Month: October 2013

My Name is Benji Magness, and I’m a Recovering Pharisee


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

When I read this parable, I immediately identify with the tax collector. I’m humble, I’m repentant, and doggone it, people like me! My guess is that I’m much more like the Pharisee than I like to admit. Why do we do that? When we read the Bible, why do we often identify with the hero of the story? How many of you have read the story of David and Goliath and thought, “I’m just like Goliath. Always resisting the Lord.” I bet you’ve read it and thought, “I’m like the underdog David. God helps me fight and win.” Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I’d argue that the story is really about The Hero, namely Jesus, who would come one day and really destroy God’s enemies. My hunch is that we all like to think of ourselves as Luke 18 tax collectors instead of the Pharisee. And that’s why we need to heed Jack Miller’s words-

“My name is Jack Miller, and I am a recovering Pharisee.”

If you read the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18, you might conclude that I speak too severely about myself. I am not usually a strict, rigid, unfeeling religious person as the man in the parable. But there is still enough of the Pharisee in me- and, I believe, in every one of us. The Pharisee is essentially a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own; he consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks loving hope. He does not expect grace to do much for him or others.

We recovering Pharisees often find that in our minds we have collected albums full of dark snapshots of other people, ourselves, and God and His grace. (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, p.59)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots and lots of “photo albums” full of dark snapshots of people who have wronged me and dark snapshots of all of their shortcomings. It’s so easy to be more aware of the sins of others! And it’s definitely harder to beat your breast and cry for mercy for your own sins.

May God give grace to us recovering Pharisees!


I Don’t Love Jesus With All of My Heart

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40

“I got nothing.” That’s bad grammar (I know) and that’s exactly how I started our staff meeting this week. I usually lead the devotional as we begin, but this week I was in a “funk.” I just didn’t really feel like sharing anything. So instead of pretending or buying into the “fake it until you make it” philosophy, I just told the truth. Shouldn’t pastors always tell the truth? Yes. But sometimes, even pastors “fake it.” Sometimes pastors are phonies. Perhaps you have those days, too? Days where you just don’t “feel” it. What do you do on those days? Fake it? Or, do you keep it real? I’d rather keep it real. I hate myself when I’m a phony so I just straight-up told the staff that I had nothing for them on Monday morning.

Fortunately, Pastor James stepped up and shared some Scripture in our staff meeting and really knocked it out of the park. I love seeing God work like this. He uses the body of Christ (plural) to minister, not just the believer of Christ (singular). We’ve got a great staff here at Grace and I hope you understand that. I thank God for this team, especially when I have days that I don’t have it all together.

The reality is that we simply do not have it all together. None of us do. And I’m okay with that. Jesus has it all together and I’m definitely okay with that. We’re broken, fallen sinners and for some reason we like to act like we do have it all together and we try desperately to convince others that we do.

The reality is that we don’t love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. At least we don’t all the time. And we certainly don’t love our neighbors the way we love ourselves. The law has exposed us as “bad” lovers of God and neighbor. But the good news is that Jesus loves us with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength… all the time. That’s pretty freeing, if you ask me.

One of my favorite authors, and the man who has single-handedly taught me more about the Gospel than any other human, is Jack Miller. He’s the guy who originated the phrase, “Preach the Gospel to yourself.” He said, “But if we take the first commandment in the manner God intended, we are all exposed as worldly to the core. We ‘clean-living’ sinners are no less fallen than anyone else. It is the nature we have received from Adam that condemns us, and our own self-centered habits reveal our kinship with our fallen father. Yet the first commandment also brilliantly illuminates the means of our healing; it makes clear why the Father so freely and righteously accepts the work of His Son on our behalf… The Father in turn rejoiced that at last one man stood on the center stage of history who could say truthfully, ‘I love the Lord with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind.'” (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, p.42)

I’m so glad Jesus loved the Lord with His whole being for me. And I’m so glad that Jesus loves me with all of His heart. “Jesus loves us with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I love the sound of that!

So why don’t you own up to your failures, your sin, your lack of love, your bitterness, your unforgiveness, your worry… should I keep going? Just admit that you are broken and Jesus is perfect. And then let that truth cause you to love Him and love others.

Just keepin’ it real (like every pastor should),