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Magazine: Don't Let Them!

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Let me suggest a radical thought: Being a free Christian who gets grace is nothing more or less than being normal.
In Matthew 12, the disciples are simply hungry and they got something to eat. They weren't trying to make a point, to preach or to offend anybody. They were hungry and ate.

We Christians have a neurotic side. You know it's true. There is something about religion that makes us weird.

We watch only Christian movies, read only Christian books and wear only Christian underwear (which is too tight). We have this spurious belief that we've got to smile, and be joyful, pure and obedient, so we don't hurt our witness. (Better that they see how screwed up you are, how real you are, and how much Jesus loves you.)

Then we wonder why people think our godliness is strange. So living as a free Christian is, in a sense and at least for us, being normal, doing normal things and avoiding the rules that surround our subculture.

Go to a movie and read a novel that doesn't have Jesus in it. Enjoy a sports event...even on Sunday. Live your life.

Sometimes we just aren't normal and that hurts our witness. Others don't recognize us for what we are—followers of Christ—because there is so much other stuff standing in the way.

Be normal. Just be normal. Be who you are.

A principle I got from Jesus: Live your life with such freedom that uptight Christians—Pharisees—will doubt your salvation. And put brothers and sisters around you who will hold you accountable-not to be wonderful, pure and nice—but to not shilly—shally, to be free, and to bask in your freedom to the glory of God.

Matthew 12 shows us the people who don't like us...

THEY LOOKED FOR SIN

The Pharisees looked for sin...and they still do. "'Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath'" (Matthew 12:2).

We don't discipline for sin in the church. We discipline for a lack of repentance, the lack of a broken heart. If you start looking for sin, that's all you're going to find. It's everywhere.

There is a game in the church played by Pharisees: "But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him" (Matthew 12:14). The game is "gotcha" and it's a game free Christians don't play. When you're free, you assume sin is there. You hold your brothers and sisters, and let them cry. You identify with the hurt, struggle, failure and shame...because we have nobody but us to do that. The world is bad and it's hard. We're not Home yet.

Sin is everywhere. "It's me, O Lord, not my brother or my sister, standing in the need of prayer." The Pharisees are looking for sin and they'll point it out in you. Don't let them. That's what it means to live in the freedom of grace.

THEY WERE INCONSISTENT ABOUT SIN

The Pharisees were inconsistent about sin...and they still are. "'Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him...Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?'" (Matthew 12:3, 5).

Consistency is the impossible asylum of the Pharisee.

At least a partial thrust of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 23 about the Scribes and Pharisees putting "heavy burdens" on people is a reference not to the law, but to the laws on the laws, the traditions. Pharisees are never consistent. I'm told there was a requirement that in order to keep the Sabbath, a faithful practitioner of the law could not travel more than a half mile from his or her property. So in order to travel, one would, the day before the Sabbath, place an article of one's clothing every half mile in the direction one wanted to travel.

That's neurotic. I understand it though. It is a human proclivity for anyone concerned with keeping rules to add rules to rules to rules in an effort to make sure that one doesn't break the original ones.

We have our own version of this in our subculture. If you're a strict Sabbatarian, you won't buy the Sunday newspaper. You won't buy the Monday paper either because most of it was put together on Sunday. Then just to be sure, you won't buy the newspaper at all.

You think you can go to a PG-rated movie...but next week, it will be an R-rated movie...then the next week, an X-rated...and then you'll be doing the devil's business on the computer. So no movies.

And no dancing either. Dancing always leads to sex...so stop dancing.

It's impossible to be a consistent moralist.

Don't let them.

Your sin is the best gift God ever gave you when you know it. And your obedience is your most dangerous place when you know it. Run to Jesus. Obsess on him. And let him worry about the rest.

THEY WANTED TO DESTROY FREEDOM

The Pharisees wanted to destroy the freedom Jesus and the disciples had experienced...and they still do. Again: "But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him" (Matthew 12:14).

She was prim and proper sitting across from me for counseling, but she was also neurotic and knew it. During the conversation, she referred to her sister. Then to my shock and her surprise, she said quite loudly, "I hate her! I just hate her!" Then she started crying. In the dead silence that followed, I asked her the question, "Why?" She said quietly, "Because she is beautiful and good."

Ugliness always tries to destroy beauty. Bound people always try to destroy free people. Freedom makes people angry. God has done something in your life. You're free...and that drives some people nuts.

Uptight moralists hate free people. It's why they tried to destroy Jesus and it's why they will try to destroy you. Don't let them.

JESUS, LORD OF THE SABBATH

Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath and he never forgot the main thing. "'And if you had known what this means, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice," you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath'" (Matthew 12:7-8).

It may be easy to just dismiss this by accusing me of not being saved, of going to hell, of not caring anything about the law...but I am saved, I am not going to hell and I care deeply about the law. In fact, you've never met a man who wants to please God more than I do...or a man who fails as much as I do.

I know about sin. I kid a lot, but my sin shames me. It keeps me up at night. The good news for me here isn't the sin. The good news is that the One who wrote the rules that convict me said, "I desire mercy."

I can see Peter looking up as he noticed the Pharisees walking towards them. While it's not in the text, Jesus must have smiled and said, "Don't worry. It's okay. Keep eating your dinner and I'll take care of it."

Jesus takes care of it. He does. And he did. We don't have anything to defend or protect or fix. It is finished. Don't let anybody—no matter how religious they sound, how pure they look or how often they use the name of Jesus—ever take that away from you.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright (c) 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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