Religious Leaven

It’s religious leaven. Allow in even the tiniest amount and it’s gonna spread. While just a little bit might seem quite innocuous at first, once it’s allowed in the mix there’s a good chance it’ll take over. Can’t really see it at first, but eventually it manifests itself. So Jesus says, “Beware!”

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, [Jesus] began to say to His disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

(Luke 12:1 ESV)

“In the meantime” . . .

Jesus had just been going head to head with Pharisees, religious lawyers, and scribes as they tried to “press Him hard” and “provoke Him to speak about many things, lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say” (Lk. 11:53). On the pretense of open, honest debate they were actually secretly hoping to trip Jesus up.

And who doesn’t like to watch a good fight? The verbal sparring between Jesus and the religious elite attracted a crowd, a really big crowd. And Jesus knowing that the hearts of the multitudes weren’t a lot unlike the hearts of the Pharisees (Lk. 12:56), sees it as a teachable moment for His followers. And so He says to them first . . .

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

There it is. The leaven of the religious. A righteous man’s, or perhaps better said, a self-righteous man’s Achilles heel. Hypocrisy.

And once it becomes part of the sacred landscape, watch it spread. The original “selfie” that goes viral.

What begins as carefully chosen, seemingly harmless play-acting takes over, becoming a full-on, fake facade. What starts as a little bit of slight-of-hand, eventually becomes unavoidable gymnastics which choke out a pure heart.

Beware of it, says Jesus, stay away from hypocrisy.

So how do we recognize the almost imperceptible, but eventually domineering, active agency of faking it? Jesus gives His disciples a clue.

“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

(Luke 12:2 ESV)

Secrecy. That’s the tell-tale sign of hypocrisy.

Covering up what we really think. Saying something other than what we want to say. Not wanting to reveal who we really are. Void of transparent relationships with anyone. Always trying to put on a good face in front of everyone. That’s how we wear the mask in order to fool others.

But the little leaven of fooling others in one or two small areas of life, if not checked, can permeate every area of our lives. And, to such an extent that, eventually, we end up fooling even ourselves.

Hypocrisy. Beware of it, Jesus says. And, He says it to His disciples first.

Why wouldn’t I think that I need to hear it, too? Why wouldn’t I pause and reflect and do my own “secrecy inventory?” Why wouldn’t I check my own degree of transparency with others? Take stock of how many relationships I have where “what you see is what you get?” And take stock of how many relationships are maintained by putting on a mask?

Religious leaven. Beware of it.

Yes, Lord!

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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A Chilling Epitaph

I read the words and what immediately came to mind was, “What a horrible epitaph.”

I don’t think much of what might end up written in memory of me. Not really motivated by leaving a legacy. More concerned with just being faithful to what I think God wants me to do today. But, not gonna lie, after reading these words, I sure know what I DON’T want put on my grave marker.

AND HE DEPARTED WITH NO ONE’S REGRET

Ugh! How’s that for a last bon voyage? Even worse, that it’s God-breathed.

Reading about King Jehoram of Judah this morning in 2Chronicles 21. Grandson of King Asa who, though he didn’t finish so well, modeled for his people what it meant to seek the LORD courageously as he put away the detestable idols that had become prominent in Judah and renewed proper worship in the house of the LORD (1Chr. 15).

And Jehoram was also the son of King Jehoshaphat who, though he had some misplaced allegiances to the wayward kings of Israel, kept his eyes set on God and his heart tuned to sing His praise (2Chr. 20). Thus, Jehoram, next in line for the throne, should have had a pretty good foundation to build upon during his reign as he had seen modeled a lot of the right stuff.

But not so much. He didn’t walk in the ways of his father nor his grandfather (2Chr. 21:12).

First, though his father had given him the keys to the kingdom, he executes all his brothers and anyone else who might be a potential threat for the throne. Then, he caves to the influence of his wife and her dad, Ahab king of Israel, and “does evil in the sight of the LORD” (21:6b) by going after fake deities. What’s more, he “led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom and made Judah go astray” (21:11) as well.

So, after setting his face against the LORD, the LORD sets His face against Jehoram. After only six short years of Jehoram’s reign, the LORD goes from fighting for Judah to fighting against them. Songs of victory in the land replaced with laments of defeat. And for the last two years of his reign, Jehoram himself suffers in great agony because “the LORD struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease” (21:18).

And here’s how his story concludes:

In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his fathers. He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he departed with no one’s regret.

