Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

December 8, 2009 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

In Matthew 22, the various religious sects of his day begin trying to trap him by engaging him in the various religious debates of their day.  He very shrewdly answers all of their challenges and then ultimately shuts them up with focusing the conversation on what we now call The Great Commandments–love God and love others. He also shows their ignorance of the theology of who Messiah is/will be.

Then in Matthew 23, he begins teaching the disciples and the crowds and goes off on teachers of the law and Pharisees, exposing their hypocrisy.  They have devotion but do they have a heart for God and people?

Then Jesus says something that I love.  Those of you who know me, know that I love vivid imagery and great illustrations.  I may not be able to create them, but I admire them. “You strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel (Matt 23:24).” So you are walking along trying to keep something nasty from getting in your mouth and accidentally swallowing it.  You keep the gnats out, but you accidentally swallow a camel.  The Pharisees remember to tithe their herb garden, but neglect justice, mercy and faithfulness. They are proud of their attention to detail in one area of their lives but neglect the more important issues.

What about you? Do you stress and emphasize the minor points of your doctrine and neglect the more important? Are you more concerned about the debates that go on between churches or a hurting world that needs the message of Jesus Christ?  Is how you worship more important than the God that you worship? Is your life characterized by religious devotion or justice, mercy and faithfulness?

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

November 25, 2009 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

After reading that verse yesterday (Matthew 12:7) and the week before (Matthew 9:13) while reading through Matthew, I cannot get that out of my head. On two different occasions, the Pharisees rebuke Jesus for doing something that they felt was “against the rules.”  Jesus told them that they needed to figure what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  On it’s face, it seems pretty straight forward, but there is a profundity to that statement that goes beyond face value.

What is the best way to learn what that means?  Go to the source.  Jesus is quoting Hosea. In Hosea 6:6, God is rebuking an unrepentant people. He tells them that he desires mercy over sacrifice and acknowledgment of God over burnt offerings.  God was concerned in their hearts not in their religious routines.  They were continuing to sacrifice but they were not showing mercy to one another.  They were bringing burnt offerings to God without acknowledging God.

How can they do that? How can they bring offerings to God without acknowledging Him? I am afraid that we know the answer to that more than we care to admit.  Have we ever gone to church without giving real thought to God? Have we ever dropped a check or cash into the offering without really giving that gift to God?  Of course, we have.  God wants our hearts not our rituals, our lives not our attendance.

When we have a heart that focuses on rules and routines, it effects the way we treat others as well.  We see someone in need of compassion, for example a homeless person, and our first thought is, “I wonder what they did to get in that situation.”  We focus on whether or not they broke the rules, not compassion and mercy.

What would our lives look like if instead of focusing on performing the right acts and duties at church, we focused on devotion to God?  What would we look like if we showed compassion and mercy on the hurting instead of judging what they did or didn’t do to get themselves where they are?