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Finding the Pharisees
The New Testament shows us that in the time of Jesus there were some devout and righteous individuals – men such as Nicodemus – in the religious group known as the Pharisees (John 3:1-2, John 19:39); but Jesus frequently reproached members of this group for their evident self-righteousness. Perhaps Christ's best-known saying in this regard was: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Last year, a fascinating nationwide study of self-identified Christians was directed by David Kinnaman and John Burke, for Barna Group. The goal of this survey was “to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees, the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament.”
That’s a pretty wild survey idea to begin with, but the results were surprising. The study was carefully constructed to ask questions which revealed whether the respondents exhibited self-righteous attitudes or actions in their lives. Amazingly, the findings revealed that many “self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical.“ Just over half of the nation’s Christians (51%) met the criteria for being Pharisaical.
On the other hand, only 14% of self-identified Christians in the US —just one out of every seven Christians— fit the pattern of actions and attitudes that Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.
But that’s not all of the bad news. Somewhere in the middle of those two groups are Christians who exhibit a mix of the characteristics surveyed. Just over one-fifth of US Christians (21%) were found to display Christ-like attitudes, but also displayed Pharisaical actions. Another 14% of the survey’s respondents were defined as being Christ-like in their actions, but motivated by self-righteous attitudes.
It’s a fascinating study, and you can find the study report here. Barna does great work and they deserve a lot of credit for this study. The survey is eye opening, to say the least, and should represent a wake-up call for the Christian community. Unfortunately, the study suggests a paraphrase of the famous saying of Pogo: “We have found the Pharisees – and the Pharisees are us!”
Hope is neither faith’s distant cousin nor love’s poor relation. Here’s what hope is and why you need it…
The words of the apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians are familiar to all of us: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love …” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Paul goes on, of course, to stress that love is the greatest of this triad of spiritual qualities. Faith, too, is praised in the scriptures as of tremendous spiritual importance: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). So where does this leave hope, the third member of Paul’s trio of most important qualities? In the minds of most of us, hope comes in as a kind of distant third place winner. It is like a spiritual bronze medalist that does well, but is always eclipsed by the silver and gold placement of faith and love. But if we look closely, the Bible shows hope is much more than we often think.
This week's article "Why You Need Hope – More than You Realize" challenges you to see why you need hope more than you think – lots of it ...
Christianity in the News
We begin a new regular feature today - news items of interest to Christians anywhere ...
Missionaries from indigenous backgrounds may be the key to reaching many in other nations:
"A Native (American) Approach to Foreign Missions," a very interesting article by Kate Tracy published March 13, 2014, by Christianity Today, shows that missionaries from indigenous backgrounds may be the key to reaching many peoples with the Christian message around the world.
The article discusses the recent great success of missionary work in the Mayan village of Chan Chen, Mexico, after years of failure. Tracy tells how, despite a steady stream of missionary activity, almost no one in the area had become Christian. When Native Americans were invited to help in the area, however, things changed and the village now boasts a church of 200 members.
The article shows this is not an isolated case and that missions are increasingly trying to send Native American missionaries to other indigenous groups worldwide, as this is working well for a number of reasons. One reason is that "Native people typically are not unfamiliar with pain and suffering and injustice, with what it looks like to be poor." You can read a preview of the article online here.
A Circle of Many Friends
This map, which was recently produced by valeriepieris on Reddit, is instructive to say the least. The map was carefully prepared using detailed population figures and so it gives a good idea as to the current situation regarding human population distribution – the fact that more people are now living within the area of that relatively small white circle than in the rest of the world combined. Notice, too, that the area of land is only half that of the circle. Asia has long been home to several of the most populous nations in the world, of course, but it is only recently that we have come to this point.
Why do I include the map in today’s blog post? I think it is important that we all get to know a bit more about that part of the world – an area with many nations and nationalities, but one in which many Americans and even some Europeans recognize only about three of the nations on the map!
