Tag Archives: help

Do As They Say

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12


Here is a simple test. With which of the following do agree?

  1. God is sovereign, and humans have free will.
  2. Angels and demons exist.
  3. The human soul will live after earthly death.
  4. A person must live a pure life.
  5. Only free will exists in this world.
  6. Angels and demons do not exist.
  7. We should share our property with others.
  8. We are all responsible for what happens in the world.
  9. We must worship every day, as well as study the Bible.
  10. We should never pay taxes to the government.
  11. Violence is proper when done for a good cause.
  12. Non-Christians should not be allowed to live in the US.

These are all reworded beliefs of the major Jewish groups of Jesus’ day. The group most often mentioned in the Gospels is represented by the first three questions—the Pharisees. Questions four through six represent the views of the Sadducees. The Essenes are represented in questions seven through nine. And last three questions are positions of the Zealots.

Historically, the Sadducees ceased to exist after 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple. Most Sadducees were priests. With no Temple, they had no reason to exist. They lived, but they had to learn to do other work. They also became more like the Pharisees.

The Essenes disappeared from history at about the same time for much the same reason. The difference was, the Romans killed most if not all of them. They were the group who wrote and hid the Dead Seas Scrolls.

It took the Romans several centuries, but they did finally root out most of the Zealots, though there have always been a few among us.

You may have been surprised that you agreed with any of the positions of the Pharisees, but the reality is that they have become the standard for both Judaism and Christianity. That is why Jesus instructed us to, do what they tell you and follow their instructionsPhillips

He also, for reasons he described, told us not to copy their actions. They said what was right, but did what was wrong.

But the Pharisees do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Americans donated $390 billion to all charities in 2016, with 40% of that going to religious groups (education, mostly universities, was second). There is great debate about how much of that money goes to feed the poor, etc. We do have records that show 40% goes for staff salaries.

If I give $1,000 to my church, can I take pride in the fact that only $100-200 will actually help the needy? Or is that position hypocritical? Should I give another $1,000 directly to organizations that feed people, help them rebuild after hurricanes, etc.?

We cannot push aside such issues, they lie at the very heart of Jesus’ words in today’s reading. The Seneca tribe in New York State takes pride in spotting the member who is wearing ratty clothes and driving the most beat-up car, and knowing that he is the tribal chief. Do I really need a $50,000 car to drive to WalMart?


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.



Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Selfish or Selfless?

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32


Appearing in the September 12, 2017, issue of Fast Company, an online magazine, was an article called Brené Brown: America’s Crisis of Disconnection Runs Deeper Than Politics. The article is based on Brown’s book: Braving the Wilderness.

The general concept of the article is that Americans have moved in the past seventy years into increasingly uniform neighborhoods where we all think alike on most issues. But, surprisingly, this has caused us to become lonelier than when we lived with people of differing religions, politics, languages, morals, etc.

He goes on to write:  if we’ve hunkered down, ideologically and geographically, with those we perceive to be just like us, doesn’t that mean we’ve surrounded ourselves with friends and people with whom we feel deeply connected? Shouldn’t “you’re either with us or against us” have led to closer ties among the like-minded?

In fact, the opposite is happening. At the same time that cultural and political sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.

For Christians, our goal is to hang out with people who believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All others should move down the road.

Reading today’s scripture in Ezekiel seems to support that attitude. The one who sins will be the one who diesNIV

But Jesus said, The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of youNIV Why? Because they were like the first son who said no to his father, but later did what was asked of him.

Christians are children of God, but so are the worst sinners, including those who don’t believe in God. Does God want us to live separated from sinners? Or does he want we sinners who have repented to live with those sinners who need repentance?

As Paul put it: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the othersNIV

In the early Third Century, Marius Victorinus wrote: We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for othersACCS

Too often we Christians assume that means we only watch out for our fellow Christians, forgetting that we too are sinners.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Help your Brother

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Psalm 149

Exodus 12:1-14

Romans 13:8-14

Matthew 18:15-20


Exodus 12 contains the heart and soul of Judaism and therefore of Christianity:  Passover.  God had to decide what to do with humans who choose to sin.  His Grand Solutions was the Passover; not the Exodus version, but the Jesus version.

God decided to personally intercede with sin and destroy it Himself.  As the Gospel of John has it, Jesus was dying on a cross outside the city at the very time thousands of Passover lambs died inside the Temple.

In Exodus God instructed the people to mark themselves with the blood of the lamb.  We who follow Jesus are marked with the Blood of the Lamb by the Holy Spirit so that the Wrath of God will pass over us with his Sword of Justice; not because we have not sinned but because God has called us to be his and has promised not to kill us.

But I still sin.  Living in a world of sin is like living in Seattle, I will get wet.  Sin happens.  We deal with it the way Paul instructed, that is, to love.  It is the same message Jesus gave:  love others as yourself and love God.  Easy, and so hard.

Jesus gives us another way to deal with the sins of his followers, to help each other.  The reading for today must be taken in context with all of chapter 18.  He who has wandered away needs to be rescued; the lost sheep.  We do not deal with him like the unmerciful servant, we seek to encourage, to help, to build up.

The words of Jesus in Matthew are not intended as a format for churches to follow, but as an example for you and me to follow.  The whole church need not be bothered with most of our sins.  For example:  If I hear someone say, “That boy in the White House…,” I should first try to understand what the person meant by using the diminutive, boy.  Perhaps he calls everyone boy, like a waitress calling everyone Hon.  In that case I could suggest, “You might want to choose a better term for this President.”

Life is full of these little sins.  Guard against them.  Think about what you say and what you mean.  Is it hurtful?  Does it demean someone else?  At the same time we cannot go on the warpath over these kinds of sins.  I learned early on that we have to pick our battles.  Anyone who has ever been an official in any sport knows that rules are broken in nearly every play, even among the professionals.  My father bragged that in high school basketball, he was never caught holding the shorts of the guy in front of him trying to rebound the ball.

We need to call the ones that cause the most harm and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence