How Big is Your Phylactery?

Mat 23:2 – saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
Mat 23:3 – “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
Mat 23:4 – “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
Mat 23:5 – “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

The Pharisees are mentioned often throughout the New Testament and appear to be the bad guys who were always trying to catch Jesus red handed in some deceptive scheme. They wore on their heads something called a phylactery which was a small black box that contained a parchment inside on which was written passages from the Torah. These passages were probably memorized, thus the bigger your phylactery was the more of God’s Word you memorized. The same goes for the arm-phylactery or arm tefillin which was a leather strap wrapped around the arm and it represented passages from the Torah.

The Problem of Hypocrisy

The problem with the Pharisees was that they memorized and knew so much but actually did so little of it. They were hypocrites that ruled the Jewish people and instructed them on how to best follow the Law yet they themselves did not follow it through completely. Worse than that they missed the point, and ultimately missed their Messiah which was prophesied from the beginning by their own texts.

They probably felt a sense of worth and value when the people looked up to them as more Godly them themselves, heck who doesn’t? I know I’ve felt a sense of pride and satisfaction when people consider me as “doing it right”. But they converted their genuine spirituality in to a physical show, the size of their phylactery, the length of their scripture strap, and the volume of their prayers dictated the level of faith and spirituality. That is the dwelling place of self deceit, false spirituality, and hypocrisy.

Pharisees Today in the Church

This problem of Pharisaical hypocrisy is rampant in the Western Christian culture. I see many Christians who were raised going to church; they know all of the stories, answers, and solutions to life’s problem but they don’t truly live what they claim to believe. These individuals don’t have a relationship with God and underneath the self gratifying religious mask they really just live for themselves. And another group exists that lacked the Christian childhood or education yet they have “come to Christ” in more recent years and play the part well. They of course believe they are going to heaven, claim the title of Christian and know a few religious answers. Yet they too know and don’t do. Another way to put it is they think but don’t have. Both groups have enough Christianity in their lives to make them self feel good about their life and spirituality. But they don’t have enough Christ in them to pass for a true follower of Christ.

It’s not enough to have a religion about God, it’s having a relationship with God that counts in this life and the next.

Mat 5:20 – “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

So are you one of these people? Test yourself by comparing your Christianity to the religiousness of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time:

  • The Pharisees loved to be known publicly for their spirituality and discipline.
    (Matthew 6:5-6)
  • The Pharisees were clean on the outside but were secretly full of injustice and evil on the inside.
    (Matthew 23:25-28)
  • The Pharisees cared more about peoples sins than their repentance and worship of Jesus.
    (Luke 7:39)
  • The Pharisees focused more on their own righteous accomplishments and status than their sin and need for God.
    (Luke 18:11-13)
  • The Pharisees focused on peoples status more then loving them.
    (Matthew 9:11-13)
  • The Pharisees accused Jesus of working Satanically because they could not equal or duplicate His works.
    (Matthew 12:24-28)
  • The Pharisees asked to see a miraculous sign from Jesus though they had likely seen many and still did not believe.
    (Matthew 12:38-39)
  • The Pharisees paid attention to rules pertaining to the outward being but ignored deeper things like honoring ones parents.
    (Matthew 15:1-9)

Compare yourself with the above statements and challenge yourself to become truer and purer in your relationship with God. Knowing about God isn’t enough. Looking good to others and fooling your pastors isn’t enough.

Jam 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

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Blinded by the Dark

Why do people not choose Christ? I ask myself this question often when I meet people who are willfully unbelievers. Is it that they don’t see enough hard evidence? Is it that they have had a bad experience with Christians or church and avoid it altogether? Is it that they find the requirements of Christianity to heavy a burden? It is often a mixture of these, but ultimately the reason for continued unbelief is none other than the Devil. He has blinded those who continue in unbelief from Christ. Now I know that  this sounds quite radical and it also may sound as if I’m giving too much credit to Satan;’s abilities but I believe I am simply acknowledging his tactics. Satan simply does not want people to turn to God through Christ.  And when they are not born again they are more to Satan than to God being enemies of God. Let’s look in to this dynamic of the spiritual world and where it meets the minds of men.

