When Pastors Become Pharisees

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1

James said teachers will be judged more strictly than others. Why? I think it’s because of the power they have. Teachers have authority because of their words, and words have power.

Have you ever been with a pastor who got on a power trip?

It’s a good thing to hear a pastor say, “Hey, through what I’ve seen and read, and through my prayers, I feel like the Spirit has given me peace by helping me see things this way. You could pray about this too.” It’s a good thing to hear a pastor say, “Pray about my message,” or, “Think about these things and see what’s good to you, in the Spirit.”

But you don’t always hear that. Sometimes pastors just insist, “I’m a pastor so you have to listen to me.” That sounds like a power thing.

This was the attitude of the Pharisees, too. We have a lot of stories about Jesus and the Pharisees. We know that Jesus ate with the Pharisees. We also know that He read their minds. Then He blasted them for the thoughts He found in there!

In our congregations today, we read the Gospels and talk about the Pharisees. We talk about how bad they made people feel. They really did, with their holier-than-thou approach, especially to outcasts and sinners. Then along came Jesus. “No, no,” He told them. “It’s not your place to judge.”

But shouldn’t we also take a look at how we make people feel? What if we are doing the same things as the Pharisees? If we are, then we need to take a time out, in order to reflect on that. If we treat people the way the Pharisees treated people, we need to rethink what we’re doing.

If you’re called to be a pastor, I believe this means that you are given wisdom, and that you are called to share it. And I genuinely believe that most pastors are very sincere about their calling. But I worry when I hear a pastor say, “I was praying the other day, and God told me to talk to you about this.” When he says that, he is basically telling people, “This is what God said.” Now he can say whatever he wants.

And most people in his congregation will say, “Amen! I guess I’ve got to do it then.”

That’s why teachers will be judged more strictly.

You’d think if anyone could tell people, “This is what God says you should do,” it would be the apostles. But they didn’t! Think about what happened in Acts, when the church was having a big fight over the question of circumcision. They gathered in council, and when they communicated their decision, they said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that what matters is a circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh.”

The meaning here is very important. The apostles did not say, “Look, God came down and said to us, ‘This is what you need to do.’” They didn’t say, “We’re the apostles, so we know what God said about this.”

That’s not what they did at all. They simply said, “It seems like the Spirit was okay with our thought process on this.” For me, that’s a pure message. That’s the wisdom pastors are given, and then called to share.

We should all pay more attention to the words in red. You know, Jesus. We should focus on His words, because those are the actual words of God. Not the inspired words of God, but the actual words of the Almighty God. Jesus carried those words. He spoke them into the world. They are the most powerful words in the history of words, period. God’s words. You can read them over and over again, and feel good every time. I mean, the actual words of God!

Are we doing that as believers? Or are we saying, “My pastor says…?”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Embarrassed by Christians?

I do some work with Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco-based youth ministry. One year, when I was still pitching, I took seven or eight of the kids to a Giants game. One of them had a tattoo on her arm, and when she saw mine, she said, “Hey, what does that tattoo on your arm say?” I said, “It’s Latin. It says Solus Christus.” She asked me, “What does that mean?” And I said, “In Christ alone.”

“Oh,” she said. She sounded disappointed. But then she looked at me, and she asked, “Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic?” And I said, “I’m neither.”

“Really?” she said. And I told her, “Well, if I have to side with one, it’s going to be Christianity. But I don’t know if there is a side.” I thought about what to say. Then I told her, “I’ll tell you this. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what I do. But honestly? I disagree with some of the things that Christian people say they believe. Especially with the way they handle people at times. And I don’t necessarily agree with the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with some of their theological views, and I don’t agree with how they handle people at times either.”

She was still listening, so I said, “I’m not really either, I guess. I’m more Christian, if I had to choose, but this is such a long definition!” That made her laugh. So I finished, “All I can really say is that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I love Him! So I just try to follow in His footsteps and I try to do what He tells me to do. And I mess up a lot. But I’m not going to come across as holier-than-thou. You know?”

