Who’s A Pharisee?


James Tissot's John and the Pharisees

James Tissot’s John and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m amazed about how often I hear this word misapplied. This is an especially favorite taunt for people who make extra-biblical or heretical statements  directed against people who have asked for a biblical explanation for what they claim.  Since they’re making claims and statements that don’t line up with what the bible say’s, they can’t tolerate someone exposing them as false prophets. Unable to actually present sound arguments, biblical or otherwise, they resort to ad-hominem attacks against the character of the person they disagree with.

In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus had nothing good to say about Pharisees, often referring to them as vipers, serpents, & hypocrites (see Matt 23:31-33) . It is for this reason that it is used as a taunt, what Christian wants to be identified with these people?

People who teach unbiblical beliefs want to shut sown any hint of criticism.  Since their teachings can’t survive even a brief examination they  become immediately become offensive, often accusing people who question their statements of being a Pharisee. This is a blatant attempt to manipulate and intimidate questioners into silence since there is simply no biblical justification for what they say or do. They try to make it seem that a person using the bible as a basis for judging whether something is of God or not is being ‘legalistic’ and is thus a ‘Pharisee’. They want their hearers to believe that they are only accountable to God and have no need to give an accounting to ‘lesser’ (in their view) people.

That in itself proves their total lack of biblical understanding. This is demonstrated in two ways: 1) Totally corrupting and misstating the definition of a Pharisee to suit themselves. 2) Totally disregarding the commands in scripture for the hearers to verify their claims against scripture.

1) The Pharisees were one of the main Jewish sects during Christ’s earthly ministry. They were noted for their zeal for the Torah – the Law of Moses. The Apostle Paul was himself a Pharisee (see Philippians 3:1-6) before his conversion . They were also known for maintaining an oral tradition – which eventually became written – called the Talmud – A.K.A. The Teachings of Man –  which they regarded as equal in authority to  and sometimes exceeding the Torah’s – A.K.A.: God’s Inspired Infallible Word. 

Look at Matthew 15:1-3 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?” Jesus didn’t criticize the Pharisees because they obeyed and followed scripture, but because they didn’t. Pharisees disregard the word of God to promote their own ideas and teachings instead of God’s.

 2)  False prophets however don’t want people comparing what they say to what God says.  But what does the scripture say? When Paul & Silas proclaimed the Gospel in Berea, Acts 17:11 says:  “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Bereans were praised for seeking and finding scriptural verification of what was being proclaimed.  1 John 4:1 Tells us to ‘test the spirits’.  1 Thessalonians 5:20 & 21 tells us not to disregard but to test prophecies and hold on to the good. The only way to do that is to verify what is being taught with what God Himself has already said in the bible because God can’t lie or contradict Himself  (see Numbers 23:19).

You wont go wrong in your Christian walk believing that the Bible has all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. A person who thinks that their personal dreams, words, and revelations surpass or override biblical revelation is being foolish and will lead you to hell with them.  Don’t be manipulated and controlled by someone claiming spiritual authority who has become offended with you because you asked them “Where does it say that in the bible?” .

I’ll finish by asking you to consider one thing: If a Pharisee is actually someone who disregards the bible to promote their own teachings; who then is actually the Pharisee, the person who asked for biblical proof, or the guy offended because you did?

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PROOF TEXTING


Pretzel

Twisting is totally OK for pretzels. Twisting God’s word is totally unacceptable.

I want to introduce what may be  new phrase to you:  ‘proof texting’. Though the phrase may be new to you, the concept isn’t a new one, it’s been around forever. ‘Proof texting’ is when a preacher wants to prove his point using the bible. So he searches scripture and finds one that he feels can be used regardless of the context or topic, the Holy Spirit originally intended. I always called this ‘scripture twisting’.

The danger in ‘proof texting’ of course is that rather than presenting the Word in the way God intended, the preacher presents his own ideas instead of God’s truth.  Rather than ‘rightly dividing the word’, he makes the scripture say what he wants it to.

The Bible is God’s Word and you need to approach the study of it seriously and prayerfully. You need to ask for and rely on the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance. When you study the Bible you should consider several things:

  1. When was the passage written?
  2. Who was it written to?
  3. Where was it written?
  4. How has it been historically understood?
  5. Why was it written?

When was the passage written? This is important because you need to understand the historical context to comprehend what God was speaking to his people at that time.

For example; in Jeremiah 25 the captives of Judah in Babylon are told that their captivity will last seventy years. This was written 70 years before Babylon was overthrown by the Medes & Persians and Israel returned to Judea from their captivity.

Who was it written to? Is this a specific word to a specific people at a specific time? Or is it a timeless truth that applies to all of God’s people throughout the ages?

For example: in Exodus 25, Moses gets instructions from God about building a tabernacle. Obviously we are not being instructed to do that today. This is a specific word for a specific time. In John 3:16, Jesus says (ESV): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life..” This is a timeless truth.

Where was it written? Was the author writing in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek? What concept did they intend to convey? How did their native culture & language influence what they wrote?

