Tag Archives: Pharisee

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy 20: Merciful Heart

‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this He meant the Spirit…’ (JN 7: 37-39)

Each of us has been primed by merciful Jesus; He pours out life-giving Spirit upon the ground of our hearts. Holy water from without inspires a merciful fountain within. We learn to live from that well. Our sin, their sin, and the dulling of an idolatrous culture necessitate fresh washing daily. Spring up, O well! May the merciful waters we entered in baptism make us new once more! Read more »

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Mercy 9: Merciful Memory

‘Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?’ (Romans 2:4)

merciful memory 9 berlewWe live in a day of contempt for God’s plan for human sexuality. In a California restaurant recently, I endured a group of women at table next to mine groping each other while leering at the evidently gay wait staff. Having struck down Prop. 8 and all restraint, the ‘golden state’ now leads the nation in gender-bending chaos. ‘The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men’ (PS 12:8).

Sinners’ contempt for holiness can tempt us to disdain. We can close up the ark of our hearts, pronouncing judgment on the rebels. Or we can open our hearts and ask God to have mercy on them. It helps to remember the mercy He had for us in our contemptuous ways.

I am reduced to tears whenever I read Luke 18: 9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke wrote it specifically for those who ‘were confident of their own righteousness.’ He describes a Pharisee whose prayer is ‘about himself’ (v. 11): a hymn to his native virtue that sets him apart from obvious sinners.

In the glare of that verse I am exposed. Chaste now for years and oriented squarely toward my wife and adult kids, I am tempted to view that holiness as a product of my good choices, not ‘His kindness, forbearance, and patience.’ (Romans 2: 4) Such distortion primes me for unholy judgments toward the lost. Wow. Have I forgotten His kindness towards me when I strutted with the worst of them? Do I lose sight of the quiet sins I still commit: little ones like murder, hatred and lust of heart?

Mercy prompts me to remember the torturous fear that ‘this time I had gone too far’. And the generous wave of blood and water that rolled like a river on my pathetic life, serving justice through Love alone.

While the Pharisee prayed smug self-congratulations, the tax collector could only cry out: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (v. 13) God heard him because of his awareness of the gap that only God can fill. My prayer? Help me to remember that gap, Jesus. And the mercy that made all the difference.

Prayer Points:

    • Desert Stream/Living Waters: New York/New Jersey, Garry & Melissa Ingraham, Regional Coordinators. Please pray for the Ingrahams as they work to strengthen Living Waters and help start new groups throughout the NY/NJ area.
      • Restored Hope Network: The Portland Fellowship, Portland, OR. Jason Thompson, Director. Specialty: curriculum for struggling adults and youth, family and friends, wives/spouses, and speaking outreach.
        Carolina New Song, Columbia, SC. Bud Phaup, Director. Specialty: groups for men and families.
    • Courage: Please pray for those on the verge of assuming a gay identity and /or acting on their SSA, may God illuminate their minds and fill their hearts with His love.
  • Cor Project: Please pray that we would have the financial resources necessary to fulfill our mission.
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Pray More

‘Patience, prayer and silence—these are what give strength to the soul.’ St. Faustina

If we want to be more like Jesus, we must be with Him more. And do less of everything else. Our roots must sink and stay deep in the Source if we want to bear fruit that remains.

I do badly when first thoughts of the day revolve around unsolved problems. I start striving, and my words and actions become cutting. I know right away that I am not in Christ; I am worldly, and thus unable reveal Him to the world.

I used to wake up each morning and see if the little red light was flashing on my phone. My first thought of the day revolved around which text or email or phone message needed me. One morning, weary and anxious after a fitful sleep, I bawled out a colleague who had left a disturbing message during the night.

So the next morning I bypassed the phone; I vowed to pray for a good while before anything else.

I cannot live like a Christian unless I am founded in Christ. That means opening my heart and hands to Him in quiet before saying anything to anybody. My loved ones deserve better.