Actually, she was very accepting of that, which was pretty interesting. I’ve been told that some of the kids in Larkin Street have been kicked out of their homes. They came out about their sexuality, and their parents kicked them out. So when I told her I was a follower of Jesus, I thought she would have a lot of reservations about me. But she accepted me.

I didn’t assume she was gay. But I know that some of the kids who came to the game that day could have been gay. And they might have written me off, or maybe distrusted me, for being Christian. And I wanted to make sure they knew how I really felt. I wanted them to know how much I love them. I love those kids no matter what. I love that they dream. I love their dreams so much, because these kids are very motivated to become somebody. They are motivated even though they were kicked out of their homes by their families. They didn’t have anywhere to go. They wound up on the streets. They might have survived being trafficked. No matter what, I don’t need the details to know that really bad things have happened to them. And yet they don’t shut down. They dream big things for themselves.

With these kids, I don’t want to say, “I’m a Christian.” If I do, their first thought could be that I am judging them, and that’s not what I’m about at all. All I want to do is express the love of Jesus.

It’s getting harder all the time to say, “I’m a Christian.” I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. Never! But sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it. I’m embarrassed because Christianity comes across these days as a judging faith. And that’s not what following Jesus is about. Not at all.

The way people view Christianity today is not like the way that outcasts and sinners viewed Jesus. They loved Jesus! They loved Him because they knew He loved them!

As much as it is possible, I want to be viewed like Jesus was viewed, as someone who loves people.

Do you think the Christian churches are doing enough to distinguish themselves from the Pharisees? More on this next time. See you Friday.

Words of Power

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1

Jesus ate with the Pharisees, read their minds, and blew them up for their thoughts. Nowadays we talk about the Pharisees and what they did, and how bad they made people feel. But shouldn’t we also look at how we make people feel? Are we doing the same thing as the Pharisees? And when we do, why do we do it? Do we need it to feel better about ourselves?

“I’m a pastor so you have to listen to me.” Have you ever heard a pastor speak some version of that? And when they do that, why do they do it? Is it a power thing?

If you’re called to be a pastor, I believe that means you are given wisdom, and that you are called to share it. And I genuinely believe that most pastors are very sincere about their calling. But I worry when I hear a pastor say, “I was praying the other day, and God told me to talk to you about this.” When he says that, he is basically telling people, “This is what God said.” Now he can say whatever he wants, and most people in his congregation will say, “Amen! I guess I’ve got to do it then.” That isn’t always the case.

The apostles didn’t even do that. You’d think if anyone could tell people, “This is what God says you should do,” it would be the apostles! But they didn’t do that. Think about what happened in Acts, when the church was having a big fight over the question of circumcision. They gathered in council, and when they communicated their decision, they said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that what matters is a circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh.” The meaning here is important. They didn’t say, “Look, God came down and said to us, ‘This is what you need to do.’ No doubt about it.” They just said, “It seems like the Spirit was okay with our thought process on this.” That’s a pure message. That’s the wisdom pastors are given and called to share.

It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Hey, through what I’m seeing, and what I’ve read, and how I’ve been praying, I feel like the Spirit has given me peace by thinking this way. You need to pray about this too.” It’s a good thing to see a pastor say, “Pray about my message.” Or, “Hey, think about these things and see if it’s good to you with the Spirit.” But you don’t always hear that.

James said teachers will be judged more strictly. I think it’s because of the power they have. Words have power. We should pay more attention to the words in red. You know, Jesus. We should focus on His words, because those are the actual words of God. Not the inspired words of God, but the actual words of the Almighty God. Jesus carried these words. He spoke them into play. They are the most powerful words in the history of words, period. His words. You can read them over and over again, and feel good every time. Because you’re like, “Man! The actual words of God!”

