“Family” Issues

“As he [Jesus] went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. ” (Luke 11:53-12:2 ESV)

Beware. . .watch out . . . be careful. . .be on your guard. . .

I didn’t realize how infrequently the “bewares” are used in Scripture.  These terms are reserved for a sincere warning against hypocrisy and following other gods; against self-righteousness and self-sufficiency; against divisiveness and “biting and devouring” one another.  If these terms are used so infrequently, it seems logical that when the term is used, I should pay attention (not that I shouldn’t pay attention all the time, but you know what I mean . . .)

Pharisees. . .hypocrisy. . .we use those terms as synonyms.  We read them, and, for the most part, dismiss the term as not applying to “us” but to “them.”  We can begin to list people that fit into the “Pharisee” category, churches that fit, enemies that fit, family members, fellow employees, the neighbor, etc.  However, rarely, unless you are an extremely self-examining (read self-obsessive) person, do we list ourselves in the Pharisee/hypocrite category.  That’s “beating myself up;”  “I’m saved by grace;” “I love everybody ‘in Christ’.”

But Jesus says “beware.”  Let’s be honest.  We all enjoy a level of hypocrisy.  We all wear masks and try to make ourselves look better than we are.  The flip side can also be true.  Sometimes we try to make people think we are more messed up than we are, either for attention or to lower the expectations for change.  It’s still a mask; it’s still hypocrisy.

Why is hypocrisy so damaging?  If we all do it to some extent, why is it so important that Jesus says “beware?”  Hypocrisy separates people into “us and them.”  I find this especially true in the context of people who grew up in church vs. those who didn’t.  I’m not saying there is not acceptance; in fact, the current proof for “we have arrived as a true New Testament church” is a diversity of people in attendance.  If you’ve got tattoos, or multiple piercings, or have a dramatic story of abuse/addiction, even a prison record — come on in!  Here is proof we are a “grace” church!

Then. . .the very subtle, subversive, sometimes even unaware attitudes.  “You go to this small group; you will have more in common with these people.”  “I just can’t relate with her; our backgrounds are too different.”  “I want to attend a Bible study for ‘normal’ Christians; this Bible study is too elementary for me.” (personally that’s my favorite to get my blood boiling)  What results is this pervasive feeling of shame and inadequacy; a fear of real honesty; a separation into ‘camps’ where a superficial safety can be maintained.

And, as a 21st century church, haven’t we fostered this to some extent?  Now, don’t misunderstand me when I make this statement, for I LOVE these ministries and have been helped and have been an active participant and proponent. . . but, when we separate people into:  Celebrate Recovery; DivorceCare; GriefCare; First Place; Wounded Heart; advanced Bible Study; (I think I’ve pretty much offended everyone across the board) don’t we promote a Pharisaical attitude of “when they graduate from this program then they can join the normal Christians?”  Instead of a friend who is a “church girl” walking alongside her friend who has significant issues, she is “handed off” to attend a group that has more in common with her, or knows how to deal with her.  What if the two women attended a group together?  The “church girl” friend would benefit, and the “issues” friend would have a safe place and somone she knows by her side.

Ok, all you who are leadership in these “issues” groups are waving red flags and saying, “No, Bev; you can’t do that!  It will destroy the safety of the group!” (Please remember, I’ve been a participant and leader in some of these groups, I’m waving the same red flags)  Why does it have to be that way?  This is what I’m so frustrated about! 

The “church people who never messed up” (as opposed to the church people like me who messed up big time) need to remember that “we were dead in our transgressions and sins . . .in which we ALL walked in. . .” (Bev translation of Ephesians 2:1 ff)  God is the only One who made us alive and saved us by grace.  He was not obligated to save us just because we grew up in church and got Sunday School stars and filled up our Awana bars with charms and jewels.  Every sin, from the emphatic “no” of a cute toddler, to the secret abortion or drug addiction or sexual promiscuity or lying or manipulation to get your own way, or cheating on a test, or rebelling against your parents’ authority, or speeding — every sin required the bloody gruesome death of Jesus on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God that we deserved (and yes, I need to say the wrath because how will we know how much God loves us unless we know what we have been saved from?)

In the same way, the “non-church” people need to remember that  “. . .There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 ESV) and “. . .there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11 ESV)  (emphasis mine)  Sometimes (no, oftentimes) the distance and “otherness” is self-imposed.  Non-church person, person with “a past,” abused, addicted, broken, etc. — Christ says that we are all one, that in Him there is commonality.  His grace is sufficient for all of us.  You can relate with the “church people;” so what if you have to look up the Bible verses in the Table of Contents!  So what if you have to go outside on breaks for a smoke break!  So what if you ask a lot of questions! So what if . . .!

I’m certainly not saying I have all the answers to this frustration.  However, I am asking God the “what can I do about it to make it better” question . . .

I can “beware” of any hypocrisy in my life, repent and walk away from it;

I can encourage my friends to join with me in having eyes open to see the lonely, the self-conscious, the person on the “outskirts” and invite them in;

I can pray that God would penetrate our hearts and souls with His Word, that we truly are all one in Christ, and we have more in common with each other than we have differences.

You know, if the first-Century church could make their differences work (and their differences were much more dramatic than ours), then what’s our problem?  We have God’s Word, which contains God’s design for meshing our differences into one fantastic family.  Think of it this way. . .we will be spending eternity together in heaven; wouldn’t it be great to start learning to get along now? 

Can you imagine what our community would look like if we really did act as a family unit? 

Something to think about. .  . 

I want to know what you think!

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