The Cure For Hypocrisy

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish,[a] and then the outside will become clean, too.” – Matthew 23:25-28

We have all had that moment when we want to be someone else, or trying to be different than we really are so people won’t see us as losers or irrelevant. In those times, hypocrisy seems to come easy to us even though we hate it. We hate it when we see it in other people. We hate it when we see it in the church.  And we really hate it when it rears its ugly head in us. It would be nice if we could go to our doctor and say, “I’m having a bout with hypocrisy,” and the doctor writes a prescription that you get filled at the local pharmacy. Three days later all the symptoms of hypocrisy are gone and you go on with your life. Your general practitioner cannot solve that problem for you. Fortunately, God can.

Jesus has a prescription for dealing with hypocrisy in our life. The cure starts from within. Matthew 7:3 says, “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” Verse 5 adds, “Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” When dealing with hypocrisy we need to start with ourselves. Refuse to compare yourself with other people. Refuse to evaluate what’s wrong with other people. We tend to fall into the hypocrisy trap when we know that we have some things we need to deal with, but we know five or six other people that have bigger issues than we have and are more in need of change than we are.  Love is the prescription we need because love changes everything.  

Jesus was never called a hypocrite because Jesus loved people. He valued people. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for every one of them. We should not seek perfection, not should we seek to place ourselves on a pedestal over others. Being a Christian is all about having a life-altering relationship with Jesus. It means we spend time with Jesus. It means we seek to emulate Jesus. Being a Christian is not about outward persona or wrappings, it is about the inward reality. So part of the cure for hypocrisy is to stop trying so hard to be better than others. Instead, develop a real relationship with Jesus. The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we are molded into His image, filled with His love for others and covered by His grace. The more we love others the less we will have hypocritical moments.

Remember, that it all starts within.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does hypocrisy start within?
  2. What can we do to love people more this week?   

Hypocrisy

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.Their worship is a farce,  for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9. 

If you have ever talked at any length with an alcoholic who participated in the Alcoholics Anonymous program, you will never hear the words, “I am a former alcoholic.” Rather, you will hear the sober declaration, “I am a recovering alcoholic.”  Veterans of alcoholism know it doesn’t matter if their last drink was five hours ago or five decades ago; the possibility of falling off the wagon looms as close as the nearest bar or difficult relative. One mistake, one wrong decision, one moment of indulgence could rip away everything they have achieved. That is because recovery is a journey, not a destination. 

We, as Christians, can learn from that mindset. We are all “recovering hypocrites.” And we can fall back into being a hypocrite at any time. That is because we have developed a habit and a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Some form of hypocrisy seems inevitable and we don’t want to open ourselves up for the steps to put hypocrisy behind us. You probably have an intense urge to go to another website right about now, and I understand that. Hypocrisy is a difficult subject. People use it as their principle reason for not going to church, rightfully pointing out “How could someone possibly say they believe one thing and live like they believe another?”

Jesus has a lot to say about hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn’t necessary, because He makes his disdain for them pretty obvious. He says things like: “You hypocrites!” (Matthew 15:7) “whitewashed tombs!” (Matthew 23:27) And, “Sons of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33

But how do we define hypocrisy? And are all Christians really hypocrites? I would make the case that doing what we don’t want to do doesn’t make us a hypocrite. It makes us sinners. Sinners in need of a savior. And therein lies the confusion. We have blurred the lines between the two. We need to make a clear dissection between the two. All of us sin but we all don’t need to be hypocrites. Confused? Let me try to clarify a little: a sinner is a person who falls short from time to time, all the while striving to be more Christlike. On occasion, we all act in contradiction to what we truly believe. None of us will ever perfectly live out each and every one of our beliefs, on a consistent basis, in any arena of life; especially when it comes to issues of faith.

A hypocrite, on the other hand, is a person who purposely deceives others, a person who attempts to live two lives simultaneously — one in public and one in private. They practice sins on a routine basis and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, but choose not to deal with their sin. They deny the grace that God exteds to them. To me, this is how Jesus defines hypocrisy.

So yes, there are hypocrites in the church. We are all owning up to our faults and seeking forgiveness. We will stumble, we will fall. But to label all of us hypocrites isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, we may be recovering hypocrites, but with God as our guide, we will continue our journey to be more Christlike, one moment at a time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can Christians act like religious hypocrites? How do you feel about someone when you realize that they are a hypocrite?
  2. What can we do this week to minimize hypocrisy in our lives? 

Thank You Mom

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:” – Proverbs 31:26-28.