Just the other day, I read Mark 9. It was so good! I read it via the Message Bible, because sometimes I’m struck fresh by the words. The last part of the chapter said that we’re going to be “preservatives” in this world. We are to preserve peace. And that meant so much to me. I’d never read it like that that before. “Preserve peace.”

Are we doing that as believers?

See you Thursday.

Stuck in Judgment? Freedom in Jesus!

Too often we criticize and judge each other, instead of just loving on one another. One reason is that a lot of us are stuck. I don’t mean everybody! But a lot of us are.

Some of us are stuck in the idea that faith is a fire insurance policy. “Oh I’m saved,” we might think, “so I’m not going to go to hell now.” That’s such a huge relief that we forget to live a new life in our true identity in Christ.

Some of us are stuck trying to justify our sinful nature. We do it by looking at other people and seeing all their sin. We look at them and say, “At least I’m not as bad as them. Look at all their sin!”

Some of us are stuck in the fear that we have to live perfectly. The Bible says that when you find Jesus, you’ll find freedom. It says the truth shall set you free. Freedom in Jesus! But I see people get stuck in legalism. “Now I have to be right and not wrong. I can’t have a bad thought. I can’t say anything bad. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” They focus so much on sin itself — and not doing it — that they end up sinning more. And as a result, they end up judging more. They end up criticizing more. They start trying to get everybody else to believe what they believe, by guilting and shaming them into it.

Do you remember when you met Jesus? You were in a really bad place. And I doubt that anybody shamed you into believing in Him. I think somebody loved you, and as you felt His love, creative and unconditional, you said, “I love God and God loves me!” But we forget. In our controlling nature, we start judging people. We start telling them how bad they are. Then we say, “You need Jesus because you’re really bad.”

You know what? They already know they’re bad. There’s something inside every one of us that says we’re not inherently good. Reminding people of that does not help them. You want to help them? You want to save them? You want them to know Jesus? Love on them. Don’t focus on their sins.

Sinners loved Jesus because He knew how to hang with them and love on them, and not condemn or judge them. He looked at people and said, “If you could only know who I intended for you to be, and not who you are right now! Then you would understand your true identity. If you could only see Me for who I am! Put your identity in Me, not in your sin, or in how bad or good you think you are, or in the judgments other people put on you. Know that you are holy and righteous! You will find joy and fulfillment in Me.”

In our flesh and bones, we sin. But that’s not who we are. If we can live in the understanding of who we are, we won’t sin as much. Plus, we won’t react as much. We won’t look all the time at how sinful other people are. We won’t get stuck in judgment.

Instead we will realize that by the blood of Jesus, we are saved. We are holy and righteous! When we look at others, in our love we will yearn for them to be saved. We won’t look at them in judgment and condemnation. We will yearn for them to see and understand that when you accept Christ, you thrive! You are happy in your new life!

I yearn for that for everyone! See you Thursday.

Understanding Victory

Suppose I knew ahead of time that the Giants were going to win the World Series this year. Suppose God came to me in a dream and said, “Jeremy, here’s what’s going to happen. The Giants will win the Wild Card game. You’ll go on to win the Division Series against the Nationals in four games, and then you’ll win the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals in five games. Then you’ll play the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, and it will take seven games, but the Giants will win. And Jeremy, you will be the winning pitcher in Game 7!”

I wish! If God had done that, I would have walked out on that mound without a care in the world. I wouldn’t have feared any of the teams we faced. I wouldn’t have feared any of the batters I faced. I wouldn’t have feared any situation. I wouldn’t have been nervous. I would not have doubted. I wouldn’t have felt the slightest need to take control. I would have already known the outcome! And I would have just let it happen.

Obviously, it wasn’t like that at all. But in life, it kind of is!

Think about it. Jesus died for us, and in shedding His blood for us, saved us. Then He resurrected, giving us the promise of eternal life. So Jesus says, “I’ve already won. It’s finished. You are a part of me now. You are a part of my kingdom, and a part of my family. We are nothing but love and grace. That’s who we are!”