And Jesus expects more of me, and of all who claim to know Him. He said that ‘unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, we won’t enter His Kingdom.’ (Matt. 5:20) Contrary to popular opinion, the Pharisees were good, conscientious people. But Jesus raises the bar for everyone when He equates murder with bawling out a colleague and adultery with thinking lustfully of another. He then broadens ‘loved ones’ to those who hate us and treat us cruelly.

How can we love like that–purely, gently, non-defensively–without more of Him? We need to go deeper in Christ if our love is to exceed the Pharisees’.

Pray more. Do and say less. Let what you say and do arise out of increasing times of silence before Him. Judge the fruit yourself. Do we manifest love, peace, joy and self-control? Or anger, lust, and self-vindication?

‘Let those who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works, observe here that they would profit the church and please God much more…if they were to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer…They would certainly accomplish more, and with less labor, by one work than they otherwise would by a thousand…Without prayer they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm.’ St. John of the Cross

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Intimate Authority: Easter’s Enlistment

This is the seventh and concluding post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts. Annette and I, as well as the staff here at Desert Stream Ministries, wish you a deeply blessed Easter. He is Risen!

Intimate Authority: Easter’s Enlistment

Why was Mary Magdalene the first disciple Jesus entrusted with His resurrection? According to John’s Gospel, Peter and John raced to the empty tomb but could not comprehend Christ resurrected.

Both John the Beloved and Peter the Rock saw evidence but did not see. After hearing countless prophecies from Jesus, ‘they still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.’ (Jn 20:9)

Peter and John left the empty tomb and went home, perhaps too weary and overwhelmed to grasp the truth. One can see and not see. Jesus entrusted this sight to Mary Magdalene. How strange for her. She wanted the powerful disciples to make sense of the empty tomb. She bid them come and they left, disoriented. Mary lingered at the tomb, weeping.

She wept and lingered there. That was her great gift, this evidence of intimacy with Jesus. For what else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for her authority.

From her first encounter with Jesus, washing His feet with her tears as the Pharisee looked on aghast, to this last recorded encounter at the tomb, Mary wept. She embodied a tender and profound dependence upon Jesus. In brokenness, she clung to Him; His holiness absorbed her shame and transformed Mary into a radiant, radical disciple.

Naked surrender to Jesus—a gift of her more responsive gender and of her heightened vulnerability to false intimacy—made Mary trustworthy. She knew her cure. Lustful men had only served to fracture her, to take pieces of her; religious men then condemned her for it. Only One gave her form, made her whole. Jesus’ life became hers.

God chose an ex-prostitute to bear witness of that Life—the Resurrection–the most important event in human history. Are you beginning to understand why the Roman Catholic Church named her the ‘Apostle of the Apostles?’

Mary’s life with Jesus testified: with Him, she could do anything. When He died, she discovered the painful corollary: without Him, nothing. That’s why the grief. Grief grounded her at the tomb. Hope sustained her.

She had nowhere else to go. So she waited at the tomb, weeping and lingering. Here we see the deep broken ground of her heart, awaiting reunion with the Beloved. Her response to two angels concerning her tears is telling: she was not awed by them but concerned only about Him—‘Someone took Jesus away—where is HE?’ (Jn 20: 12, 13)

Then Jesus appeared to her, glorified and not yet apparent to Mary. She asked Him to tell her where Jesus was so she could retrieve His body from the hands of temple robbers. He spoke her name, opened her eyes, and reclaimed her life with His raised one. (vs. 14-16)

Reunion. Grief transformed to joy. My hunch is she wanted Him, desired only to be with Him, to weep with gratitude and linger with Him, alone. Jesus dethrones her desire. Instead of extending comfort, Jesus commissions her: ‘Don’t hold onto Me. Tell my brothers!’ (v.17)

I think of thousands of peers and friends around the world whose lives mirror Mary’s. Most know deep brokenness. Surrendered to Jesus, they in turn know Jesus well. He is their integrity, their wholeness. Will we hear Jesus’ words afresh this Easter? Will we, grateful for every sin He has assumed, every wound He has won, every cross He enables us to carry, not hold onto Him? Will we rather, empowered afresh with the Spirit of His new life, run with Mary and proclaim from our depths: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ (v. 18)

Will we stop waiting for someone else to do what we alone can do? Will we stop deferring to ‘important’ disciples but rather ask Jesus to make us faithful witnesses? To proclaim how Life has subsumed our brokenness and set us free?

