Rule Keeping in a City of Elder Brothers

I live in a very Elder Brother kind of city.

Sure, there are ever-growing pockets of Younger Brother elements here, though.

But for the moment, my focus is this Elder Brother element.

I am, of course, reflecting on the parable of the two sons in .

Much of the focus people have on this passage is on the Younger Brother. Rightly so, mind you, but it’s not the whole of the focus we should have.

It should be obvious the Younger Brother was only after the Father’s stuff. He wasn’t interested in the Father himself (v.12). The Younger Brother threw off all of the Father’s rules in order to gain the Father’s stuff. But notice the Father was gracious, merciful, and loving to the Younger Brother, in that, the Father came out to meet the Younger Brother (v. 20). The Father loved the Younger Brother and entreated him to come.

What might be less obvious: the Elder Brother did the same thing only in the opposite way. The Elder Brother kept all of the Father’s rules in order that he might get his Father’s stuff (v. 29). However, the Father came out to the Elder Brother to entreat him to come (v. 28).

The Father is Good to His sons.

The point I want to bring out: Rule keeping does not necessarily equal true spirituality or true Christ-likeness.

Forcing others to keep rules for the sake of rule-keeping does not discipleship make.

Forcing others to keep rules does not heal those who are hurting. Forcing others to keep rules does not settle a trouble heart. It does not remove fear.

In fact, since rule-keeping is performance-based, fear of man will be heightened. It does not produce the fear of God.

The song, Start Over says,

“To the broken hearted that wished that they’d never been born, never been torn, never sinned, never disobeyed, I know you think there’s no hope, but that ain’t true, I know you feelin’ regret
(Like I) brought this all on myself
(Like I) messed it up big time, and this time I don’t deserve God’s help
(Thinking) how can God forgive me after knowin’ what I did (can He?)
After knowin’ that I hid from Him, and I stayed away and backslid
Jesus came for the sick (so true)
Jesus came for the weak (amen)
Jesus came to give good news and have set the captives free (amen)
Jesus came for the poor (amen)
Jesus came with the keys
Jesus came to remove the chains so the prisoners are released.

Rule keeping does not do this. It binds prisoners to what other people expect them to do. And when the rules are broken or not lived up to, shame and guilt rule.

Hurting people do not need rules. They need the Savior. They need Jesus.

What do I mean by all of this?

South Carolina, but more specifically, Greenville is supposedly the buckle of the Bible Belt. But Greenville has become a city of Elder Brothers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are loving, kind, generous, gracious, Christ-like people here who reach out to those in need.

These Christ-like individuals are the exception, not the rule.

As a result of this Christian bubble, or better stated, Moralist Bubble, aka Elder Brother Bubble, we have failed to transform our culture.

Case in point: South Carolina has been ranked number one in domestic violence, more specifically men killing women. In the nation. Again.

Not to mention the number of sex offenders.

“See, His love is deeper than the ocean floor
Run to His arms like an open door
God the Father sent the Son
So men can come and be free and ain’t gotta run no more
Come to me, all who are weary; with heavy burdens, I’ll give you rest
Separated you from the sin, as far as the east is from the west
Thrown in the sea of forgetfulness
What sin? What offense?
And when them waves come crashing in, I’ll calm the winds in your defense
So, whatever it is that you’ve done
He put that punishment on His Son
You’ll never come under His condemnation… Satan and his accusations
So, dry your eyes, lift up your head
Hallelujah! God is not dead!
Plus He gave us His peace, and He took our guilt on the cross instead
Took our place and now we embrace
A clean slate with the eyes of faith
We know unfailing love, unfailing love, it’s not too late, start over.”

We don’t need more rule keeping and putting people on probation which is unwaveringly inept and powerless to change lives. We need the cross.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (ESV)

Bono Interview – Who is Jesus?

Gay Byrne interviewed Bono, lead singer of U2. When asked, “Who was Jesus?,” Bono answered, “That is the defining question of what Christianity is about… Either he is the Son of God… or he was nuts.”

For the full interview from the television series website, click here and look for the interview for “The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne” June 25, 2013.

Or watch this video below. I do not know how long the below video will be on Youtube, but it is the full interview:

Hope Deferred

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” ().