On Mother’s Day each year we acknowledge the unique contributions that mothers make in the lives of their children. My prayer is that we show our appreciation and gratitude more often than once a year, but on Mother’s Day specifically, we recognize the behind the scenes sacrifices and struggles every mother makes. We recognize that, all too often, your contributions as a mom, may feel undervalued, misunderstood and overlooked because so much of your best work is hidden away in the unseen moments of grace with your children. Most people will never see you throwing yourself in the daily chore of cleaning spit-up, cooking another meal, responding to another tantrum, pick up the thousandth crayon, listening to your teen’s concerns or graciously shepherding feuding brothers and sisters. And for all that, mom’s simply don’t get their due. How often does a child walk up and say, “wow mom, you have it all together.” 

Fortunately, that doesn’t stop you from always being there. You are there at all our sporting events. You were there with some good advice when we started dating. You were there on the front row watching us getting married. You were there when your grandchildren were born. You sacrifice and struggle because of love, and selfless, sacrificial love is worthy of recognition.

My hope is that you know that you are valued by your church. We thank you for all the small, the ordinary, and the mundane things you do for your family. Thank you for sowing the seeds of God’s love in the hearts of children. Chuck Swindoll in Strong Family listed some “I owe you’s” which apply to mothers all over the country, all of which are long overdue. “I owe you – for your time. Day and night. I owe you – for your example. Consistent and dependable. I owe you – for your support. Stimulating and challenging. I owe you – for your humor. Sparky and quick. I owe you – for your counsel. Wise and quiet. I owe you – for your humility. Genuine and gracious. I owe you – for your hospitality. Smiling and warm. I owe you – for your insight. Keen and honest. I owe you – for your flexibility. Patient and joyful. I owe you – for your sacrifices. Numerous and quickly forgotten. I owe you – for your faith. Solid and sure. I owe you – for your hope. Ceaseless and indestructible. I owe you – for your love. Devoted and deep.”

So, on this Mother’s Day, take a moment and consider the priceless value of the one who made your life possible – your mother.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you appreciate most about your mom? 
  2. What can we do this week to honor and respect your mother?   

Faith Is Taking That First Step

“This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.– Revelation 14:12

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

This quote by Martin Luther King Jr., is a great analogy for faith. King lived his life by faith and ultimately sacrificed it by serving others. In this week’s message we talked about doing something every day that requires faith. Taking that challenge will inspire you to walk with Jesus. You don’t have to go fast; you just have to take that first step of faith.

Noah took that first step when he started building an ark to survive the flood–and they’d never even seen rain. Can you imagine how crazy that must have seemed to everyone? David was just a young lad when he faced Goliath. But he took that first step of faith and walked out to face him. Abraham took that first step of faith when God told him to travel to find his inheritance–and he didn’t even know where he was going. God gave orders to Joshua to march around the city of Jericho for seven days. Imagine how ridiculous that must have looked while they marched for seven days before the walls fell. It was a step of faith for the children of Israel to walk into the Red Sea–but God provided dry ground for them to walk on. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego had to take a step of faith to walk into that fiery furnace. I can only imagine how overwhelmed a young orphan girl felt when God told her to stand before the king and beg for the lives of her people, but the Jewish people were saved because Esther took those steps of faith.

We will all have those moments in our lives when we are asked to step out in faith. And we all have concerns about that first step because getting out of our comfort zone can produce stress and worry.  Our initial inclination is to question whether we are ready to put ourselves out there. On the other hand, you are excited about what God wants to do through you and and you can’t wait to see what that is, but…you don’t have it all worked, figured or factored out. That is where faith comes in. God responds to our action, not our concerns. So step out even if you have that unsettling combination of wanting to step out in faith but not feeling completely prepared. God didn’t ask you to get ready to go; He just asked you to go. You can get ready along the way.

Hebrews 11.6 famously says, ”And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” At Northstar we believe that God is who He said He is and as a result we trust Him to do everything that He has promised. He is worthy of our faith and taking those first steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

Am I Indifferent?

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8.

How do you feel when somebody seems indifferent to you? Indifference suggests that he or she thinks you are boring, uninteresting, worthless or fill in the blank. Most people find indifference worse than being disliked. But what if we are a Christian? Can we be a follower of Jesus and be indifferent to others? 

God has called us to purposeful living. And one of the threats to living a purpose driven life is indifference- to God and to others. Indifference is the absence of feeling or interest in someone or something. If we are indifferent to others, we will never involve ourselves in their lives, as Christ involved Himself in ours. Instead, we should be loving others.

Loving people is difficult. Yet this is what the Bible commands. “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (1 John 3:11). We spend time on what we deem important. For many of us these choices are valid: time with family and friends, work, prayer, serving the poor, fighting for rights, protesting wrongs. But as the Scripture reminds us, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Jesus made a point about our priorities in Matthew: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Love, then, is not a gray area. Every thought, response, and act of goodwill must first pass through the fine filter of love. So how can we be indifferent and love at the same time? We can’t.   

