The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

While I was on vacation back in June I read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18.9-14). The introduction of the parable clarifies the point Jesus was trying to make, “He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt…” Jesus was talking to those who define themselves as superior believers because of their acts of righteousness. They do all the right things—tithe, study the Bible, pray, attend worship, practice the spiritual disciplines, as well as other things expected from those who call themselves Christians. So, what is the problem? It is their attitude. They do everything to show how deserving they are of God’s salvation. They look down on those who do not measure up to their definition of holiness.

I have to admit, there have been times in my life when I have played the part of the Pharisee. I have observed the life of others and looked down my nose at their unworthiness to come into God’s presence. There have been times when I figured I must make God proud to call me one of His children. Of course this all happened in my younger Christian days. I mean I would never have this type of arrogant attitude after being a Christian for over thirty-eight years, right? Unfortunately, if you are like me you fight pride and arrogance every day. It takes great humility and discipline to look at others as equals and not lesser humans because of their sinfulness.

God taught me a great lesson this summer that has helped keep my pride and arrogance in check. As I get alone with God to pray, I try to always begin with the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18.13). It is important to remember that I am always the sinner, and Jesus is always the Savior! My righteousness is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64.6); however, when I abide in Christ, His righteousness works in and through me to produce fruit for His glory and not mine (John 15.4).

When I remember that it is Christ working through me I have a different attitude toward those who are not abiding in Christ. I want to share with them why certain actions, attitudes, and aspirations are wrong. It is when I abide in Christ that I can approach those living in sin as someone who understands being tempted on a daily basis. I can approach them as someone who has walked in the same shoes, and yet, has been set free from the chains of self-righteousness and sin. I am moved by compassion to share with them the good news of Jesus and how He is able to change the life of those who place their faith in Him.

The truth is, if I try to help others live up to my measure of righteousness they are going to miss heaven. Living like Bob Pittenger will never save anyone. However, if I abide in Christ and live an example of a life changed by Jesus, then they too can experience His forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy. They too can learn to live a life of daily dependence on the finished work of Jesus Christ.

I would like to challenge you to try something new. As you have your prayer time today, try starting like the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Life is so much sweeter when we go along justified in God’s eyes instead of our own.

Knowing God

Knowing God is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you, and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you. Knowing about Him is a necessary precondition of trusting in Him, but the width of our knowledge about Him is no gauge of our knowledge of Him…What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? To know God. What is the best thing in life? To know God. What in humans gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. – J.I. Packer

Losing My Religion

As I go about my day, I often ask people what they believe it takes for someone to get to heaven. Over the years I have received a multiplicity of answers—be a good person, help the poor, don’t break God’s rules, or just go to church. All these answers rely on human works to obtain right standing before God. The truth is none of these will ever move us one inch closer to heaven.

Sometimes human works and the gospel look an awful lot alike; however, the difference between the two are worlds apart. In a recent post J.D. Greear clearly explains what the gospel can do that human works (religion) cannot.

Greear writes:

Chapter 9 of Hebrews is all about dealing with guilt. The author explains that the entire Old Testament system was set up to deal with guilt, though it was powerless to do the only thing we needed it to do: purify our consciences. Religious rituals only cover sin, they cannot change the heart. Christ, to whom all the Old Testament points, is able to transform us in 3 ways that the old Temple, and, in fact, no religion, can:

1. From guilt to purity.

Hebrews 9:14 says that the blood of Christ “purifies our conscience.” The tabernacle sacrifices only ever served to cover guilt, but they could never remove it. The blood of Christ takes the penalty of guilt away forever, because through his death Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin—death—into himself. As Charles Spurgeon has said, God would be unjust to punish us for our sins, because then He would be requiring two payments for the same sin.

The forgiveness now available to us because of Christ’s death is more than a mere waiving of penalty, however. Our guilt has not only been removed, but has been replaced with purity, with love, with acceptance from the very God of the universe. In response to our sin, forgiveness says, “You may go.” The gospel tells us, “You are cherished; you may come.”