For example Paul in his letter to Titus quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides:  ”One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”. Here you see Paul, in the Holy Spirit, using a cultural reference Titus would understand.

How has it been historically understood? Often modern preachers and authors in seeking to discover ‘new revelation’ have seriously erred by ignoring what the word itself says as well as what the Church has historically believed and taught.

For example: Consider Job, in Job 1:1 he’s described as ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ James 5:11 referred to him as blessed and steadfast and uses his story as an example of God’s mercy. Down through the ages this story is used to encourage people who were going through tough times to persevere and keep their faith and hope fixed on God for the final victory. But to some today, Job is a fool. An ‘unbelieving’ believer who needlessly suffered calamity just because he wouldn’t watch his mouth and trust in God. Taking Job 3:25 out of context, ‘ For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’.  They ignore what God Himself had to say, and in the process blaspheme God, calling Him a liar. Ignoring that God never once blames Job for his supposed ‘negative confession’. Instead these scripture twisters join the chorus of Jobs false-friends who slandered and accused him assigning  sin and blame to Job. God rebuked them then, and will also eventually rebuke the scripture twisters of today. Their god is too small and bears no resemblance to the One True God. Seeking to establish control over their lives by manipulating what happens in their lives with their words, they replace the sovereignty of God Almighty for the pitifully inadequate sovereignty of self.

Why was it written? What divine purpose did God intend? What truth is God seeking to convey? What is the theme of the book?

For example: 3 John 1:2 has been wrongfully used to teach people that God wants them to be both healthy and wealthy. KJV: ‘Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth’.

But when you read in a modern translation like the ESV: ‘Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.’. It becomes plain that the writer in his greeting to the recipient was simply expressing his best wishes. Reading the entire letter in context it becomes clear that the letter is written as an apostolic instructions about to handle visiting believers not about the recipients health or financial situation.

In conclusion, as believers we need to hold ourselves and our preachers accountable for how we use the Word of God. Beware of anyone claiming ‘new revelation’,  or taking verses out of context. Take the time and trouble to emulate the example of the Bereans in acts 17 who listened to the teaching of Paul and then checked to make sure that what he was preaching was actually in the Word.

Steve Jobs: Epic & Legendary Failure?


Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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The whole world is talking about, if not actually mourning the tragic passing of legendary tech and business leader, innovator, entrepreneur,  Steve Jobs. His story is fascinating and many people are inspired by his life. And yet what did Steve really achieve? In the greater scheme of things was  he really successful? Where is he now?

Oh I know his financial net worth was far greater than mine will ever be. And he was far more famous than I’ll ever be. You could without exaggeration describe his life as having been ‘significant’, or ‘epic’, or even ‘legendary’. By every measure the world uses his life was tremendously successful.

The Lord Jesus talks about such a man in Luke 12: 15Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”16And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17“And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18“Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21“So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (NASB)

In the end, it doesn’t matter how rich or famous you or the world thought you were. If you make being ‘significant’, or ‘epic’, or even ‘legendary’ a priority in your life you are in danger of spending eternity in Hell. This isn’t what God wants for you. God wants you to seek Him out. God wants you to be rich toward Him.  When Steve Jobs appeared before God the question of how much money he had, or how famous he was, never came up. The only question that mattered was “Is his name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” (Revelation 12:15) .  The only way to heaven is through the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. It’s sad to say that Steve Jobs was a life long Buddhist. In God’s eyes that doesn’t make him anything but a bankrupt,  epic, legendary, failure.

Consider some of the following scriptures:

  • He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)
  • For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life? Job 27:8 (NIV)
  • We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. Psalm 39:6 (NLT)
  • Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1Timothy 6:17 (NIV)
  •  10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11“He is theSTONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERSbut WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” ACTS 4:10 – 12 (NASB)

How about you? Where is your treasure? Don’t waste your life pursuing fame, money, or power. Pursue God. You can only find Him through His Son Jesus.

The Emperor’s New Clothes


Painting of Andersen, 1836, by Christian Albre...

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We’re all familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s legendary tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s the story of the vain and self-absorbed ruler who spends all his time and treasure on looking good. Two con-men decide to take advantage of the Emperor’s vanity by convincing him that they can make him a fabulous new suit out of cloth so fine and light that anyone who was unfit for their office or uncommonly stupid would be unable to even see it. The two scoundrels spend hours locked away in a room supposedly sewing the new suit. The curious Emperor sends underlings to check on the progress. The two ‘tailors’  show the new clothes being worked on to the underlings, none of whom want to be called incompetent or uncommonly stupid. All agree that the completed suit is marvelous to look at. Finally the completed new suit is delivered to  the emperor, who puts it on and goes for a stroll so that all of his subjects can admire his glorious new suit. The Emperor’s subjects  realize that it would definitely be politically incorrect to admit being unable to see the new suit so everyone expresses their admiration of the Emperor and his new clothes. Everyone of course except for one little child who exclaimed, “The Emperor’s naked!”.  Everyone else then started shouting out “He’s naked! He’s naked!”. The Emperor finally comprehended that he had been hoodwinked, but he was so full of pride that he could not admit the truth and continued on with the procession.