The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.
— Tim Keller, “Preaching in a Post-Modern City”

Recently, I attended a service with another local body of believers in PA. They were friendly. The Pastor demonstrated a loving and “pastoral” heart for his people. I believe at this particular service I attended, he was shorthanded and had to fulfill not only the preaching responsibilities but also the music portion, as well. I was looking forward to being challenged by God’s Word and pointed to my Savior.

The Pastor directed our attention to the verse,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life ().

My mind raced to possible connections to the Gospel from the first time he read the verse. “Ohh!! This is going to be good! Something I need to hear!” This hope, he said, is not like “I hope it doesn’t rain.” It is a desire for something that will most surely come to pass. It is more like, “I hope to go on vacation next week!”

Suppose I am at the grocery store, and I say, “I hope to get to the cashier soon.” And then there is a person in front of me who has 16 items rather than “15 items or less” AND there is someone who has a product with no bar code on it so a price check is requested. AND there is someone else who drops a glass jar with the words echoing throughout the store, “clean up at register 4!” (ok – I added that last part. You had to hear his descriptions of events). But this is what the word deferred means. It is a delay in receiving what we hope for.

This delay in receiving what we hope for makes the heart sick. I hope to get to the cashier, but all of these things are delaying me! At this point, the pastor described what happened when he was very sick a few weeks ago. He wanted to watch TV, so he got up from his bed (already weak from being sick) and crawled toward the living room. He tired out and rested in the hallway. After a short while, he began to crawl again toward the living room. After a few delays of a sick and weakened body, he finally made it to the couch where he could watch TV.

“Sickness will come!” he exclaimed. “Expect it!” He admonished. “Get up and keep going!” he exhorted.

He then briefly touched on the last portion of the verse, “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. When we hope for things and circumstances delay our obtaining them, keep going! Keep working to obtain it! Just like he wanted to watch TV but was delayed because he was sick and weak.

At the end of his sermon, he pleaded for people to come to Christ. He said something to the effect, “If you have not trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, please do so before it is too late!”

One weekend I watched a children’s television program while Owen was playing in the living room. Every so often, when something peculiar happened on the program, he would stop what he was doing and watch. On this particular episode, one of the puppet characters was dejected and lost all confidence of doing anything. The whole program’s point was, “have confidence in yourself because you can do it! You can do anything you put your mind to! Believe in yourself!”

The point of this child’s program was, in essence, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”

Now, this pastor was exegetically accurate and precise. He conveyed the meaning of the verse fairly well. He was not boring. He was engaging. His love for the people of which he is Undershepherd was compassionately displayed.

But there was no GOSPEL! The pastor’s main point conveyed was, “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and keep going!”

We may be exegetically accurate and precise. And we may convey the meaning of the text as the original hearers (possibly) understood it, but when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, it’s still moralism. It’s a promotion of self-salvation. At the very core, both teachings are saying, “Jesus’ finished work is not enough! Go and do! Save yourself!!”

For a preacher of the Gospel, it is sad there was no preaching of the Gospel.

Note: This was originally posted in 2008.


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12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (ESV)


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12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (ESV)

News, Views, and Opinions

Here are a few things you should know about:

A Reflection on James 1

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ~

Most anger is a fleshly anger, an anger produced of man not of the righteousness of God. The point I want to bring out is being a doer of the Word also includes being quick to hear () and being slow to anger (), as well as, bridling the tongue (; ; ; ). Visiting orphans and widows in their affliction does not outweigh the folly of allowing anger to flourish and the tongue to be unbridled (; ).

Other passages to note:

If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. ~

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ ()

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ~

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. … Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. ~

We must be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. But if we do get angry, let not the sun go down on our anger; remember, “my little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ().


Listen

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)


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13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. (ESV)


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29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (ESV)


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23 A prudent man conceals knowledge,
but the heart of fools proclaims folly. (ESV)


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16 In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,
but a fool flaunts his folly. (ESV)


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The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (ESV)


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14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (ESV)


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12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
rather than a fool in his folly. (ESV)


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10:1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. (ESV)

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)


Listen

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (ESV)


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27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (ESV)


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22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (ESV)


Listen)

16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (Listen

16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (Listen)

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. (ESV)


Listen

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (ESV)

What is sin?

What is sin?
The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin!
(John Piper)