Christianity 201

April 7, 2022

When Bad Character Meets Bad Thinking

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 12:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

Who do you think is the better Christian; Judas, or Mary?

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”

John 12:1-5 (NLT)

Let’s be honest, does not the use of perfume worth about a year’s wages in one single moment seem like a bad idea, a terrible use of resources? Judas was concerned for the poor. We might even say that he was more “Christlike” than Mary. Yet Judas was not commended:

Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

John 12:6-8 (NLT)

Judas does not have a good character. He is deceitful, greedy, a thief, and will go on to betray Jesus for money.

Is there anything to learn here? Yes,

Spending time with good people does not automatically fix bad character.

Being one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose to draw close, Judas spent a lot of time with Jesus. Yet despite all the teaching he heard, likely repeatedly as Jesus would have taught similar things in different towns, and despite all the miracles he witnessed, Judas was unchanged. Judas could not have found a better mentor than Jesus. Yet he was unchanged.

Are we spending time with good people yet we are unchanged? Are we spending time with God yet are unchanged? We can invest time in reading the Bible or in prayer yet not experience any kind of discernible change in character. We may not be any more loving than we were ten years ago, or joyful, peaceful, patient, or kind.

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad character.

Judas was a Jew, and his concern for the poor was baked right into the Jewish faith. Yet not stealing was also baked right in! Judas perhaps gave the impression that he was a good Bible believing Jew with his suggestion regarding relief for the poor. Yet he was not a good Jew, his character was unchanged. His religion did not change him.

Are we devoted to Christianity, yet we are not changed? Perhaps we say a lot of good Christian sounding things, yet we are not more generous than we were ten years ago, or more faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.

Before we go on to talk about the solution, let’s recognize that things get worse as we read further:

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (NLT)

The leading priests were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the ones who set the best example of what it looks like to be faithful to God. Yet from them we learn that not only does devotion to good religion not automatically fix bad character,

Devotion to good religion does not automatically fix bad thinking.

John Stonestreet often says, “bad ideas have bad consequences.” We see that played out here. The priests have the wrong idea about how to express their faith, and they have the wrong idea about who Jesus is. From these bad ideas spring their desire to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

You might have expected the chief priests to treat the raising of Lazarus as a wake up call, to start rethinking their view of Jesus, to start listening to the teaching of Jesus. Their thinking went unchanged.

We can become destructive when we stick with bad thinking. That can be true when we are new to Christianity, failing to rethink areas of our lives that Christ shines a new light on. It can also be true for those of us who have been Christians for a long time. Our devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix our bad thinking.

Are we like Judas and the chief priests, or like Mary?

Mary’s generous character as demonstrated with the “waste” of perfume stands in contrast to the greed of Judas. Mary’s right thinking about Jesus, knowing that Jesus is worthy of an extreme act of devotion, stands in contrast with leading priests who want him dead.

So what’s the fix?

If devotion to Christianity does not automatically fix bad character or bad thinking, what will?

Jesus tells us:

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.

Matthew 7:24-29 (NLT)

Our character and ideas mature as we build upon Jesus.

It begins with being intentional. Builders choose to build. They also choose where to build. We can be intentional in our desire to build our lives on the teaching and example of Jesus.

This is different than saying we choose to build on our particular expression of the Christian faith. While most Christian traditions attempt to get the thinking right, there is no guarantee that they do. We want to keep going back to Jesus. We don’t want to let someone else dictate all the ideas to us. That happens in cults. Controlling people’s behaviour and thinking does not guarantee good character or good thinking. Helping people walk with Jesus and focus on Jesus ensures that we will at least be growing in both.

The builders choose to build, but at some point they need to grab the needed tools and get to work. The intention to build is not enough, there also needs to be action. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise.”

My wife and I decided sometime ago that we wanted to live a more healthy kind of lifestyle. Gluttony is the one sin we pastors can get away with. Good intentions for a healthier lifestyle needed to become actions, like walking past the snack cupboard, and lacing up the running shoes. Nike’s tagline of “Just Do It” is a brilliant tagline for a running shoe. It is also good advice to us as Christians, to get actively involved in our relationship with God.