(2Chronicles 21:19-20a ESV)

What a way for a king of God’s chosen nation to go. Forsaken of God. Without honor among his people. A prevailing, “Who cares? Good riddance!” attitude instead of a state funeral worthy of a life well-lived for a king.

AND HE DEPARTED WITH NO ONE’S REGRET

Honestly, it sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. What a chilling epitaph!

Not looking for glory or praise. But thinking that if I’m faithful to my God and to His call on my life, someone’s gonna care when I’m gone. That if I seek first the kingdom (Matt. 6:33), keep my mind set on things above (Col. 3:1-2), and, by His enabling, daily try to offer my body as a living sacrifice here on earth (Rom. 12:1), there might be a few who are sorry I’m no longer around. At the very least, and who could want anything more, a Savior who might welcome me home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Lifelong Relier

Asa saw it as a boy during his dad’s reign as king of Judah. Their army of 400,000 up against the northern king’s army of 800,000 was out numbered 2 to 1, and yet they were victorious. How come? The divine record leaves no ambiguity as to what turned the tide in their favor:

Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the LORD, the God of their fathers.

(2Chronicles 13:18 ESV)

Then, like father like son. When Asa took the throne he too found himself in a similar situation–his army of 580,000 men nose to nose with an enemy horde of a million men and 300 chariots. And he too looked to the LORD. And the LORD looked with favor upon Asa.

And Asa cried to the LORD his God, “O LORD, there is none like You to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on You, and in Your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.” So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.

(2Chronicles 14:11-12 ESV)

But in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, after decades of calling the people of Judah to seek the LORD with all their heart and soul (2Chron. 15), something changed in Asa’s heart.

In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, the king of the northern tribes again takes an aggressive stance against Judah and starts to build siege works. But now, rather than relying on the LORD, as he had in the past, Asa pulls out his checkbook (actually, it’s God’s checkbook as he takes “silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD”) and hires the Syrians to distract the king of Israel.

And God calls him on it. He sends a prophet to confront the aging king of Judah:

” . . . you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God . . . ”

(2Chronicles 16:7 ESV)

And it get’s weirder. Rather than heed the LORD’s rebuke and repent, Asa gets angry at the LORD’s messenger and throws him in prison. What’s more he is so enraged and so cranky that he inflicts “cruelties upon some of the people at the same time” (16:10).

And for the next five years, until his death, this king who had known what it was to rely on the LORD and had repeatedly seen the power of God to defy insurmountable odds, would maintain a posture of independent, self-reliance. The divine record also chronicling for the ages to follow that even when Asa suffered a debilitating ailment in his feet, “yet even in this disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians” (16:12).

How does that even happen? Pride? I’m guessin’. Complacency? Probably. Having enough resources at hand to be self-sufficient? For sure.

Another reminder in Scripture that starting well doesn’t guarantee finishing well. That running the race diligently for most of the race doesn’t excuse us from running the homestretch with equal purpose and diligence. That without faith, regardless of whether you’ve been a man of faith for most of your life, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).

O, to be protected from a prideful, independent attitude. O, to resist the temptation to use what’s been given in abundance as a means to avoid trusting in the Giver of that abundance.

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

(2Chronicles 16:9a ESV)

O that I might never cease, in all things, to have a heart wired, by His enabling, to trust and depend on the LORD. That I might look to Him alone, in every situation, as my strong support.

That I would be a lifelong relier.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Heart Set on Seeking the LORD

They gave up their inheritance. Land that had been in their family for generations they abandoned. Property promised them from the time of the exodus they saw disappear in their rearview mirrors. More than their prized possession, it was their connection to their ancestry as a member of one of the twelve tribes. And they just walked away from it. How come? Because they set their hearts to seek the LORD.

Continuing to read in 2Chronicles this morning. The kingdom established under David and Solomon is divided because of Rehoboam’s bone-headed move to listen to some hard-hearted, wet behind the ears advisors (2Ch. 10.). Thus, the northern ten tribes have broken away under Jeroboam’s leadership.

And under that leadership they have established a new religion, one that worships goat idols and golden calves as the gods of their deliverance (2Ch. 11:15, 1Ki. 12:25-33). One that no longer needs the Levites, those who were appointed to serve in matters of worship before God, and so has cast them out. And the Levites leave their common lands in the north and come to Judah and to Jerusalem to serve and worship there.

And what catches my attention this morning, is that others did as well.

And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers.

