to be received as a reward. But He was also heart-wrenchingly mourning the fact that because they had filled their lives with their own importance, He could not commune with them and fill them as He desired to do.

When Christ spoke this Truth, He did it with a broken heart. He wanted the Pharisees to love Him the way He loved them, and therefore be completely full. Yet instant gratification filled them faster than any future reward. It filled them as air fills a balloon. They were puffed up long enough to feel as if they were larger than life. But the second the winds of life kicked up, they were blown away, and their accomplishments were proved unsteady. Christ wanted so much more for them, so much more with them. I wonder if they realized just how eternal their refusal would be?

In Truth, the Master wanted to do anything other than keep away and be distant. Yet even despite the most gut-wrenching pain, He chose to show mercy and let the Pharisees choose what they would depict as a worthwhile reward. Christ never pushed their hands in worship, nor manipulated their hearts into surrendered praise. In the end, they chose to worship themselves.

Just as Christ pled with the Pharisees, He pleads for us today. His eyes remain overwhelmed with a love that breaks through any reality, a firmness that holds fast to Justice, yet a desire for intimate relationship. Quite simply you can hear Him as He whispers, “Don’t make me walk away, don’t make me give up on you. Let me be your answer; I can’t bare the distance between you and I, Child. You hold my heart. Choose your reward wisely. Let Me make your life full in a way you never imagined.”