Last year I preached a series at my church called “Kingdom Come.” Throughout the series, we took an in-depth look at what the Kingdom of God looks. Prior to Jesus announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, there came a strange man with wild hair and a very peculiar diet from a desert community who also announced that the time of the Kingdom was about to be fulfilled. His name was John the Baptist.
In one of the passages about John, he comes into contact with a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who had gone out to the wilderness to see if the claims about John were true. His interaction with them is quite alarming as well as entertaining. In Matthew 3:7-10, it says: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’”
For John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God was an announcement that the Messianic Age had come with both salvation and judgement. There was salvation offered to those who would turn from their ways and allow the Kingdom rule and reign of God to govern their lives. For those who would rely on their man-made, religious systems and ideologies (Pharisees & Sadducees), there would be judgement.
Growing up, I always associated the Pharisaical spirit as being connected to legalism. Whenever someone was being judgmental and legalistic, I have to confess that I was quick to pull the “Brood of Vipers” card and call that person out for being what I believed to be Pharisaical. However, as I began to thoroughly study the Gospels, I realized that the Pharisaical spirit isn’t so much connected with legalism, but has much more to do with self-righteousness and antagonism toward anything that looks or sounds different than its own view or perspective. Legalism just happens to be one of its manifestations.
With this understanding in mind, I’ve come to realize how often I too have been Pharisaical. I think all of us can identify with a self-righteous attitude, and we often allow ourselves to become antagonistic toward differing views and perspectives. This tendency is most evident in our current society that does most of its interactions via social media where everyone feels they have a platform to express just how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. Unfortunately, it’s often Christians who scream the loudest through their rapid finger-typing rebukes, setting the world and the Church straight… for the glory of God, of course.
I’ve surprisingly found Pharisees in just about every theological corner, ready to defend their so-called ‘right interpretation’ of things, and antagonize and harass all those who may see or interpret through a different lens. I’ve met people who are emphatic about the grace message and liberation, and yet have a Pharisaical spirit. I’ve met Pharisees who adhere to pacifism and the Kingdom message. During last year’s election season the Pharisaical spirit was rampant in both those that adhere to conservative policies and those who adhere to liberal policies.
My hope is that we as Christians can soon realize that unity does not mean uniformity nor conformity… and we will learn that we can love, appreciate, and journey in life with people who think, interpret, vote, and perceive things differently than us. We don’t have to cower on our positions, but we also don’t have to be self-righteous and antagonistic toward those who differ from us.
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this issue in Romans. Many so-called Christ followers were getting bent out of shape about what people were eating and drinking. His words in Romans 14:17-19 would do us well in the 21st Century – “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.”
I believe the greatest thing we can do for the sake of our witness in the world is not to venomously contend for what we stand for and what we stand against, but rather to be defined as a people who walk humbly and seek peace in all situations. Stand strong in your convictions, but realize that standing strong in your convictions doesn’t mean attacking those with different convictions.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Written by: Tim Woodcock
I remember the first time I was hurt by someone I trusted and respected. They had been a source of life and love for me in my spiritual walk and they had presented themselves as someone to count on. I’d reached out to confide in them and ask for advice as I had been feeling dull and lost. The needle of my compass wasn’t staying fixed on a direction and I was slowly sailing through the fog. To add to the burden of confusion, I had been beating myself up because I couldn’t figure a way out of the fog. It was certainly a hard place to be.
The response he gave was sharp and lacking poise. I walked away carrying a second helping of condemnation in my spirit. “How could you let yourself get here, Casey? Why are you feeling this way? What did you do? Who are you? Why are you here? Just give up and disappear.” Those thoughts surged like waves against the rock face of my heart and the internal confusion compounded.
It would be neat to say that in that moment Jesus showed up in a magnificent and profound way, but He didn’t. It would make for an awe-inspiring story to say that an angel appeared before me with an invigorating encouragement, but that didn’t happen either. I stood there staring into the abyss of nothingness. I was confused, lost, and disappointed in myself for allowing myself to even get into that place. Jesus eventually did show up though. Or, I should say, He eventually appeared to show up.
Years later Holy Spirit reminded me of that event. I winced. I attempted to withdraw from the memory but He was persistent. It was painful at first but when he removed the blood stained gauze that had become glued to the wound I saw something I didn’t notice before. What I saw surprised me.
Jesus was there all along.
When Holy Spirit brought me back to that event, I saw Jesus sitting there in that moment, turned towards me, with His loving and tender gaze fixed solely on me. His eyes, oh my goodness His eyes. I could climb Everest in one go with a single glimpse of those eyes. I could endure a life of nothing but pain, hardship, and suffering if I had but one look from His eyes. I could joyfully embrace a martyr’s reward with just one eye-locked moment with Him.