I urge you this Easter: follow Mary’s example. Rise up and reveal His new life through yours. Easter has enlisted you as a member of the Magdalene Army.

‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back…

You will spread out to the left and to the right; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth, and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His Name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. He is called the God of all the earth.’ (Is. 54: 2-5)

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Intimate Authority Holy Week Meditations, 4

Mary Magdalene anoints the feet of Jesus Christ, watched by the apostles. Original Artwork: Engraving by W Greatbach after the painting by Rubens. (Photo by Spencer Arnold/Getty Images)

This is the fourth post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.


Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 4

Mary Magdalene, in her recognition and reliance upon her Merciful Deliverer, became authoritative in holy love. Tears of remorse became gratitude. Peace, love and joy dwelt in her depths now. Degradation and accusation became distant relatives that she could refuse.

You could say that sexual brokenness, surrendered to Him, made her strong. Her weakness invited His power; whenever tempted by the old kingdoms, she had only to draw near to Him. Her gender made a difference here. She possessed that beautiful responsiveness which Jesus, the whole Man, cleansed and ignited with holy love. He became her center; His pure, strong light lit her from within.

Her redeemed womanhood, combined with her moral vulnerability (we are usually not delivered from all susceptibility to our pasts), forged a dependency upon Him that was qualitatively different from that of the other disciples. While other men had shamed and fractured her further, Jesus’ presence set her free. Her wholeness was bound up in His life, her holiness in the intimacy they shared.

In gratitude, she gave all that she had to Him. That is evident in another extravagant display of worship. Mark describes her anointing Jesus with oil, breaking open an intensely fragrant and expensive bottle and pouring it over Him in front of everyone! Like the Pharisee in Luke 7, Jesus’ band was not impressed by Mary’s slavish, wasteful ‘worship.’ (Mk 14: 1-11).

Mark’s account differs significantly from Luke’s. It takes place just prior to Jesus initiating His Holy Supper with the disciples. Luke recounts Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears and with oil, but Mark describes Mary anointing His head, a sign of familiarity with Him. She knew Him now, and like any devoted woman, understood what Jesus’ male friends didn’t. Jesus was going to die.

She was anointing His body for His death. In the old kingdom, Mary must have used such oil to enliven her customers. She saved the best for last, to inaugurate the New Kingdom opened to all through the Cross. Mary had surrendered all to Him and Jesus redeemed it all, even the tricks of her trade, to fulfill His purposes.

Marvelous to me is her obedience in light of the social shame she still provoked. ‘Some were indignant’ (v. 4); the scorn started early on with the Pharisee in Lk 7 and continued with Jesus’ disciples until the end. ‘Once a bad girl, always a bad girl…’ The traditions of men endure, even in the twice-born. The beauty of Mary? Shame never stopped her. She endured the shame for the joy set before her, the gift of knowing Him intimately and loving Him extravagantly.

What is costly worship for you? What do you offer Jesus that is often misunderstood by others and yet gives glory to Your Creator and Redeemer? I think of my peers with histories of same-sex attraction (a hard enough disclosure) who audaciously testify that Jesus is setting them free from its domination (harder still to confess in our gay-friendly age). For every ‘Amen’, that witness of Jesus’ redeeming power provokes a shake of the head or even a warning to not damage someone by giving them false hope.

What do you offer publicly to Jesus that is costly, fragrant, and scorned? May Mary’s worship set you free to worship Him with renewed audacity.

‘Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for Me…I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ (Mk 14: 6, 9)

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