But Asia includes, of course, several nuclear-power-armed nations and several hotbeds of Islamic extremism, as well as nations of great importance in the world economy; and it is an area which will doubtless continue to burgeon not only in population growth, but also in its overall importance. This can be seen in the way that U.S. strategic policy is now pivoting much of its attention from the Middle East to Asia. Unfortunately, the area is home to a couple of the most anti-religious regimes on earth and several in which persecution against Christians is both widespread and intense. North Korea has the worst record of persecution, with an estimated 50-70,000 Christians in its prison camps. This makes it particularly difficult in such countries not only for those trying to follow the Christian faith, but also for those trying to help them.
On the positive side, the fact that more people live in this area than in the entire rest of the world underscores the great potential of this region for Christian development. The numbers are almost mind-boggling. It is estimated that there are currently some 10,000 new coverts being made to Christianity each day in China. The whole of Asia is certainly an area that we as Christians might do well to know more about if we are to understand the needs of its people and to help them. Whether we are involved in missions work, interaction with Christians in that area, the effort to help the persecuted, or whatever, I think we should know more about this relatively small circle in which so many of our friends live and strive for the faith. What do you think?
Did the Centurion Go to Jesus or Not?
Scripture in Question: Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10
According to many cynics, the story of how Jesus healed a centurion’s servant in Capernaum is one of the clearest contradictions in the Bible. This claim is made because Matthew’s account appears to tell us that the centurion went to Christ and talked with him in person, whereas Luke appears to clearly say that the centurion sent others to Jesus who asked for help on his behalf.
Luke 7:1-10 tells us that “The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him … So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’ …Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”
When we read the account in Matthew 8:5-13, it does sound as though the centurion went to Jesus personally: “A centurion came to him,” “Lord, he said,” “the centurion replied,” “then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go …,” etc. But the Bible often speaks as though someone in a position of authority did something when, in actuality, a servant or representative was the one who acted. John 19:1 is an example of this: “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him” (ESV), though the Bible makes it clear that it was the soldiers acting under Pilate’s orders who actually performed the beating. This is so obviously what happened that no one claims it to be a contradiction, and the NIV simply translates John 19:1 to say “had him flogged” as that is the obvious meaning, despite the fact that the text literally says “Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.”
The same principle can be seen to be at work in the abbreviated account in Matthew 8 – the reported words are the same as those we find in Luke. But as with Pilate, so with the centurion. Others completed the actions for these individuals in command, and there is no real contradiction in the parallel accounts.
* For explanation of other "Scriptures in Question" see the other posts in this series.
The Faith Survival Kit
If you are a regular visitor here you probably noticed that we added a new category to our selection of articles this past week: The Faith Survival Kit: Help for Difficult Times. We already had one article ready for the new section, and today we uploaded another one – "Surviving Downturns" – by one of my favorite writers, Whaid Rose. It's a short article, but it's long on encouragement. Read it and you'll see why it fits our new category perfectly.
Studying through BibleGateway
BibleGateway.com is, of course, one of the leading Bible translation websites used by many for personal study, and also to provide hyperlink scripture references on this and many other sites. But if you only use BibleGateway occasionally to look up a verse or an alternative translation, you are missing out on the use of a tremendously helpful (and free!) Bible study tool.
If you take the time to learn a little bit about the site, you will find it an amazingly flexible and powerful tool for online study. Today, on our site, we uploaded a new article "Studying Faith through BibleGateway," which shows some of the ways in which you can use the many features of BibleGateway in productive personal Bible study.
What the Blind Man Saw
The Gospels tell the story of how Jesus healed two blind men as he traveled through the city of Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. Luke's account focuses on one of these blind men, whose name was Bartimaeus, and shows not only the blind man's faith, but also the exact ways in which his faith was manifested. It is an encouraging story with some clear lessons for all of us if we read it with understanding of some of the background and the terms used by Luke.
Read our article "Bartimaeus: What the Blind Man Saw," uploaded today, to profit from what it was this man of faith saw and how he applied his insight.
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Unless otherwise stated, blog posts are written by R. Herbert, Ph.D., who writes for a number of Christian venues – including our sister site: TacticalChristianity.org