Youth at First - June 2015

A number of months ago, Laura and I came back from being out of town and found a letter on our apartment door, alerting us that the complex was undergoing a change in management. The first few weeks of the new owners brought some welcomed changes: the landscaping was refreshed, sidewalks power washed, buildings painted, signs replaced, the whole nine yards. The property looked better than it ever had in our tenure there. Over time, however, we began to notice other changes—not so positive ones. We would receive a notice of inspection for a certain date, but no one would ever show up to look at our place, or we would call to check on something in the office and not have our call returned for a number of days—little things that aren’t an absolute deal breaker, but certainly are not the top quality staff we were used to.

Just a few weeks ago I was out walking the dog and noticed the apartment pool was closed for renovation. They totally gutted the pool and ripped out the trim to replace it with brand new, bright and shiny tile work. It looks fantastic now, like a totally new pool. And it got me to thinking about something Jesus said, about how sometimes we do things to make ourselves look good on the outside but aren’t so great inside.
Do you have a Bible near you right now? Good. If not, go grab one (or load up the app on your phone) and read Matthew 23:13-33. It’s too long to just quote here, but you really should go read it…

…Done? Good. Now, after reading that, how would you describe Jesus’ opinion of the “scribes and Pharisees”? Not very positive, right? I think we’ve all seen and learned that Jesus wasn’t a fan of the way the Pharisees did things. In fact, Pharisee tends to be a dirty word in Christian circles. And here, we see what is probably Jesus’ most scathing critique of this group, the supposed religious elite who held so tightly to the letter of their law.

The funny thing is, when we read this passage and picture Jesus standing in front of his band of merry disciples, yelling at the Pharisees, we tend to picture it as a “good guys vs. bad guys” situation, a battlefield of sorts. And if you’re anything like me, you probably picture yourself as a good guy. I can see us in the back now, yelling, “Yeah! You tell ‘em, Jesus! Put those silly Pharisees in their place!” There’s nothing we love more than to critique those in power, to point out their hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, I think all too often in modern Christianity we tend to see ourselves as the privileged “us” against the wicked “them,” when in reality our hearts can be just as wicked as those of the Pharisees. It becomes all too easy for us in our modern culture to be like the whitewashed tombs. We build a culture of holiness, where everyone thinks that since the end goal is perfection, we have to act perfect now, no matter what’s going on inside. We build a culture of okay-ness, where we see a brother or sister and have the following exchange: “Hey, how’s it going?” “Good. How are you?” “I’m doing fine.” And then go along our merry way, despite the fact that on the inside we’re falling apart.

What if we’re not always good? What if secretly our marriage is struggling? What if on the inside we’re battling some secret temptation which we refuse to share for fear of shame? What if work has become tenuous and we’re doubting God’s ability to provide for our lives? What if we’re doubting God’s existence, period? If there’s anything to glean from the life of Jesus displayed in the Gospels, it’s the idea that Jesus was attracted to the rejects and the outcasts. Jesus spent time with and cared for the downtrodden, the struggling. And Jesus had some harsh words for those who pretended to have their act together.

Don’t be a Pharisee. Don’t pretend. It’s just not worth the energy, because in the end it will leave you broken and empty inside, and it will drive you away from God. Instead, embrace the cross. Embrace the place where Jesus went to despise the shame and put it away. Confess your sins to one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Let light shine into the darkness and build one another up.

I think so often in life we fall into a rut because it’s comfortable, and we don’t want to have those awkward moments or those tough conversations. Those moments are uncomfortable. But growth does not come without discomfort. Growing bones lead to growing pain. Athletic gains come from uncomfortable workouts. Training a skill takes dedication and practice. So be willing to give up your comfort, be vulnerable and bear your soul to a brother or sister, and so grow from it. May we never be whitewashed tombs. May we never be pretenders.


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