Tag Archives: Pharisees

Combining Creativity and Innocence

Story of the Day for Friday June 15, 2012

Combining Creativity and Innocence

                           Be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.

                                                                          Matthew 10:16

When Peter Mayle and his wife moved from England to southern France, they bought a quaint old house. The house needed major repairs, so they hired various local construction workers.

The Mayles soon became acquainted with the relaxed, Mediterranean view of time.  Workers would disappear from the job for weeks – even months.

This didn’t overly concern the Mayles during the hot summer months. But as November started pushing toward December, the construction was still unfinished.

Then, Peter’s wife had an idea. She invited all the construction workers to attend their Christmas party – to celebrate the completion of their home remodeling. But – and this was genius – she invited the construction workers wives as well.

Peter Mayle, in his book, A Year in Provence, explained that “no wife would want her husband to be the one not to have finished his part of the work. This would cause loss of face among the other wives and public embarrassment, followed by some ugly recriminations in the car on the way home.”

Within two days, Mayle says, the cement mixer was back in action, and the carpenters were back on the job. All of the projects were completed before the Christmas party.

I’m not sure if, as a Christian, I’m supposed to like this story. Maybe we shouldn’t appeal to people’s baser motives. All the same, I find Mrs. Mayle’s solution to their dilemma absolutely delightful.

We don’t have to look for trouble in this world. Trouble will find us. And when we are called to suffer persecution, Jesus tells us to be as harmless as doves.

Yet, all the same, he wants us to be shrewd.

I can’t think of a disciple in the Bible who endured more torments than the apostle Paul. He never flinched from suffering.

Yet, when Paul stood on trial before the Jewish high council, he made a shrewd move. He knew the council was composed of Pharisees (who believed in the resurrection of the dead), and Sadducees (who didn’t believe in heaven or hell). So, when he stood up to defend himself, he mentioned that he was raised a Pharisee and was standing trial because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead.

The Pharisees immediately sprang to his defense, and soon the judges were in a heated uproar. Paul had cleverly divided the council.

Somewhere between slapping people with lawsuits and suffering needlessly, with our tail between our legs, there is a middle ground. And, in that place, we are called to combine all the creativity and innocence that the Spirit provides.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

The Snob

Story of the Day for Thursday March 22, 2012

The Snob

                 And to those who tried to assure themselves they were righteous and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this story . . .

                                       Luke 18:9

When I was in third grade we learned a song called “Little Robin Redbreast.” It’s a chirpy number that recounts the epic conflict of wills between a robin and a pussycat.

After we learned the song our teacher gave everyone a sheet a paper with a robin on it and we got our crayons out to color it in.

This was my favorite time of the day. I loved art. Whenever my mind wandered during other classes, which was just about all the time, I would draw dinosaurs or football players or soldiers blowing things up.

But, as we colored in our robins, events took a disturbing turn.

Kids are busybodies and like to check up on each other’s progress, and as I looked at my classmates, I was horrified. Oblivious to reality, they were actually coloring the robin’s breast red! A robin’s breast isn’t red – it’s burnt-orange. Granted, we didn’t have burnt-orange in our arsenal of crayons back then, but at the very least, orange would be the better choice. And, if you take a brown crayon, you can lightly feather it over top of the orange for a pleasing effect.

I knew, however, exactly why they were coloring their robin’s breast red. They had been manipulated by a stupid song. And why? Because some two-bit poet lacked the literary skill to compose a song called, “Little Robin Burnt-Orange Breast.”

Nevertheless, the song, didn’t account for why Ronnie chose to color the rest of his robin’s body black. It didn’t even look like a robin; it looked like a raven hugging the top of a traffic light.

My classmates had no idea they were under covert investigation by the Color Police. They just colored away and were happy to be alive while I glumly brooded over their lack of aesthetic rigor.

As I look back on those days, I realize I was an art snob before I even knew what an art snob was. Snobbery has nothing to do with striving for excellence, nor even with thinking you can do something better than others. Snobbery is a dark smugness that enjoys feeling superior to others.

Spiritual snobbery is especially distasteful and dangerous. The Pharisees validated their lives by feeling holier than the common rabble. By seeking to be superior, they were silently acknowledging their secret insecurity in their relationship with God.

Once we know the mercy of Jesus, we enter into a secure relationship with God. He frees us from the desperate need to be holier or “righter” than others . . . or better able to draw robins.