(2Chronicles 11:16 ESV)

Don’t know that I ever realized this before, that after the split there were those “from all the tribes” of the northern kingdom who responded to Jeroboam’s fake worship economy by packing up and heading south. Not content with man-made gods and government-designed worship, they move to the region surrounding Jerusalem to worship the God of their fathers. And it cost them everything as they left their land, their possessions, and friends and family behind. Their very identities, which had been so intricately tied to their tribe and the land given to their tribes, had, in one sense, been severed.

But now they had a new identity. Now they marched under a different banner.

Those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel.

While the land was important, it had been but a gift from God. And rather than be brought into bondage by the gift, they instead sought the Giver. They refused to let their possessions possess them and lead them to capitulate to the idolatry around them. Instead they would count themselves as God’s holy possession, and God, owning their hearts, gave them the power to separate. And so they became known as those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD.

I wanna be like them. In a culture that increasingly distances itself from worship in spirit and truth in order to embrace worship of self and tribal allegiances, I don’t want the gifts I’ve received to so tie me to the way of the world that it turns my heart away from the One who rescued me and gave me the gifts in the first place. Rather, I want to be willing to walk away from everything if that’s what’s needed to walk after Him. I want to march to the beat of the kingdom’s drummer, even if it means leaving what I possess in order to pursue what He has promised.

I want a heart set on seeking the LORD.

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

(Psalm 27:8 ESV)

Only by His grace. Always for His glory.

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Righteous Swordsmen

Everything within David wanted to get into a shouting match. Insult me? I’ll insult you more! Slander me? I’ll show you what trash talking is all about! But though that was David’s natural propensity, his prayer in Psalm 141 asks for the supernatural. It reveals how a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)–and God alone tunes hearts after His own (Ezek. 36:26-27)–responds to the temptation of the flesh to get down in the dirt with the wicked.

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!

(Psalm 141:3-4 ESV)

And what grabs me this morning is David’s anticipation of what that guard might look like. That while God could use His unseen Spirit to mystically watch over the door of David’s lips, He might also choose to use a flesh-and-blood swordsman.

Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.

(Psalm 141:5 ESV)

Reminded this morning of the need for righteous swordsmen in our lives.

Faithful friends who can wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Eph.6:17), to protect us from ourselves. Relationships with godly people that are grounded in such transparency that the Spirit can use their sanctified voice to call out our bad behaviors and wavering hearts. Those who know us so intimately, and love us so unconditionally, that they are not afraid to cut us deeply with the truth.

I fear those sorts of relationships are all too rare. In this age where we’re increasingly known by the pictures we post and the tweets we tweet, where self-esteem is built upon the number of “likes” and “follows” and “friends” we have, we find ourselves with no close friends at all. Superficiality rules the day. Transparency is something to be avoided.

In a time where, more and more, every other pursuit chokes out the pursuit of the kingdom of God. So that, when time with God’s people is now measured in how many times we gather with the saints per month rather than per week, the number of godly voices many have in their lives approaches non-existent. The voices of the world flowing in through electronic media drowning out the voice of the Spirit of God through well-known and much-trusted people of God.

But it is a kindness to be struck by a righteous friend. It is like oil for the head to be corrected by a godly confidante. How every saint needs at least one righteous swordsman in their life.

And it takes time, intentional time, to cultivate such relationships. What’s more, it takes honesty, vulnerable honesty, to open up our still-work-in-progress lives for another to see how messy that work is.

But I’m convinced it is a critical component in our sanctification. God wanting to use the voice of others to help us hear His voice. God leveraging the insights of others to help us see what He sees. God employing those who love us enough to call us out to keep us walking in the ways to which God has called us in.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend . . . (Proverbs 27:6a ESV)

Righteous swordsmen . . .

And this too by the grace of God. That we might live for the glory of God.

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The Bondage of Self-Justification

Found a sin to avoid as I read in the Gospel of Luke this morning (20:25-29). One to be on guard against. One, if I’m honest, I’ve been trapped by too many times to count.

The guy was a lawyer. Knew the law inside and out. Could recite it from memory. Could apply it at will. Needed justice on demand? He was the guy to call.

So good was this guy, that he thought he’d give it a go with Jesus. Don’t know that he was necessarily antagonistic toward Jesus, but Luke does say he wanted to “put Him to the test.” He wanted to see how the Teacher fared with the hard questions of life. So he stands up, approaches Jesus, and asks Him,

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus knows this guy knows the answer. And so He answers the lawyer’s question with a question, “What does the law say? How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Aced it! Hundred percent. Two for two.

But Jesus also knew that knowing the answer wasn’t enough. It was how you applied the answer that opened up the gate to eternity, to an unfathomable inheritance and to life everlasting.