2. From dead works to loving service.

Again, in Hebrews 9:14, the author tells us that the blood of Christ purifies us “from dead works to serve the living God.” Religion is filled with all kinds of works, various attempts to get God to approve of us. These works are dead, because they are not love for God, but love for self. We perform for God not because we love Him but because we want something from him. If I were to take my friend out to dinner because I know he has a beach house, it’s not done out of love. I am making an investment: sixty bucks for a nice meal and I can score a week at the Outer Banks!

When you strive to do good works to gain acceptance, your works are dead. This is the difference between religion and the gospel. In religion you do good works to be accepted by God; in the gospel you do good works because you are accepted by God.

As John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, wrote in another of his hymns:

Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, Since we have seen His beauty, are joined apart no more. To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice, Transforms a Slave into a Child, and Duty into Choice.

Religious ritual cannot take away sin. The Jewish people made a tragic mistake. They took the symbols of sacrifice and started to treat them like they were the real thing, like adherence to religious ritual could actually take away sin. People do that today when they think that certain religious rituals (like taking communion, regular church attendance, tithing, or saying a ‘Hail Mary’) can take away their sin. At their very best they can merely covering sin, like spraying yourself with perfume instead of taking a bath. That may work a few times, but soon enough the stench permeates the perfume. The blood of Jesus does not cover our sin with some kind of religious cologne, it removes our sin and transforms our hearts. Apart from faith in Christ, religious rituals are dead works. Alive with faith, religious activity becomes loving service.

3. From dread of God to longing for Him.

As we see in Hebrews 9:28, the gospel replaces the sense of dread we used to have before God with a deep sense of longing. When we fear judgment, the thought of being in God’s presence is dreadful. The sacrifice of Jesus, however, assures us that judgment is gone, and in its place are God’s love and acceptance. When we realize this, God’s presence becomes something we desperately crave.

I see this with my kids. When I come home from a trip, my four children will rush out to meet me at my car. My four-year-old daughter will immediately start to give me the details of everything that happened while I was away. It doesn’t make much sense, since she’s four, but she knows I’ll listen eagerly. They know that I long to be near them, so they long to be near me. When they think I am angry, however, or in a bad mood, they stay away. Many people are like that with God. They dread being around Him because they fear displeasure or judgment.

The gospel gives us the confidence of a beloved child before God. Rather than fearing His judgment, we sense only approval and tenderness. We cry “Abba, Father,” and we begin to long for Him.

Way To Go Bubba!

In recent years we have heard a lot of athletes talking about their faith in Christ. Last week after winning the Masters golf tournament Bubba Watson gave the following interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

Bubba Watson, first-time winner of a Masters Tournament who earned his green jacket on Easter Sunday, recently spoke about tweeting for God, the PGA Bible study he took part in and his newly adopted son.

Watson, 33, spoke with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association after winning the 2012 Masters Tournament on Sunday. The golfer who tearfully thanked his “Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” after the big win, said he utilises his Twitter account to spread his Christian faith.

Watson describes himself on his Twitter page as “Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer”. The Christian golfer said he has lost at least 100 followers for tweeting biblical messages.

When Watson receives negative backlash for his biblical tweets, he responds with messages like “I will pray for u and ur family.” The golfer also quoted one of his favorite Christian rappers, Lecrae, saying he would like his followers to see God through him.

“Lecrae said it the best,” Watson told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He doesn’t want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him.”

Watson maintained his Christian principles during the golf tournament by engaging in an hour-long Bible study with fellow golfers each week. He described the importance of being able to connect with both God and his peers.

“For me it’s a way to get back connected with the Bible and with God and Jesus. Now you know other people you can talk to, ask questions to, tell them what you’re thinking, tell them what’s going on in your life,” Watson said. “Getting more in the Word and realising that golf is just an avenue for Jesus to use me to reach as many people as I can.”

Watson, who recently adopted a one-month-old baby boy named Caleb with his former WNBA playing wife Angie Ball, also described his first church experience. According to Watson, twin girls from his neighbourhood convinced him to attend.

“The girls asked me to go to church,” Watson said. “And after a few times going I realised this is what I wanted to do. This is truth here. And I gave myself to the Lord.”

After he began dating Ball, the couple decided to live for Christ. Watson decided to get baptised with his wife in 2004 as a student at the University of Georgia.

“We wanted to be Christ followers,” Watson said. “We wanted to do the right thing. We started turning to the Lord for our decisions.”

