Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jesus wants to save us from Religion

How could being a Pharisee possibly be a bad thing? I mean, in Bible times the Pharisees were the pinnacles of spiritual goodness, weren’t they?

Our pastor taught a powerful message on Sunday and his thoughts about Pharisees have stuck with me.

The Pharisees want us to repent of our sins, but they refuse to repent of their religion. Jesus wants us to repent of our religion. He, after all, came to set us free from the chains of religious “have to’s” and give us hearts of joyful “want to’s”.

The Pharisees were once the spiritual giants everyone ascribed to be. The word “Pharisee” means “pure” or “separated”. These men had a hunger for God, a passion for God’s glory, a zealot desire to convert others, a commitment to spiritual disciplines, and were obsessed with all things holy. That sounds like a pretty good list of character traits.

The problem came when these learned and religious men decided to make rules that helped people be more God-like. They judged harshly all those who didn't play by the rules.

The law said, “keep the Sabbath”. The fourth commandment says we should not work on the Sabbath and neither should those in our employee. When the disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law. They were so consumed with the details of the law as they saw it, that they missed the principle of the Sabbath.

I love the word picture the pastor painted for us during his sermon on Sunday. He pointed to a chair. If the law had dictated we were not to sit in the chair, then the Pharisees would have demanded we not stand next to the chair for fear that we might be tempted to sit. They might go even further, and declare it unlawful to be in the same room as the chair or even talk about the chair. These Pharisee-mandated laws were meant to protect the weak people from their sinful nature, and to help the general population discern good from bad.

The Pharisees of today are no different. They go to the extreme in hopes of never giving the slightest appearance of evil deed or thought. They expect the same from us. If our life doesn’t look like they think it should look, they judge our purity.

Pharisees start out (I believe) with the best of intentions, but religiosity takes over. They hit us over the head with hard and fast rules. The Holy Spirit wants to gently guide us.

The Bible says to refrain from being drunk with wine. Today’s Pharisee would insist that we should never have a glass of wine with dinner, a cold beer with the guys, or a Cosmo with the girls. I have one friend who will not sit in the bar section of any restaurant for fear that someone will see him and get the wrong idea.

The Bible talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit and refers to a “prayer language”. The Pharisee believes that unless you speak in tongues, then the Holy Spirit doesn't live in you. You have also not received your intended gift from the spirit.

There are good and Godly people who believe with all their heart that it is a sin to use one’s talent for anything secular. Artists should stay away from Hollywood, New York, Chicago, local theatre, or nightclubs. I know a woman who played the piano for her church choir. She was called to fill in for the regular piano player in a friend’s band. The New Year’s Eve gig paid well, so she said yes. The Music Pastor found out she played with the non-Christian band, and he fired her. Pharisee!

The examples go on and on. Pharisees judge people who celebrate Halloween, go to dances, watch R-rated movies, smoke cigarettes, and swear.

If Jesus were walking among us today, he'd get off the pew and go to the darkest streets of Amsterdam, New Orleans, and Oakland. He wouldn't care who saw him or what they thought.

Jesus wants us to repent of our religion.

Now get off the pew!

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