Good intentions are not enough!

Though exercise has always been something I’ve dreaded, by just getting to it I have gone from “I have to get some exercise” to “I get to workout this morning.” We can go from saying “I have got to become a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” to saying “I get to become a person growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (See Galatians 5:22-23). We can go from saying “I’ve got to read my Bible more, and pray more,” to saying “I get to have my mind renewed and challenged by thinking through Scripture, I get to live life in the presence of God.”

Jesus himself models good intention and follow through by his intention to express love in the face of hatred. That good intention became action in his deliberate journey to the cross. When Mary poured out the perfume on Jesus, she unwittingly pointed out where that journey Jesus had chosen led; to his death, the full expression of God’s love. “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

If Judas had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane would have been one of true friendship and not betrayal. If the chief priests had listened to Jesus, rethinking life and putting his words into practice, then they would have welcomed him into Jerusalem as king and friend, and not as a fraud and enemy.

The cross is a reminder of what happens when bad character meets bad ideas. God came to us in Jesus and we killed him. When the bad character of Judas met up with the bad thinking of the leading priests, the execution of Jesus became a real possibility.

The cross is also a reminder of what happens when good character meets good ideas. Though God came to us in Jesus and we killed him, God loved us anyway. As we pick up our cross and follow in that way of love we will be changed, both in our character, and in our thinking.


October 21, 2011

Interceding Specifically

This week I returned for a few more chapters of Penetrating the Darkness a book on intercession by Dr. Jack Hayford, who for years was lead pastor at Church on The Way in Van Nuys, California.

In chapter four, Jack indicates that intercession involves three elements:

  • praying for somebody else; praying on behalf of
  • reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance and help to pray beyond the intercessor’s knowledge or understanding
  • a challenge to our helplessness to deal with the larger issues of life

Later in the chapter, he teaches three easy-to-remember terms:

  • intersection
  • intervention
  • interception

I might come back to those at another time, and I do want to challenge you to get a copy of this book for your own, especially those of you who have a prayer and intercession ministry.   One couple in Jack’s church was Michael and Stormie Omartian and if you’ve read Stormie’s The Power of a Praying… series of books, this makes an excellent companion. 

…This morning at 5:00 AM, I woke up and felt led to pray for a man we know who has been estranged from his wife for nearly a decade.  As I thought about their situation, I felt led to pray very specifically for a number of things that need to happen.  I prayed that:

  • God would soften her heart
  • she would feel led to reopen communication
  • there would not be a barrier created by pride; that she would be humble
  • that she would be truthful with people to whom she may have painted a one-sided picture of their situation
  • that she would repent of wrongdoing on her part
  • that she would seek reconciliation and restoration of the relationship
  • that the decision she makes would stick over the long-term

I also prayed for him, that:

  • he would be open to receive her forgiveness and accept it at face value, in expectancy of reconciliation over the long-term
  • he would do his best to be the kind of person she needs
  • God would heal the wounds and scars that the last few years have created

Usually, I have great creative and spiritual clarity at that hour, but when I go to the keyboard many hours later, I have forgotten everything.  (I even considered finding a pen at 5:00 AM and making notes; I say that with apologies for those of you who are up at that hour anyway; I’m not!)  However, this time, I have recorded here point-for-point what came to me earlier in the day.

I think it’s important — it’s necessary — to pray specifically like this, and there are probably other aspects of this I could add to the example, but I want to preserve the anonymity of the people involved.

My point today is simply that to pray only, “God, bless__________;” is inadequate and even to pray, “God, bless ____________ and __________ and bring them back together;” is to miss the many barriers that often need to come down before something like that can happen.

Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit,  and I will also pray in words I understand.  ~ I Cor. 14:15 NLT

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.  ~I Tim 2: 1-3 The Message

 

Postscript: Feel free to join us in praying for our friend and his wife.