When religious zeal leads us astray

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13 NIV

In my daily reading this morning these simple words of Jesus “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” arrested my attention. They are a direct quote from the Old Testament given in answer to a question posed by the Pharisees who were asking Jesus’ disciples why He was hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had been invited to a dinner party thrown by Matthew, himself a tax collector, who had recently left his profession to follow Jesus. It must have been quite a gathering, made up primarily of all Matthew’s non-religious friends given with the intent of introducing them to Jesus.

The quote gave me pause because I realized how deceptively easy it is to substitute religion for relationship, ritual for righteousness and profession for practice. In many ways the Pharisees, who were zealous for God and the teachings of the law, are no different than most Christians, myself included, who have a similar zeal to please God and be people of the Book. They got so caught up in their religious practices that they neglected the greater importance of extending God’s mercy to those who needed it. So what will keep us from falling into the same self-centered and self-righteous pit the Pharisees fell into?

Like the Pharisees whom Jesus urged to “go and learn what this means” we need to be diligent to do the same. What does it mean that God desires mercy much more than sacrifice? What does it mean that He has not “come to call the righteous, but sinners”?

Fingernails and 6 reasons to believe in God

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14

I have found that one of the most frequent reminders to praise God for being fearfully and wonderfully made, is the fingernail. Albeit it is small and definitely not as important as other features and functions of the human body, it is nonetheless an amazing aspect of God’s creation.

This truth has been hammered (Ouch!) home to me this summer as I have been fumbling my way through adding a stairway and new rails to my second floor deck. A well equipped tool belt does not a carpenter make. And having already suffered too many bruises and slivers to enumerate I can readily acknowledge this is not my calling. But in spite of all that, I have repeatedly been praising God for is one of the most versatile tools ever created; and it is not found in any tool belt. It is literally at the tip of everyone’s fingers. It is the fingernail.

It has caused me on more than one occasion to pause and think about the wonder of God’s creation. If as the Bible says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” then fingernails must declare His loving attention to detail. (Psalm 19:1)

Here are six reasons why fingernails reinforce my belief in a Creator God.

Stairways can be costly!

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10

God is the consummate architect and builder. In this verse we are given insight into the mind of Abraham, the great father of our faith, as he envisions God’s masterful plan for the heavenly Jerusalem. That will be a building project to end all building projects. Imagine the politicking, drawings and building permits required for a project of that magnitude here on earth. The price paid to build earthly things should give us a deeper appreciation for the cost of heavenly things.

One of my goals this year has been to add a stairway on our deck. I have been working on this project for several months now and have not yet dug a footing or driven a nail. Now I am talking about simply building a four foot square landing attached to the existing deck and fifteen steps to the ground. When it comes down to it, it is really not that big of a deal.

Deciding on a design configuration that works well with our plans for the back yard took some time. I enjoyed the thought and planning that went into doing that. Dreaming about and anticipating a home improvement project is always more fun than actually doing the work

What I did not take into account was the extensive approval process required to make such a minor addition to my home.

Believer Geriatrics

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Matthew 21:31

The longer a person is a believer the more susceptible they become to the diseases of an aging faith. This fact is observable in real life and evidenced throughout the Bible. These diseases attacking sustainable faith, like complacency, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, cynicism and yes, even self-deception, rob the mature believer of a healthy and productive faith life. Anyone who has been a believer for some time and honestly reckons with these type of temptations inherent in a long term faith would readily admit it is true.

An appropriate term to describe this effect is believer geriatrics. It is interesting that the word geriatrics comes from combing two Greek words meaning “old man” (geron) and “healer” (iatros). The term geriatrics is used to describe the branch of medicine that focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating the diseases of old age. Believer geriatrics then should focus on preventing, diagnosing and treating the diseases of an aging faith.

Having been a believer myself for many years I have noticed both in my own life and the lives of others how the initial conversion zeal to trust and obey God can wane. When I first surrendered my life to Jesus I committed to making Him Lord of every aspect of my life. I thought it was a one time decision. I sailed through the next couple of months with great joy and enthusiasm in obeying God and serving Him wholeheartedly. But eventually as He began to deal with some untouched areas in my life it dawned on me that yielding to His Lordship was an ongoing process.

Why speaking the truth is worth it

“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)

One of the reasons it is difficult for us to be open in speaking the truth in love is that it often does not go well. (For an intro to this topic see blog post “Why can’t we speak the truth in love?”) But that should not be the reason we do not speak out. We need to keep the goal in mind and be willing to endure a rocky road to get there.

The goal in such communication according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to build one another up in love and grow together in Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-16) And Jesus made it plain in His teaching on corrective confrontations that the goal was always to be the healing of the relationship. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)

The wisdom of Solomon from the Old Testament regarding truth confrontations provide us with a necessary perspective. “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23) The use of the word “afterward” here gives us a clue that initially truth confrontations often do not go well. We have all experienced it. We can go into a sharing the truth in love time with the best of intentions only to have it backfire in our face. And if we are not careful we can come out of it so beat up and discouraged that we vow never to do that again.

But God wants us to approach it in a spirit of faith, do our best to be obedient to the nudging of His Spirit and ultimately trust Him with the results. We can cling firmly to the hope that by God’s grace and the faithfulness of His Word, that what we do in faith will eventually be rewarded with the outworking of His will. And “afterward we will find more favor” than if we had simply cowered behind a flattering tongue. It may take some time to resolve things, but afterward we will be thankful we did what we did.

And I must add, even in situations where we do not see the hoped for “afterward” reward, we must comfort ourselves in the fact that we have done God’s bidding and that is reward enough.

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