Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Traditions of Men

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, "Honor your father and your mother," and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." But you say, "If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father." So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ""This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."" (Matthew 15:1-9 ESV)

Jesus has no problem telling it like it is. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

What's a Tradition?

Traditions in this context is describing a set of beliefs and values that are passed down from generation to generation. Each generation has an obligation and privilege of passing on to the next what they esteem to be most important, most valuable. The passing down of traditions is a means of preserving values and beliefs with respect to many things, including culture, family, and faith.  They are like containers, that encapsulate what we think is most important for the next generation to believe and to do. 

So traditions in and of themselves are neither good or bad because they are just containers. It's the things we put inside the container, the things that a given tradition is comprised of that, when measured against an objective moral standard, are determined to be good or bad. 

It's What's On The Inside That Counts

In this interaction, Jesus is making it clear that the objective moral standard for determining if a tradition is good or not is the commandments of God- the Bible.  And this is the very basis for which he uses to judge the teachings of the religious teachers of his day. 

The scribes and pharasies were teaching a tradition with respect to children giving honor to their parents. It is a good thing to give a tradition that instructs how children should think of and interact with their parents. But if that tradition violates the teaching of the objective moral standard, then that teaching is determined to be a bad tradition. 

So seems simple enough right? Bad traditions are bad, and since no one wants to pass on something that is bad to others who we esteem, then why anyone ever pass on a bad tradition? It is for the same reason that Jesus came and gave his life: our sin. 

The Problem

As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners. We like to do what We like to do. We rely heavily on emotion, on what "feels" right to us, and because we are absolutely convinced that we know best, we close our minds to all other supposed authorities and do what we want to do, because we want to do it, because it makes sense to Us. 

It is because we are sinners that we look at the bible and say, "hey God thanks for the advice, but I don't really like what you have to say about "x". I think your teachings are a little dated; your ideas may have been good back then, but not in the 21st century. We really know better now, and are going to make sure that the next generation knows better like us too."

The Rebuke

And the rebuke of Jesus is to the heart of the issue: since your tradition is so good, and God's is so unuseful/irrelevant/whatever, then why do you continue to bother with all the worship and praise for God and his word? Jesus is rebuking them for two things: their blatant hypocrisy, and their blindness of heart, their ignorance, as they are the teachers of the Law and are unable to discern that they are teaching traditions that nullify the word of God. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

So what?

A couple of key takeaway applications:
  1. The scribes and pharasies were not perfect. They were sinners just like you and me. They needed a savior just like everyone else. So be careful to not judge them for their sin without also judging yourself for doing the same things. 
  2. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and illuminating His Word when we read it, we too are capable of inventing all sorts of ill advised traditions that would contradict the word of God. We need The Lord to illuminate his word in our lives daily, moment by moment, or we too will be like blind guides. 
  3. Pray. Pray that God would reveal our sin in this area so that we would confess it and repent from it. When God reveals the hypocrisy in our lives, adn the things that we have believed in ignorance, then acknowledge it, confess it as sin, and stop doing it. Otherwise we too will continue in the sin of the scribes and pharasies by passing on the commandments of men as doctrine, above the Word of God. 
What other points or takeaways do you have from this passage?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Still in need of a savior

Time has a way of making the heart forgetful.

If you are a true believer in Christ, don't ever let this reality escape you: Apart from Jesus, you are dead in your sins. No amount of bible reading plans, quiet times, church attendance, reading Christian books, listening to Christian radio, keeping a list of "do's and don'ts" or any other religious activity will get you any further into God's grace than you already are. Your salvation, your standing with God has everything to do with what Jesus... the one and only God, Holy and blameless... did for you... a hopelessly lost sinner that is totally unable to gain salvation apart from Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

We are all sinners and are in need of a savior. Before you believed, you were a sinner in need of a savior. And this never changes, even after you first believe- no matter what good works you do, no matter what sins you continue to wrestle with and succumb to. Your salvation has everything to do with what Jesus has done, and nothing to do with what you have or will ever do.

"The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary."
William Temple

For all believers, I pray that you would not let your heart forget what our Lord has done for us. Do not forget- apart from Christ, we are lost, dead in our sins. Jesus is our savior, now and forever. We never out grow our need for him, we never out earn our need for salvation. Though you may sin less, you are not sinless.. you and I are still sinners, still in need of a savior... Do not let your heart forget what our Lord has done for us. Live from His salvation everyday, moment by moment. The war is over, the victory over sin and death is Christ Jesus's. His rest is ours.

For all who not sure about all of this Jesus stuff, or maybe who flatout reject Christ, I pray that your heart would hear the call of hope, of life... I pray that you would understand that you and I are sinners and are totally unable to earn God's approval, his favor, his forgiveness. It's only found in Jesus, who freely gives to those who believe, who would receive the free gift that He offers all who would come to him. Do not let your heart continue to believe the lie that it's too late. You're not too bad to be saved, you're not too far for His reach. There's still time on the clock, there's still breath in your lungs. If you are ready to receive this free gift, or have questions about it, please email me- I'd love to see how I can be of help!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Doubting Faith

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2, 3 ESV)

Life is full of unmet expectations, of disappointments, of hurts, and pains. And when life wounds us, we inevitably ask the question (or at least acknowledge that it is there): "God, are you still there?"

John the Baptist had been put into prison for doing the work that God had called him to do. We don't know for sure, but scripture gives clues that perhaps, like many others, John expected that the Messiah would overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel to its former glory. And so Jesus enters, and one by one begins to fulfill the prophecies of old about the coming messiah. Finally! It's finally happening!

But... John is in prison. Jesus is active in his ministry, but doesn't seem to be doing anything about the Romans, or establishing his kingdom. "Maybe he's not the One... Maybe there's another coming... "I'm not sure I can wait for another... Jesus, are you the promised Messiah?"

What do we do with unmet execrations of God? With the best intentions, we all form different ideas about what we think God should do, how He'll do it, and when. But what happens when He doesn't follow the script we've made for Him?

We first have to check our work. Did God really say (fill in the blank)? How did I come to that conclusion? What source am I relying on for that information, and is that source time-tested and proven to be reliable? There may be many other questions to consider, but the point is don't simply dismiss the possibility that you're wrong. Check your work, and let other trustworthy and objective people check it too.

Jesus replied to John's disciples:
And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)

Jesus was reminding John of all the things that he was doing, thus proving to John that he was in fact the Messiah. He was communicating to John: "I'm the man, John. I'm about my Father's business, not yours or anyone else's. Everything promised will come, when it is supposed to. I know you're beginning to doubt, but you gotta trust me bro."

No one has perfect faith. No one trusts God perfectly. And without His Spirit, none of us can trust Him at all. When (not if, but when) doubt comes, remember that God is in control, that He loves us, an that He is able to do what He has promised.

The following is from a song that I think really captures the heart of doubting faith. I hope it stirs your heart to return to The Lord and restore your hope in Him. He is able. He is faithful. He is our strength, always.

I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
but I can’t seem to find my faith again

like water on the sand
or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short

please be my strength
please be my strength
Cuz I don’t have anymore
I don’t have anymore

I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping (captured) me

Please be my strength…

at my final breath
I hope that I can say
I’ve fought the good fight of faith

I pray your glory shines
through this doubting heart of mine
so my world would know that You

You are my strength
You and You alone
You and You alone
Keep bringing me back home

Please be my strength- Gungor, Beautiful Things