In “Strength to Love”, Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged us to realize that “our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.” 

So take an interest in others. Concern yourselves. Unintentional living leads to indifference. Live deliberately, not indifferently. Love God and love others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be indifferent to people than to God? Why or why not? 
  2. What can we do this week to love people more effectively?

Are You Driven To Distraction?

“I am disturbed when I see the majority of so-called Christians having such little understanding of the real nature of the faith they profess. Faith is a subject of such importance that we should not ignore it because of the distractions or the hectic pace of our lives.” – William Wilberforce

When you are doing something important, whatever that is, it requires your full attention: It is important that you don’t get distracted because typically that is when things go wrong. That is why you don’t text while driving, or you don’t operate heavy machinery when your mind is somewhere else. As followers of Jesus, to be at our absolute best we must be focused, which means we must be focused on what matters most. For Christians, distractions can be a real threat to that focus. 

Jesus sets the standard that we should model on focus. In Luke 13:22-24 (MSG) we read: “He went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem. A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved?” He said, “Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention.”

Jesus was subject to all the pressures we are and yet remained completely disciplined, always giving His time to what was ultimately most important. He was constantly moving forward to the ultimate goal of Jerusalem. Jesus knew exactly what needed His attention. He knew what He was meant to be doing and where He was meant to be going. He obviously had little time for someone who appears to have come out of the sidelines raising an issue that on the surface may have seemed valid, but on closer examination wasn’t going to bring anyone any benefit. Jesus said to the bystander if He really wants to live the “God life” it’s a vigorous life that demands our total attention. Allowing distractions into our life means we can never give God the 100 percent He deserves.

What really matters most, no matter who we are or what calling we have in life, is our relationship with God. If we allow anything to distract us from our relationship with him we will never be able to be who He has called us to be, or do what He has called us to do. If there is one lesson we learn from watching Jesus it’s the fact He never allowed His schedule to crowd out His time alone with God. He knew no matter what else was going on His relationship with his father had to have top priority.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some distractions that can impact our daily walk with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to keep from being distracted and completely focused on God?

In Me I Trust

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” – Philippians 4:13 (MSG)

Is being self-sufficient a problem? Countries, cities and people long to be completely self-sufficient. No one wants to rely on others if they can help it. After all, depending on someone else is often painful. As Christians, self-sufficiency can detract us from pursuing the life that only God can give. The bottom line is I am only self-sufficient, when I don’t believe God is truly sufficient.

We also want that inner confidence that we need to achieve godliness in our lives. Then one day reality hits. The presence of God is like paint thinner, removing the layers of self-reliance that have built up over the years only to disappear when we find ourselves in a mess of our own making. Self-confidence and self-sufficiency is no longer the answer. Self-reliance is no longer the solution. When the layers are removed, all that remains is a broken vessel that cannot beat without the life-support of Jesus and His Spirit in us. It is at that time when you realize that God is sufficient.

At various points in my life I started down the road feeling like the self-reliant Pharisee who walked into the temple, stood by himself and prayed this prayer in Luke 18:11: “…’I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery…”  But somewhere along the journey, I end being the hopeless tax collector who stood at distance and said, “’O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

Before you start imagining that pastors spend their days as a unorganized mess surrounded by chaos (I do have those days now and then), let me shed a little light on the subject: I have structure, plans, goals, and purposes. They help me because aimlessness is never a good thing.

So yes, I take matters into my own hands. But my intelligence, talents, material possessions, is never a substitute for relying on God alone. In Colossians 2, Paul uses phrases “in Him” or “with Him” six times:  In Him we have been made complete (v. 10). With Him we are buried in baptism (v. 12). With Him we are made alive (v. 13). All I could ever need for the rest of our lives is found in the very person of Jesus Christ.

God is pruning away self-sufficiency and growing faith in Christ in it’s place. I’m learning at a deeper level that self-sufficiency doesn’t honor God. Doing something beyond what you can do through your own strength and willpower brings glory to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you draw the line between self-reliance and reliance on God?
  2. What can we do this week to place our trust and reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ?

In Love With Indifference

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9. 

“Whatever” — pronounced “WHAT’-ehv-errr” is a slang term meaning “whatever you say” or “I don’t care what you say.” The term is used most often to dismiss something somebody said, signal apathy or express indifference during a conversation. It is also annoying as a poll found out. The poll found “whatever” to be consistently disliked by Americans regardless of their race, gender, age, income or where they live.

The question is do we ever find ourselves saying “whatever” to God? Every follower of Jesus Christ will go through a time of spiritual indifference. It is difficult to keep one’s excitement and enthusiasm at a really high level. We all hit a wall or get distracted, plateau, and temporarily lose our spiritual passion.