Satan’s Agenda

2Corinthians 4:4 – whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

The context of this scripture reveals who Paul is talking about – they are the people who “are perishing”. And who is perishing but those who do not heed to the Gospel and give their lives to Christ (John 3:16). So in verse 4 the unbelieving are identified as being blind to the truth of Christ, who blinded them? The Devil, and he did this so that “the light of the Gospel of Christ (would not) would shine on them”.

2Corinthians 3:14 – But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

Ever since Lucifer was defeated in battle and kicked out of Heaven he seems to be on an unstoppable mission to spoil anything and everything he can just to tick God off. And since he realized he could not win in against God and His army what was left? Us! From the very beginning Satan has been steering us away from God. Satan is using everything he has to keep us from realizing the truth which is God’s reality, love, and forgiveness. When a person allows Satan to deceive them (and the individuals free will does play the lead role in their becoming blind) they will not accept Christ for who He really is, they will remain alienated from God and unforgiven of their sin.

1John 2:11 – But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The Liar

Other then trying to spoil everything God has made, Satan has also been a liar from the very beginning (John 8:44). Can you think of another story in the Bible that has to do with Satan, sin, and “vision”? The Garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:4 – Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
Genesis 3:5 – “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

If you take everything Satan has ever said and flip it around to the opposite meaning you will almost always end up with God’s truth. Satan says “Look at you, you’re a terrible sinful person who can’t be used by God”. However, God’s truth is “In my eyes (the only ones that matter) you’re forgiven and perfected by Christ, people like you are exactly who I always use!”.

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The Joy of Hard Times

1Peter 4:12-13

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Lately God has been giving me a lot of insight on the subject of  “why do bad things happen to good people” lately. I don’t claim to be an expert or to have it all figured out but I can’t help but share it with you all here.
I have discovered that a common misconception in America is “If I am a Christian and I am living right, bad things should not happen to me” and “If a bad thing happens to me I either did something wrong or God’s love has failed me”. This is sort of an expansion of the previous blog “Seeing Christ in the Fire”.

Rom 5:3 – And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;
Rom 5:4 – and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Perseverance is the ability to endure until the end regardless of opposition or even failure. You keep faithing it out until the thing is done, quitting mid-race ruins the game and is a display of your limited faith in God. As you persevere through hard times you mature in character and faith, this is God’s goal in our lives. When you look back at the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 or look at more recent believers who changed the world – you find people who persevered through intense trials, who trusted God despite all facts and odds were against them. For more on enduring till the end check out Side Stepping Maturity.

“Christianity Saves You from Everything!”

As I said earlier “being saved does not equal a trouble free life”. In fact when you become a Christian your name is automatically added to Satan’s hit list! When you became a friend of God you became an enemy of the Devil. So why do we expect to have an easy ride in this world that is so subject to the Satans will? Now, some people are set free from prior addictions, habits or even demonic attachments upon Salvation.  But salvation and obedience to God does not guarantee smooth sailing! After all “They gave our Master a crown of thorns – Why do we hope for a crown of roses?” – Martin Luther.

Act 14:22 – strengthening the souls of the disciples… and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

Mat 10:22 – “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Mat 24:9 – “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.

God’s Purpose in Hard Times

So why does God allow it? How can we call God all loving when we encounter unfair situations? And how can we call Him all powerful when He does not use His power to stop something heading our way? Unfortunate circumstances such as death, failure, divorce, being fired, theft, heart break, or family problems do not lessen God’s love or power just because He does not intervene when we would like. It simply means He does not work how we want Him to work, He does not fit in to the box we want Him to fit in. So we must conclude that God is still loving even though He allows Satan to afflict is through various means. And we must also believe that He remains all powerful no matter how tough life becomes.