Even with victory declared, the story still has to play out. There are people out there that don’t yet understand. As soon as they accept Jesus and become adopted into His family, they will share in the victory.

But we share in the victory now. Because Jesus has won, we have won. We can play the game of life, joyful and worry-free, knowing that we have already won.

I still get weak at times. Sometimes I get fearful, or nervous, or doubtful. I still try to control other people. I get weak sometimes because I am still a man of flesh. But the more I understand that Jesus has won, the calmer I become. I don’t have to get angry at someone if they don’t agree with me when I talk about Jesus. I don’t have to try to control people who are angry or upset. That is not my play. My play is love. A lot of people have been wounded by the church, and when they express their anger and hurt to me, my play is to love on them. I share the truth. I tell them that Jesus loves them. But I’m not worried about how they might react to that truth. They can get mad, that’s okay. I can just love. Love has already won.

Better Than a Pharisee

I posted recently about pastors and sin, because I think churches need to recognize that men are made of flesh and so they sin. It’s also true that women sin. Women are just as capable of having affairs, or getting divorced. They are made of flesh too.

People in the congregations act surprised or even scandalized when a woman cheats or gets divorced. “Oh my gosh! She got a divorce?”  Well, how is that a surprise?  53% of Christians get divorced. It happens! Women can make mistakes too. They forget to protect their marriages.

It’s not for us to judge them. It’s not our place to be shocked or to condemn them. Let’s just love on them. Why don’t we help them through it? When we do that, it’s grace, and grace is what we should be about. But people seem to think that she has to be held accountable. Held accountable for what?

When you condemn a woman who hasn’t succeeded in protecting her marriage, you’ve judged her. I’m waiting for Jesus to come and write in the sand, because you’re acting like a Pharisee.  Jesus will say, “I’m going to write in the sand. I’ll write everything that you do wrong, and then you can tell me why you think you’re better than her.” What would you do then? Don’t you think you’d just walk off?

JesusWritingInTheSand

Obviously I’m passionate about this.  It does make me angry.  But I’ve done it! I’ve sat there before, and read scripture, and then didn’t apply it. We all do it. We pick out a few verses and we live by them, discarding a lot of the rest of scripture along the way. But all that stuff about the Pharisees is in the Bible because most of us are them!  I know we don’t want to think that way. I don’t want to think that way! But we’re all vulnerable to legalistic thinking.

The answer is grace.  When we understand the identity of who Jesus is, holy and righteous, living in grace and love, we move away from pharisaical temptation. The temptation ends because grace gets us away from legalism.  Most of the Christians that are pharisaical are legalistic, law-abiding, Christian citizens.  But they are not grace-filled, free Christians. That’s why so many people don’t like them.

The free Christians, filled with grace, are the people that sinners want to be around. Sinners want to be around the Christians that share in the identity of Jesus. Think about it. Who hung around Jesus? Sinners!  Why?  Because He treated them like human beings!

Christians are popular when they are easy to be around.  People tell me, “Maybe we don’t agree.  But I don’t feel like you’re always condemning me.” When that happens, I say, “That’s Jesus.”

And then I tell them, “Hopefully, one day you’ll see that this love I have for you is the same love that Jesus has for you, and you’ll want to be a part of that. It is so liberating! You don’t have to lie in bed at night wondering who you are. You won’t be scared because you don’t know who you are, or afraid that you’re not going to add up. Instead you’ll find out how much Jesus loves you.”

He loves you so much that He’s given you freedom. In His eyes, you already add up. Your imperfections are why he died and He loves you. So you’re free to love like He does.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Taking the Wrong and Putting it Right

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the different ways that the hot water of the Spirit can transform our relationships. When you replace judgment with encouragement, your relationships will transform. And you will transform with them. You will learn to better reflect Christ in all that you do.

For example, I reflected last time on parenting in ways that keep your children feeling safe in their relationship with you. If you can discipline without judgment, your children will continue to come to you and talk to you. This is your opportunity to better reflect Jesus with them. Continue reading