We cannot and should not expect that spiritual indifference is anything more than a short period of apathy. The shorter the better. If our goal in life is to bring glory to God, we cannot accomplish that by being indifferent, even though there will be times when we feel like our apathy and lethargy are justified. But if we spend a few moments thinking about it, we will come to the conclusion that there is no real justification for taking Jesus Christ for granted, for indifference.

Can we really say “whatever” when Christ redeemed us on the cross, when we have been given the Holy Spirit, when we have victory over sin, joy, a purpose in life, peace, to name a few. There are so many more privileges and/or benefits to being part of God’s family.  When we are “indifferent” we are saying that we are taking everything God has dome for us for granted. Jesus says this to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”

We should never lose sight of the overwhelming sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. In addition, God is a God who can be known, and the more we know of Him…and the more time we spend with Him…the less likely spiritual indifference will creep into our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever say “whatever” either intentionally or unintentionally to God?
  2. What can we do this week to find and eliminate any indifference in our lives?  

Worth The Wait

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.” – Habakkuk 2:1

If you have been a Christian for a relatively short time you have probably never heard about the prophet Habakkuk. He is definitely not a household name, even for the church. Habakkuk, one of Israel’s minor, or lesser, prophets, steps into the scene at a time when God’s people were in serious decline. They had abandoned following God’s will. Habakkuk loved God, he loved God’s law, he loved God’s people and he wanted to see God’s people obey and glorify God.

Despite his prayers, Habakkuk sees things getting worse. Apparently, Habakkuk had repeatedly called upon God to act, to intervene, to set things right, to just do something. Yet there was silence. Finally, out of a deep sense of frustration and confusion, he cries out to God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” (Habakkuk 1:1)

Remarkably, he takes God at his word, and commits himself to wait on God rather than taking matters into his own hands. Habakkuk trusts that God is already at work, even if he can’t see it. Habakkuk assumes a position of waiting with confident trust in God. So Habakkuk waits. Waiting is perhaps the hardest discipline of the Christian life. Most of us hate to wait. I know I do. Probably all of us are waiting for something at this very moment. We must remember that waiting may answer some of the “why “ questions. Questions such as “why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” Or “what does God want me to do?” 

We often view waiting as passive, but is it? In Scripture, to wait is to be active, to do something. That something is faith. And faith is is entrusting ourselves into God’s hands as God speaks and acts in all the circumstances of our lives, since God is already busily at work. To wait and to be patient is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time. 

God did answer Habakkuk but it was not the answer he expected. God’s solution to the sin of Judah was to have them invaded by the Babylonians. Habakkuk complains a second time to the Lord about the solution being drastic, but God assured Habakkuk that He would also deal with the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:12–2:20). In the end, Habakkuk acknowledged that God is sovereign. He is good and whatever happens we can trust in Him:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it, God was working the whole time. He is doing the same in our lives as His followers. We simply need to watch and wait.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you argued with God? Is arguing with God ever a good idea?
  2. Do you think it is possible for God to be doing good without us even realizing it?  Why or why not?
  3. Do you think God ever does good, wise, and perfect things that are beyond our present circumstance or understanding to even see?

How Can God Use Me?

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14.

If I asked the average Christian if they believed that God loved them, most, if not very single one, would respond “Yes.” Most if not all would probably add that knowing and understanding His great love for them is one of the greatest truths they have ever come to know. But if I asked that same group of believers if they believed God could use them or would even want to use them, I would probably get some hesitation and some shrugged shoulders rather than an exact yes or no. So why do we have this spiritual paradox? Why do we believe God loves us and can do anything, yet we have a hard time believing He can see past our short temper, our lack of discipline, our lack of motivation and any other flaw or insecurity? 

The Bible makes short work of that thinking. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (ESV) The word condemn has several meanings one of which is “to declare to be unfit for use.” (Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster Dictionary) That definition makes perfect sense and brings to mind old buildings that were no longer inhabitable, usable, needed, and were condemned.

Is that the way we feel, unwanted, unusable, unneeded? So we put out the yellow “keep out” tape that is found at demolition sites to both warn God and to keep Him back. Better stay clear of me Lord, I am flawed.

If that is you, I challenge you to go beyond your own limitations today. Give God your flaws. The flaws and insecurities you are worried about are the perfect message of His grace. He is able to use the mishmash of your life and turn it into a message of hope for other people.

You have unique talents and abilities to contribute to furthering the message of Jesus Christ. When you become transparent about God’s love and acceptance in spite of your flaws, it inspires others to believe. So go beyond your own limitations today, because someone is waiting on what you have to offer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your motive in deciding how to spend your time?
  2. What can we do this week to be available to God for His use?