And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Do it, said the Teacher. That’s all, do what the law says. Love God with ALL your heart AND ALL your soul AND ALL your strength AND ALL your mind. And when you’ve done that, love the guy next door like you would love yourself. Watch for his interests the way you’d look after your own. Just do it . . . and heaven awaits.

And the lawyer’s bright enough to know that he’s done. Game, set, match. He’s cornered. His integrity, if not his conscience, knows he’s never loved God with ALL his anything. But he also knows that no one else has either. So, doing what lawyers do best, he seeks to distract, deflect, and dispute the finer points of the law. But not because he’s seeking the truth. Instead, because he’s trapped by serving his ego.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer sought to justify himself.

And there it is. That’s the sin to avoid. The transgression to be on guard against. The bondage of self-justification.

How often am I tempted to split hairs, to compare myself with others, to find some ground to stand upon when the Spirit convicts me of sin in my life? How easy it is for me to want to convince myself that I’m doing pretty good before men when the problem Jesus wants me to see is what’s in my heart. How quickly I’ll go to trying to supplement the righteousness imputed to me through the finished work of the cross with my own righteousness founded on some flimsy, rationalized self-vindication.

Jesus didn’t corner the lawyer to condemn the lawyer. He loved this lover of the law. And He wanted the lawyer to see that the law he knew so well would serve him the best when it helped him to realize that “no one is justified by the law” (Gal. 3:11). That the law acts best as a “guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).

As long as I seek to justify myself I continue to be in bondage to the law, held captive under the law.

But when I confess my sin and, by faith, know that He will forgive my sin, I am set free. Confident in my inheritance. Assured of eternal life. Not because I am just or justified. But because He is just and “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

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Worship Wars

It’s just not optional. It’s not a take it or leave it sort of thing. It’s not about preference, or whether you’re into that sort of thing, but of priority and a vital defence against being drawn into a place you really shouldn’t want to go. I’m taking about worship.

Two of my readings this morning having me chewing on the priority of worship.

When David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel. David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the LORD, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, ,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.

(1Chronicles 23:1-5 ESV)

Four thousand Levites dedicated to offering praise. Talk about your worship team! And it wasn’t just about making music, they had a message to declare. They were “set apart” and “prophesied with lyres, harps, and with cymbals . . . in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD” (1Chron. 25:1b, 4b). So important was it that they were “trained in singing” (25:7). And what they were to do wasn’t just an “add on” but was an integral part of “the service of the house of God” (25:6). Big choir! Big job! Big deal!

So how come? Why the priority on making sure when people came to the house of God they heard the story of God being declared by the servants of God in songs to God?

Lots of reasons, I suppose. But here’s one that jumped off the page at me as I read also in the Psalms this morning. There’s a worship war, says the songwriter.

Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD, give praise, O servants of the LORD, who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God! Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to His name, for it is pleasant! . . .

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them. O house of Israel, bless the LORD!

(Psalm 135:1-3, 15-19a ESV)

The “idols of the nations” beckon to the saints of heaven. Though their mouths can’t speak, like the sirens of Greek mythology, they have their own song. With their enchanting music and ethereal voices they lure those who would draw near towards being shipwrecked on the rocky coast of their island.

Those who would march to the beat of their drummer are enslaved to follow them. Those who dance to the song of idols becoming like them. Followers of idols become inert. Unable to experience the things of real life, the things of God. While having a form of being alive, in reality they too become just inanimate objects.

And so, the psalmist, in seeking to battle the enticing melodies of the idols of the nations says, “Praise the LORD! . . . sing to His name, for it is pleasant . . . bless the LORD!”

An effective antidote for being led astray by the allure of idols is the regular worship of the one and only true God! So much so, that David dedicated 4,000 Levites to make sure the house of God was filled with songs of redemption, remembrance, and recognition of who God is and what He has done.

I’ve said it before, how we sell short our worship on Sunday mornings when we think of it as only the “prelims” to the “main event” of the sermon. While we wouldn’t even consider walking in late on the word of God being preached, so often we think nothing of strolling in whenever, as the story of God is being sung.

Instead, if we recognized the worship wars about us, we might see singing with the saints as a vital part of our battle against the allure of the world and its ways. We might be more focused on availing ourselves of every moment of every opportunity to gather with others of like mind to declare the wonder of our salvation and the glory of our Savior.

Four thousand Levites in the days of David. Love to see that choir!

A family of believers singing this Sunday. Can’t wait to join their chorus.

By His grace. For His glory.

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