Many leaders in the American church today are like this vain and foolish emperor in H.C. Andersen’s story. They rule over their congregants with an iron fist, demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience. They are overly impressed with themselves and the pursuit of their own fame, wealth, and glory. They make wild extravagant claims about themselves and their ‘anointing’. They are experts at whipping the emotions of their hearers into a frenzy. They promise miracles of every kind but very few ever actually occur. “Do you need a miracle in your life?” they scream. “Then just come up to the altar and let Jesus heal your job, your marriage, and your crappy personality!” They’ll pull bible verses out of context and teach their followers that if they repeat the verses often enough – like some pagan incantation – and believe hard enough, then God will fulfill every selfish desire they’ve ever had. Provided of course enough money is ‘sowed into the ministry’. The amazing thing is that when God doesn’t give them what they want, the people hear: “You didn’t have enough faith.” or “You didn’t confess the Word enough.”  or “You didn’t sow enough money ….  to get your ‘miracle”. Do you notice the onus for failure is always on the people, never the preacher or the falsehood of the message he preaches.   The cycle repeats leaving a trail of broken and disheartened people.

Everyone in their circle of influence goes along with what the church emperor says. No one wants to admit that there is no substance or truth to the message and face being labeled spiritually incompetent or uncommonly stupid. But in reality even a little child can see the foolishness and deception being practiced. Indeed anyone who is willing to compare what the bible says versus what the religious emperor says will – like the little child in the story – proclaim “He’s naked! He’s naked!”

In Matthew 18:2,3,4 (ESV) And calling to him (Jesus) a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

So do not be taken in by a lot of slick talking. Check what you hear with what God says in the bible. Don’t be fooled into trying to make the bible say what you want it to say. Remember the apostle Paul’s word to the Corinthians – For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT) and 1 Corinthians 2:3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 

You see, by the power of  the Holy Spirit a real man of God speaks little but accomplishes much. A false man of God speaks much but accomplishes little.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.


The Great White Throne Judgement

Judgement Day

“Well brother, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to be in your shoes on judgement day!” My ‘friend’ – also a leader at our fellowship – said to me. I was stunned. What horrible thing did I do?

My wife and I had attended this church for several years. We were very involved and were in leadership positions. But God told us to leave. We really loved the people and had many friends there; but there were issues that really concerned us that we could no longer ignore and after a lot of prayer and contemplation we left.

What prompted this blog was a conversation I had with a friend who still attends that fellowship. He has noticed that there are some differences with what’s going on there and with what the bible says. So he’s tried going to the pastor there to discuss his concerns.

Now this church is one of those that is run like a corporation. The CEO is too important to be bothered by his members. His time is way too valuable. The leadership there are expected to act as an insulating  layer between the pastor and congregation so that his time isn’t consumed by having to actually pastor. When my wife and I were there we were expected to make hospital visits, which we always were eager to do. We love praying for the sick because from personal experience we know Jesus heals. When the pastor would ask us to call on someone in the hospital we were always instructed to ‘tell them how much my wife and I love them’ – even if  he didn’t know them. I was disturbed by this and so I would always make sure the sick person knew how much Jesus loved them and that the pastor had asked us to visit.

In this church the quickest way to be identified as a troublemaker is to question the pastor about what he says in the pulpit or to express questions about anything being done.  So when problems come up he gets one of his ‘leaders’ to talk to the troublemaker  and try to get them back into line. The leadership spends a great deal of time and effort trying to put down dissent and to make sure that the sheep are obedient. The people are viewed as assets to be used and controlled, not as brothers and sisters to serve.

My young friend has run afoul of this corporate machine because he’s bothered by what is said and done from the pulpit versus what the bible says. The leader was sent to get him back into line and told him that he can obey and be blessed or disobey and be cursed.

I advised him to leave. Nowhere in the bible are we told to be in slavish subservience to men. Nowhere in the bible does God ask us to disregard what he says and do what men say instead. In Acts 4:19 (NLT) it saysBut Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? “. Hebrews 13:17 (NLT) tells us: “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.”. Narcissistic pastors use this as justification for demanding unquestioning obedience. This was never intended to give the pastor total control and authority over those he is supposed to be serving. When this is used to manipulate and control people into ignoring the scriptures and blindly following the whims of their leaders it is a heinous sin. The Bereans were praised in Acts 17:11: (NLT) “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”

If you’re in a church where the word of the pastor is more revered than the word of God, where the name of the pastor is more exalted than the name of Jesus, where the glory of the pastor is more important than the Glory of God, leave. Do not be deceived into accepting a lie instead of embracing the truth. On judgement day you will be found among the blessed if you followed Jesus, damned if you didn’t. It wont be easy leaving a fellowship where all your friends are, it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You decide: Is it right for you to obey God? or men?

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