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Seeing Christ in the Fire

Since I moved to Austin for ministry school there have been numerous trials, most of which involving money and the non-existence of a job. I have learned a lot about what it means to go through a trial or a test of your faith.

I don’t believe hard times are always from God, but even when they aren’t (such as if they are your own fault, or if it’s an attack from Satan) God can use them to mature you and bring you closer to Him. They are opportunities for you to grow and to hold on to God’s hand like never before.

Today on the radio I was listening to Woodrow Krull from “Back to the Bible” and he explained the scene of the firey furnace in a way that I had never thought of before.

Here are some of my new thoughts on the matter and what we can learn from it.

Dan 3:15 – “…But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Dan 3:16 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
Dan 3:17 – “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
Dan 3:18 – “But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Dan 3:19 – Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

When you live right before God you will encounter hardships that might have been avoided if you lived contrary to God’s Word.

God With Us

Dan 3:21 – Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Dan 3:23 – And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Dan 3:24 – Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
Dan 3:25 – “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Because the three young men did not compromise, fight back, or fear their situation but rather trusted God, He honored their faith by saving them from death. When we trust in God through our “fire” He will always be faithful. If God does not seem faithful in the end, it’s our failure to be faithful through the trial because God never changes and never fails.
Nebuchadnezzar described the fourth man in the furnace as THE Son of God, else where in the Old Testament angels are called sons of God, but we don’t find this singular use anywhere else. I believe it was Jesus, the manifestation of God Himself long before being born in Bethlehem (about 550 years before Christ was born) showed up to these faithful Jewish men at the moment of sure death. If it was Jesus it provides a beautiful picture of how Christ is with us even in the hardest of times, and He Himself endured tests and trials.

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Learning From David

Wrong Place + Wrong Time

2Samuel 11:1 – It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah.
But David remained at Jerusalem.
2Samuel 11:2 – Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.

David spotted Bathsheba from the rooftop because he was at home when he should not have been. This is a prime example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I think its safe to say that by not going to war David was disobeying God. Perhaps it was a cultural expectation or perhaps it was his automatic duty to go to war with his troops (did Kings ever not go?) but either way the statement in verse 1 is there for a reason. David should not have been away at war, if he were a lot of sin and problems would have been avoided. Jonah also ran from God’s calling on his life, he was told to go to Nineveh yet he rebelled and actually sailed the opposite direction! We all know what happened as a result of that.

When God tells us to go somewhere (mission trip, school, friends house) we need to obey, for our own good. He knows best! The Spirit of God may also have told you not to go on a certain trip, to school, or a friends house in which case we should also obey Him. When you aren’t where God wants you to be you will encounter temptations that could have been easily avoided. The further we move from God’s will the deeper we trek in to the enemies territory. Ask yourself this simple “Is it wise?” -Will hanging out with this group of friends, going here, or doing this be a healthy environment for me as a Christian? Can I glorify God there, can I resist temptation there? These should be regular questions you challenge yourself with daily.

Decisions that lead to addictions happened because the person was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could even say that you are avoiding God’s will when you simply disobey the scriptures. You may not be running away from God’s calling on your life like Jonah but not forgiving your parent is still against God’s will, as is stealing, jealousy, lust, or gossip etc.

Avoiding The Warnings

2Samuel 11:3 – So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”
2Samuel 11:4 – Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.

If David were tried in court for his adultery and murder or Uriah he could not say either of the following statements  “I did not know she was married”, “I did not know I was married”, “We were deeply in love”, “She seduced me”, “I did not know it was a sin”, or “I did not know Uriah would be killed”. He had no excuse! Today so many people blow off sexual sin with “we were so in love”. This is a terrible excuse especially when the people really weren’t in love at all but were in lust. David however could not use this excuse either, he saw her, knew nothing of her, and then had sex with her.

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