Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees’

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.


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hocus pocusWe can’t understand everything. In fact, we can’t understand most things. When life moves along logically, the idea of “why” we choose to go one way or another might make perfect sense in the moment. But as soon as circumstances drop a bomb in our midst or we look back with 20-20, no answer to “why” explains or justifies the outcome. Not now, not ever. Whether the events are good or traumatic, the why this or why now will remain a mystery. Some can accept the miracle and others cannot.

As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he’d been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: “There’s never been anything like this in Israel!” The Pharisees were left sputtering, “Hocus-pocus. It’s nothing but hocus-pocus. He’s probably made a pact with the Devil.” [Matthew 9:32-33, The Message]

Personally, I would say it’s equally miraculous to make a pact with the devil as it would be to make a pact with the Lord. Both require a leap of faith. But what these Pharisees were really doing was rejecting something that was  “not-I.” They did not enter into the event; they remained aloof and thereby guarded.

It’s a negative view of the world: It’s a trick! The devil made me do it. My glass is half-empty. Fake! Liar! Thief!

All of these possibilities may be true since I would be the last to say that evil does not exist and people can be less than altruistic.

miracle02But, when a person crosses the line into faith, the potential for good manifesting out of the seemingly bad circumstances goes up exponentially. When a person accepts the Presence of God in the universe (both macro and micro), then why becomes less important. (Please, scientists, I’m not blasting your world at all, you grace our world with understanding.) I simply believe that there will always be inexplicable events and human decisions that cannot be explained away by what we know now, or more likely, ever. Our reality is not driven by 3-D but by an unseen realm we cannot fathom.

Miracles are possible because this world is fleeting. And in the same vein, sorrows happen too.

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It comes up a lot: grace. It is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith and the least likely to be immediately understood. Grace is a power. Grace is a state of being. Grace is personal and specific. Grace is a gift. And Grace . . . is a change agent.

I Corinthians 15:9-10a
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect . . .

As a believer, I can look back and say that grace has changed me during these years of following after Christ. That would only make sense since it’s all about God’s grace.

But, what about the time before? Can I understand that the really hard times before I accepted Christ were also about grace? Can I understand that losing my father at age nine included grace? Can I accept a bi-polar mother, poverty, loneliness, and a failed first marriage still had the mark of grace?

That is certainly the message of Paul, the great persecutor of the early Christians, a “pharisee of pharisees” [Acts 23:6], he thought he knew it all. He was an insider. And from his perspective, the followers of Jesus were desecrating the law, blaspheming against God, and disrupting a tenuously achieved “order.” He took it as a personal mission to destroy or incarcerate all followers of Christ. He was a righteous champion for God.

In many ways, after his conversion, he was still the same man: a man of passion and conviction. He was relentless before and after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus.

But all the while . . . he was under the banner of grace. And although he would carry the guilt and shame for those years of persecution and would have to face the friends and relatives of those he had killed, he also recognized the call that was there throughout his journey.

I feel the same way really. In the Methodist church, they call it “prevenient grace,” that time when God was putting together all the pieces, manifesting in ways unknown, unrecognizable, and yet, still present. For all of the tough times in my life, I have to admit I was graced with many strengths as well.

I am more like a little terrier dog that will not let go. I have persistence and I have energy. I have hope and I have resilience. These are also gifts of grace that I needed as I slogged through those early years without understanding and with a veil still covering the eyes of my heart.

None of us can assume where someone else is on this journey. God forgive my judgment of others. Help me recognize the hand of grace on them, just like it was on me.

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Opposites. Either I judge others quickly, forgetting I am equally fallen; or, I wash over reality because I want everything to be smooth sailing. (Don’t rock the boat.) Both ways are problematic and reflect denial.

Romans 15:7
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Paul writes that we must accept one another but the acceptance must be based on truth. It’s not about accepting someone as we “wish” he or she might be (eventually) but accepting what is really there. That’s not particularly easy if the person is difficult.

I confess, I withhold a lot of my acceptance of others based on their behaviors. I accept them “up to a point,” but not really. And yet, Christ accepted me right where I was 30 years ago: alcoholic, drug-dependent, crass, slovenly, and immoral. Jesus did not wait until I got my act together or became approachable. I was book smart but Bible naive. I didn’t know I needed a savior. I didn’t believe I needed anyone.

The stories of Jesus show his ability to accept others over and over again. It’s one of the reasons the Pharisees and “teachers of the law” chastised him: eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus allowed himself to touch, listen, and understand others who were immersed in sin but was confident in the Spirit of the Father within to keep him centered and whole. Jesus knew Himself.

Historically, I have been a bit of a chameleon and unconscious mimic. When I lived in the South for a few years, I developed a pretty strong southern accent, just by sheer exposure. When my kids bring home slang from school, I find myself incorporating it into my daily language without effort. I am too much like a sponge.

One of my favorite illustrations of this phenomenon was years ago when I had my first real “day job” in an advertising agency accounting pool back in Chicago. Thirty women sat in rows of desks with calculators and piles of paper. Initially, I was the oddball, the hippie in my colorful clothes and wire-rimmed glasses who mocked those girls for talking every day about their dinners the night before and what they watched on television. A year later, I had become one with them. I was talking recipes, husbands, television soaps, and vacations. I had acclimated and conformed to the daily norm. It was a type of acceptance, but not the one that Jesus proposes.

It’s not about fitting in. It’s about being strong in heart.

Accepting others comes from within. Accepting others, based on truth, requires an honest assessment of oneself first, then others. Accepting others is a kindness, a type of love. Accepting others is inclusive. Accepting others gives permission for that person to simply “be.” Accepting others allows for differences.

Today, I know, I will be challenged to accept others. Keep me centered in order to be fully present in the reality of others. Keep my heart open and yet fully infused with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.

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