The professional golfer, who said he has never taken a lesson, said he was grateful for the people around him and the opportunity to live his life for Christ.

“I’ve really got a good team around me trying to help me succeed,” Watson said. “Not just in golf, but off the golf course, to be a light for Jesus.”

Worship Wars

Is your musical taste different from that of your worship leader? Do you get misty-eyed every time you hear a Fanny Crosby song? Have you ever wondered what happened to the good old days when church music was in a book? Does your discontentment with the music ever cause you to feel guilty?  These are just a few of the questions answered in Dr. Russell Moore’s article “Let’s Have More Worship Wars.”

Dr. Moore writes:

I have the worship music tastes of a seventy-five year-old woman.

There I admitted it. That’s because a seventy-five year-old woman was picking out the hymns and gospel songs in the church where I grew up. My iPod playlist is really eclectic—ranging from George Jones to Andrew Peterson to Taio Cruz. But, when it comes to worship, nothing gets to me like Fanny Crosby. And, if “Just As I Am” is played, I’m going to want to cry, and probably walk the nearest aisle (even if it’s on an airplane).

I’m left cold by what people call the “majestic old hymns.” I tried to like them, to fit in with the theological tribe into which I was adopted, but I just can’t do it. They sound like what watercress-sandwich-eating Episcopalians from Connecticut might sing (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

And, though I like a lot of contemporary music, much of it sounds to me like many of these songs were written by underemployed commercial jingle writers, trying to find words to rhyme with “Jesus” (”Sees us?” “Never leave us?” “Diseases?”).

But the more I reflect on what I like, and why, the more I’m convinced that my preferences are almost entirely cultural and nostalgic.

I’m not saying aesthetics don’t matter in worship. The Spirit equips God’s people to sing and to play and to write music. So when music is not good this is often evidence of, at worst, disobedience, and at best, misappropriation of talents. And the Scripture commands us to worship in “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

Worship is directed toward God, yes, but worship arises out of a specific community. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are teaching ( Col. 3:16). They build up the rest of the Body. That’s why we’ve got to care about what, and how, others hear when we are “addressing one another” (Eph. 5:17) musically.

What I am saying is that most of our varying critiques of musical forms are often just narcissism disguised as concern about theological and liturgical downgrade. That’s why I think we need more, and better, worship wars.

Thankfully, we don’t hear as much about “worship wars” these days, but I wonder if that’s because of growing maturity or if it’s simply because we’ve so segregated ourselves into services and congregations that reflect generational and ethnic and class-oriented musical commonalities. Maybe we need to reignite the wars, but in a Christian sort of way.

What if the war looked like this in your congregation? What if the young singles complained that the drums are too loud, that they’re distracting the senior adults? What if the elderly people complained that the church wasn’t paying attention to the new movements in songwriting or musical style?

When we seek the well-being of others in worship, it’s not just that we cringe through music we hate. As an act of love, this often causes us to appreciate, empathize, and even start to resonate with worship through musical forms we previously never considered.

This would signal a counting of others as more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3), which comes from the Spirit of the humiliated, exalted King Jesus (Phil 2:5-11).  It would mean an outdoing of one another, in order to serve and show honor to the other parts of the Body of Christ. And, however it turned out musically, it would rock.

Okay, so I exaggerated a little about my old woman tastes. In the time I’ve been writing this article the background music has included both Conway Twitty and Christian Hip-Hop artist FLAME. But I know myself; you turn on “To God Be the Glory,” and I’ll get misty-eyed.

When I insist that the rest of the congregation serve as back-up singers in my own little nostalgic hit parade of back-home Mississippi hymns, I am worshipping in the spirit all right. It’s just not the Holy Spirit. I’m worshipping myself, in the spirit of self-exaltation. And it’s easy to be a Satanist when you can get your way in worship planning.

Let’s declare war on that, in ourselves and in our churches. Which reminds me: “Onward Christian Soldiers,” what a song…

“Tim Tebow on Tebowing” By Anugrah Kumar

It’s the football off-season and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow made appearances in Las Vegas, Nevada, over the weekend and spoke to thousands of his Christian fans about “Tebowing,” printing Bibles verses on his eye black and what Jesus means to him.

