More on hypocrisy, aided by Blue Like Jazz

As I wrote on Matthew 23, I was reminded of a favorite section of the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It doesn’t entirely fit the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, so it didn’t fit in with that post, but I wanted to share it.

His struggle with hypocrisy wasn’t a self-righteous boasting, but did have the flavor of not practicing what he preached, as seen in Matthew 23:3. He writes this as he was confronted with something like a crisis of faith:

“I don’t have any doubts about God or anything; it’s just me. I feel like I am constantly saying things I don’t mean. I tell people they should share their faith, but I don’t feel like sharing my faith. I tell people they should be in the Word, but I am only in the Word because I have to teach the Word. I said to a guy the other day, ‘God bless you.’ What does that mean? Then I started thinking about all the crap I say. All the clichés, all the parroted slogans. I have become an informercial for God, and I don’t even use the product.

As much as we can keep ourselves busy, busyness can hide time from honest, personal reflection. This is true within the church as well as it can provide plenty to occupy your time. These things can all be very good. But make sure that you slow down and make sure you are seeking out God himself, and not just the good things of God. Ritual and habit are not bad in and of themselves, but take time to think through our actions and the meaning behind them. As you approach the Bible, seek God in his Word for the joy of knowing him, not only to finish this reading plan.

I will say that there is a place for obedience, even when we “don’t feel like it.” God can use us regardless of our initial willingness (see Moses and all sorts of other characters from the Bible). That may be a critique of this book. Christianity is not always going to be some authentic expression of our deepest desires. Our deep desires are often sinful, and a life following Christ is hard as he warned us that we’ll have to pick up our cross to follow him.

But there is wisdom in this quote. We shouldn’t mistake learning about God with knowing God or giving instruction for others with personal discipleship.* For example, taking children to church is not the same thing as bringing them up in the faith. Writing a check for some ministry is not the same as serving people face-to-face. Researching the Bible for a class is not all that reading the Bible is about. These are not bad things, but we must make sure we do not let them become everything. We are invited not only to live a certain way or to know certain things, but to know God in Jesus Christ–to have a relationship.

Informercials can be really informative, but God wants disciples who follow him, and they can be transformative in this world.

*A problem it seemed the scribes and Pharisees had. Matthew 23

Brief Reflection on Romans 6

Even in books familiar to me like Romans I come across verses or phrases that stand out and seem new to me. I found this line from Romans 6:17 particularly beautiful, “obedient from the heart.” Paul gives great thanks to God that we, who were once slaves to sin are now obedient from the heart to the teachings of God. To be brought from bondage to sin, which brings death, to an obedience rooted in our hearts, in our love for God, is surely something for which to give thanks.

Deferred-Promise Land

In Numbers the people rebel against God’s plan to lead them into the promised land because of the report brought back to them by the twelve spies. On the one hand it is a land said to be flowing with milk and honey, but it is also a land whose occupants make the Israelites fearful. They say that they were like grasshoppers compared to the inhabitants.

What follows is not unusual for God’s people when facing adversity: grumbling and rosy descriptions of slavery in Egypt. They are angered that their God–who has done great and marvelous things for them–has led them to such a great and marvelous land. Well, that’s not how they said it. They’re upset that God’s plan doesn’t appear easy. The people are afraid of the inhabitants and do not trust that God will continue to lead them, be with them, and deliver them.

They have a new plan, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” After all, they had fish in Egypt. (Num 11:5).

When Caleb and Joshua, two of the twelve spies, try to dissuade them the people are so angered that they intend to stone them. They won’t hear any challenge to their cowardice. Not until God comes to speak to them. Because of their disobedience God pronounces judgment. The promised land is still promised for the people of God, but it is not to be seen by the current generation. None of the men but Caleb and Joshua may enter. Instead of God delivering this land to his people, the people will die wandering in the wilderness, spending one year for each day the spies were in the land, until the next generation is ready to enter.

I wonder what blessings of God we miss out on because of our disobedience. I wonder what God wants to give to his people that he might reserve for another generation. This is not just a selfish consideration, but look at how Caleb and Joshua, who acted righteously, still felt some of the consequences. How might our sins bring collateral damage on those around us or how might our sins limit other’s reception of God’s blessing?

God is never through with his people, not here in Numbers and not ever. But there still is discipline for his children. I hope our trust can overcome our fear when God calls us to follow him.