But RED, for Pete’s sake! I still can’t believe it.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Straining Knats and Swallowing Camels

Story of the Day for Monday March 12, 2012

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

                 “You strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel.” 

                                               Matthew 23:24

My friend, Mike, from Upper Michigan once told me his experience as a new father.   One day his wife needed to go to church and asked if he could take care of the baby and then bring her to church when he came later.   Hey, no problem.  He has his list of things to bring: bottle, blanket, diapers, baby formula, tiny little baby spoon.

Then he drove to the church and met his wife.  He had remembered everything on his list.  But the first question his wife asked was, “Where’s the baby?”

“The baby!!!”

(You will want to know he raced back home to find his little daughter safe and sound, sleeping in her crib.)


Among other reasons, I like Mike, because now I don’t feel so alone for doing similar kinds of things.   Sometimes we can get so absorbed by details that we get diverted from the Big Picture.  As someone once said, “The main thing is to keep the ‘main thing’ the main thing.”

You would think the importance of the “main thing” would determine our attention to it, but that isn’t true.  A good example of that is Eastern Airlines Flight 401.  The pilot,  on his final approach to Miami International Airport, put the landing gear down, but the indicator light in the cockpit didn’t come on.

Puzzled, he circled around and leveled the plane off at 2000 feet.  The fist officer took a look and he couldn’t figure it out.  A mechanic from Boeing happened to be sitting in the jump seat that flight so he got up to take a look.   All three were so absorbed with the malfunctioning light bulb that they didn’t realize the plane was losing altitude.  No one was flying the plane.

Captain Robert Loft’s last words, before the jet crashed into the Everglades, was, “Hey!  What’s happening here?”

Nothing could be a higher priority for the pilot than to land the aircraft safely.  All the same, his focus was diverted from that by a $12 light bulb.


We can say a lot of awful things about the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, but no one can fault their attention to the smallest details of keeping the commandments.  They not only tithed their money, but they counted out their garden seeds, and carefully picked out every tenth seed to give to God.

But, in their attention to the tiniest detail, we lost sight of the Big Picture.  Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy of tithing seeds but neglecting the weightier matters of God’s Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Jesus’ assessment of them: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”


You’re really busy these days, aren’t you?  So many things to do.  What is the main thing that your Lord wants you to be about?

                                                       (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

But We Smell Bad

Story of the Day for Monday February 6, 2012

But We Smell Bad

                      To those who considered themselves righteous and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told a parable . . . 

                                                            Luke 18:9

Whenever I start a new discipline, I often get thoughts about others that are really creepy.

In general, I notice that most people are more health-conscious in their food choices than I am. If, however, I go on a diet, I suddenly notice the indulgent, unrestrained eating habits of others. Have they no self-discipline? If I start attending midweek services in addition to Sunday, I start thinking of those who aren’t there – those unspiritual schlubs plopped in recliners in front of their TVs. But, before I started attending church on Wednesday nights, they just seemed normal.


Thinking this way is kind of sick, isn’t it?  I do it, even though I already know the root cause: self-righteousness.  When our self-righteousness starts acting up, we are trapped between two contradictory impulses.  On the one hand, we think everyone else should be as “spiritual” as we are.  But, on the other hand, we don’t want them to be.  We secretly enjoy the feeling of considering ourselves a notch above the throng.


If you would like to improve your self-righteousness, you can’t go wrong with the Pharisees as role models.  For example, they made their phylacteries wider than yours.  Moses told the faithful to put tassels on the ends of the garments as a sign they were dedicated to a holy God.  The Pharisees made sure that their fringe was longer than your fringe – thus, sending the message that they were more devout than you.


If you really want to be self-righteous, the key is subtlety.  You want to let people know you are spiritual, but you don’t want to make it too obvious.  If you buy a Rolex, for instance, it’s not much good if people don’t notice it, is it? (Come on, you don’t think they make Rolexes just to keep time, do you? This is about status.)  The secret is to casually stretch out your arm so that you can see the time, and they can see your superior status.


There are, of course, a few downsides to becoming self-righteous. Jesus took the Pharisees to task.  He doesn’t think highly of attempting to portray ourselves as more spiritual than others.

It’s not only that Jesus does not like show-offs.  When we become self-righteous, we turn away from God. We send the message to those “beneath” us that they must be like us to be religious. But we smell bad, so they have no desire to try.

But, most of all, we miss out on the mercy of Jesus.  The pride of self-righteousness blinds us to the truth – that the only path to God is through the mercy of Christ.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)