There was nothing but pure love, concern, and empathy in His eyes.
I noticed something else in that experience. I noticed I hadn’t once looked toward Him. I was sitting on the couch mentally pacing around my hurt and confusion wondering what on earth was going on, and I never once looked at Him sitting there next to me. As you can imagine, that experience resulted in tears streaming down my face. Good tears. Healing tears. He was so patient with me in that moment, and in all the moments since. He didn’t rush me through it. He sat there with me. He didn’t tell me to brush it off and put your big-boy pants on. He experienced the pain with me. He didn’t tell me to hurry it up. He endured it with me. Jesus has never responded to me in the way the other man did. His love is so steady. His love is unending.
Dear reader, Jesus suffers with you. He endures with you. He walks through the pain with you. He’s there, ever-present and ever-ready, to offer His healing and empowering embrace with His gaze fixed on you.
How do you move past pain?
How do you press on from hurt?
How do you navigate out of the fog?
You look into His eyes.
Written by: Casey Bolton Crocker
Maybe I’m the only one who has thought this way, but I sometimes wondered why we pray. Why I needed to tell an all-knowing God, what he already knows? Especially, when combined with the idea that God is in control and that He is all-powerful. So why do I have to tell Him what He already knows, is already in control of and has the power to do something about? Why do I have to plead with Him to be merciful? Is He not by His very nature merciful?
So then I asked myself, what does the Bible tell us about prayer? First, it says that we should do it. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing.” But we’re also told there is no need for us to continually babble on like pagans who think they’ll be heard by virtue of their many words (Matthew 6:7). Second, it tells us to check our motives when we pray (James 4:3) and not to do it just to be seen by others and look spiritual (Matthew 6:5). Third, we are told to have confidence when we pray, because God will give us what we ask, when we ask according to his will (1 John 5:14). Fourth, we are told to pray for provision (Luke 11:2), healing (James 5:15), wisdom (James 1:5) and even for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And lastly, whenever we pray we are to do it with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). But have you ever wondered why we are instructed to pray?
So, what is prayer exactly? Is it talking to God like we were told when we were children? Yes, in some ways. God is relational and prayer is part of how we interact in relationship with Him, but prayer must be more than about informing Him about situations that He obviously already knows about. Will God not move until we ask Him to? He tells us that He is a good Father who gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). Also, we are told that we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2). So, we can see that there is an expectation that we ask for what we need in prayer. But we are also told that God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). And, Ephesians 3:20 says that He is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, so there must be an element beyond just our asking. Sometimes we don’t even know what to ask for, but we are assured that He even understands our groaning (Romans 8:26).
Is prayer a collaboration or a partnership with God? Is prayer a way of inviting God into situations? I would agree with that idea. But we have to conclude then, that even if God has the ability to control our world that He chooses not to and waits for an invitation to move.
But is prayer only a conversation, a relationship, or a partnership?
I believe prayer has to be so much more than that. For example, in Ephesians 6:12 we’re told, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” How do we engage in this struggle? Through prayer.
There has to be a spiritual principle in prayer that entails more than pleading with God to act on behalf of a situation. I believe that principle can be found in the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” God appointed man to “rule over” the earth. Some translations say “to have dominion over” the earth. God’s original design was that we would be in charge of our world. Now, we know that Adam and Eve messed up and sinned, but did they give up their dominion? Some would say the authority they had was in some measure given up to the deceiver, Satan, through their sin. Let’s follow that thought for a moment.
That brings me to another question. If Adam and Eve gave up some measure of their authority to Satan, does he still have it or was it taken away from him through Jesus’s death and resurrection? 2 Timothy 1:10 tells us that Jesus broke the power of sin and death. Revelation 1:18 says that He is the one who holds the keys to death and hell. It seems apparent that He took back the authority, but what did He do with it?
Daniel 7:27 tells of the coming of the Messiah and that his kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, but look who the dominion of the earth is given back to. It says, “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” Through His death and resurrection, Jesus took back the authority over this world and He gave it to us.
Matthew 16:19 says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Wow. It sure sounds like we’ve been given authority. Luke 9:1-2 says, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Proverbs 18:21 tells us that the tongue has the power of life and death. When we pray we activate that power.
Authority, dominion, ruling over the earth. Prayer is not cajoling a reluctant God to pay attention to our world. It is not merely a conversation or part of our relationship with God. Prayer is not just a partnership. No, prayer is exercising spiritual authority. Prayer is releasing life and hope. So, let us be encouraged to exercise that authority and pray.
Written by: Sharon Letson