Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pretentious Pastors and Pharisees

"Lead," "Senior," "Executive." Put these adjectives in front of Minister or Pastor and you have a pretty important person! And think just how important a title like this is when the congregation they are called to serve may - on a good Sunday - reach as many as 100 people! Those people will need to be reminded who's really in charge, and a great title like that will do the job!

A previous blog of mine summarizes my thoughts on the rush to appropriate the title of Pastor. No doubt the denominations can be pleased they've impacted the Church of Christ/Christian Churches to such an extent. Perhaps it should be the other way around, but in an effort to fit in and be palatable, the mindset of "you got to go along to get along" seems to be working well for the pastors in today's church. Now when the proper descriptive term that indicates the kind of pastor he's going to be is added, everything is then in place for unfathomable growth to occur.

Or is it? What are we really communicating with those impressive titles of "Lead," "Senior," or "Executive"? Is it really following a Biblical model, or is it yet another example of setting aside the commandment of God in order to follow the tradition of men (see Mk. 7:6-8)?

I searched the word "leader" on www.biblegateway.org. It lists approximately 150 places where the word is used. Obviously, it's a good biblical word. Yet there is a passage that I keyed in on in my thoughts today. It's found in Mt. 23:10:

"And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ" (NASB).

The verse is straight-forward, and in its context makes perfect sense. Let's examine it. The occasion for this teaching is Tuesday of Christ's final week before the crucifixion. Jesus has been challenged by the religious leaders on issues such as His authority to teach; His views on paying taxes; His understanding of the concept of resurrection; and what He considered to be the greatest commandment. In each case the Lord confounded his accusers, and taught great lessons with hard to miss applications. After that, in Mt. 22:46 we read, "And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question" (NASB).

They may have not wanted to ask Jesus anything further, but He was far from done speaking to them, and to the crowds who gathered around to listen to the debate! Matthew 23 is a stinging rebuke of the attitudes and actions of the Scribes and Pharisees. For some 3 1/2 years Jesus had refrained from a lengthy rebuke of their hypocrisy, but on this occasion - really the last possible occasion for it - He launches into a 'no holds barred' assault upon these pretentious, hypocritical leaders.

Leading up to verse 10 where Christ says, "do not be called leaders" here's what He's mentioned so far:

1. The Pharisees like to be in a position of control and power (i.e. the seat of Moses). But they do not do as they instruct others to do - vss. 2-4.

2. They enjoy being viewed and perceived as scholarly and very pious. They exuded sanctimony from their every pore! Yet what they did was only for show and accolades (vs. 5). Even their manner of dress was to set them apart from the crowds, or laity, or the ignorant, non-spiritual people (vs. 5, 6).

3. They wanted to be acknowledged and rewarded for their position of prominence! They liked their TITLES! (vss. 7-10). So Jesus tells them to lay off titles such as "Rabbi" (teacher); "Father," and "Leader."

What's the problem with titles? They are by definition descriptive, and should be helpful. Yet sometimes titles don't match up too well with function! Sometimes you can have a title without doing the job that it describes. Some of the old preachers used to say, "I have elders who won't eld, and deacons who won't deak!" They had a Biblical title, but didn't do the work that went along with it.

Years ago, in another life, I used to get mail addressed to me as "Director of Academic Computing." Now that is indeed an impressive title. No doubt much prestige, not to mention a much higher salary (!) should have been mine for having that most impressive designation. The only problem was, there was no position at that institution called "Director of Academic Computing." At that time the people I worked for had barely figured out how to use an abacus, let alone know anything about what academic computing would turn out to be! It was a great title, but there was no job, no function to it. It looked good, and would have been impressive on a business card, but meant nothing. To this day I have no idea how my name got put on a list with that title.

But to go on in the text, Jesus very pointedly notes what the mindset of these self-professed important religious leaders should have been. He says "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Mt. 23:11, 12).

Great titles will never replace servanthood! Jesus - the greatest Leader the world has ever seen - also became a servant of all. Contrast the Pharisees who wanted the titles, the respect, and the power, with Jesus who said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45 NASB). Jesus cared more for the ministry than the monikers! Think of the titles He earned and deserves, yet remember the Suffering Servant who washed the feet, touched the leper, and ministered to the distressed and downcast. Greatness in the eyes of God is not measured by grandiose titles, rather by serving others.

James and John once sought for prominence and greatness from Jesus (Mk. 10:35-37). Jesus, however, taught them, the other disciples, and us that "whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all" (Mk. 10:43, 44 NASB).

Titles are here to stay. Yet servants of God should be less concerned about grand titles for their business cards and Church Bulletins than they are for the needs of the people they are called to serve. The titles may impress fellow pastors, and perhaps some of the congregation where they do their "Senior Executive Leading." But in the final analysis, impressive titles don't really do much to gain the notice of God. Well, at least not in a good way!

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!

Monday, May 2, 2011

When God's Ultimate Justice is Meted Out, How Will We Respond?

The posts & status updates I'm seeing on Facebook today raise a good discussion. Should Christians rejoice at the death of UBL? Is there reason to praise God that a wicked man is no more, or should we instead pity a poor lost soul (one responsible for the deaths of thousands of people)? I'm not sure I want to join the chorus of the 'hand-wringers' just yet.

Things I've been contemplating today. They may not, in every way, apply to UBL, but I'm seeing some principles to consider as I think through these momentous events.

Pharaoh could have obeyed God's command, but opted not to. And God hardened his heart. Pharaoh met his doom.

Judas acted wickedly and betrayed the Lord. Jesus said, "It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Think about what that means in terms of Judas' eternity.

Three times in Romans 1 the phrase, "God gave them over" is used. Why? Because they were wicked, evil, and deserving of this punishment.

Paul tells us that there will be those who "perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" (2 Thess. 2:10, 11 NASB).

Is God to be reprimanded or criticized for his actions, i.e. judgment on these poor souls who are lost? Was he not at first gracious to them, and his graciousness was rebuffed for that which was evil and false? Do we dare to object to what God deems to be right and just?

And then I looked at Revelation 19:1-3 which pictures not just the death/judgment of 1 wicked individual, but rather that which has caused suffering, bloodshed, and death upon God's people.

"After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,

'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;

Because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.'

And a second time they said, 'Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever'."

Four times in Rev. 19:1-6 a shout of Hallelujah goes up. God is praised for His justice, and for avenging the blood of His people.

A far bigger day of judgment is coming than what the "Mastermind of 9/11" experienced yesterday. His actions killed thousands of people. How many of them were ready for judgment, who might have been had they been given another day? I feel no more pity for him than I did for Saddam Hussein when he met his justice at the gallows. Their free-will actions led them to their ultimate fate.

If anything, the presence of evil in the world reminds me that I need to be ready should my life be taken, and that I need to help others be ready as well. I'll grieve for the innocent who are taken; work hard to preach and teach that others might be saved; but for those who choose wickedness and evil over what is righteous and good, I will say Hallelujah for God's justice - however He chooses to distribute it.

"How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10).

Inquiring minds want to know!


C'mon, Murphy! Let's go outside!