The 3,000-seat Canyon Ridge Christian Church at Lone Mountain Road and Jones Boulevard could not hold the crowd Sunday and about 1,800 people had to sit under a tent outside to watch the service via video feed, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Christian football star, who had brought the Bible he has used since his high school days, showed Senior Pastor Kevin Odor how to “Tebow” and prayed for those hoping to welcome Christ into their hearts, the Journal reported.

On Saturday night, Tebow spent about 45 minutes talking with Pastor Odor at Canyon Ridge’s auditorium. “I’m pretty sure I’m not the first athlete to get on a knee and pray,” Las Vegas Sun quoted the casually dressed Tebow as saying. “It’s funny, I’ve been doing this same exact routine for the last seven years and for some reason this was the first year that people started talking about it.”

Why does he do it? “There’s all this excitement in a game, whether it’s playing the NFL or college, with all the hype,” he said. “You’re going to do good, you’re going to do bad and all the eyes are watching you and for me, it’s to be able to take a moment to block out everything else and just get on a knee and thank the Lord.”

One of the reasons he gets on a knee, he added, “is because that’s a form of humbling yourself. I want to humble myself before the Lord and say thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for letting me play the game I love. Whether I’m good or bad, whether I’m the hero or the goat, whether I score four touchdowns or throw four interceptions, that will still be the same person, honoring the Lord.”

Tebow also shared about the Bible verses he frequently wore on his eye black until it was banned in 2010. He said he chose Philippians 4:13 because “there’s not a better verse for an athlete.” It reads, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

He contemplated changing passages – to John 3:16. “I told Coach (Urban) Meyer, and he said, ‘What?! That’s a good point, Tim, but Philippians 4:13 is what got us here.'” Tebow agreed not to change. But when he finally did during a national championship game against Ohio State, 94 million people did a Google search for John 3:16. “My first thought was how do 94 million people not know what John 3:16 is?” he said.

The verse, he added, presents the essence of what Christianity is. “It’s a verse that changed my life when I was a little boy,” he said. “It’s the essence of what I believe and that’s why I wanted to wear it, because it’s an amazing verse that has the power to change people’s lives.”

Tebow stressed the primacy of faith in his life. “You get bashed against the rocks sometimes,” he was quoted as saying. “But when you have a relationship with Christ … One of my favorite quotes is, ‘I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds it.’ I know what my rock is. I know who’s holding my future. It’s easy to get hurried and too busy and distracted from your priorities. Mine are faith, family and football, in that order. When those get jumbled up, you’re putting the wrong things first in life.”

He also mentioned during his appearance at the Las Vegas megachurch that his teammates would occasionally joke about him not cursing on the field. “Some of my linemen would come up to me and say, ‘What is that thing that stops the water in the middle of the river?’ and I said, ‘Dam?’ and they would laugh and say, ‘We got Tim to curse.'”

The Differences Between Religion and The Gospel

Recently I saw a video posted on several Facebook pages titled “Why Jesus Hates Religion.” I personally think it would be better to say, “Jesus Hates Hypocrisy,” but I understand what the young man in this video is trying to say.  We have to be careful when we talk about religion verses Christianity.  Sometimes it is just a matter of defining our words in such a way that everyone knows exactly what we mean.

In this Tullian Tchividjian article, he quotes Tim Keller from a series of messages on self-dependence.  The article is entitled, “The Differences Between Religion and the Gospel.” Tim Keller makes clear what he means by “Religion” and “the Gospel.”  He also shines a bright light on the struggle of many people to perform good, religious works so they are self-assured of their salvation.  However, self-dependent works never equal salvation. Salvation is only found in the finished work of Christ Jesus. Resting in and submitting to Him will bring about the changes He calls for in the Bible.

I hope you enjoy “The Differences Between Religion and The Gospel” by Tim Keller.

Below is a very insightful comparison between “religion” and “the gospel” drawn from the sermons of Tim Keller. Tim does a remarkable job of probing hearts and revealing how easily we slip into self-dependence mode. As I’ve been saying each Sunday, real slavery according to the Bible is self-reliance. So, read the comparison list below with humility and care. It will do your soul good.

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.