The Public Death of A Third Place Bible Drill Girl

I was probably ten years old.

A blond-haired bowl cut chunk of boy.

She was probably 13 years old. I didn’t know her name. She didn’t know mine.

I sat in the back. Safe. Bored.

She stood on stage. Vulnerable. Nervous.

A Nice Public Flogging

It was a Sunday night church Bible Drill Competition. The sanctuary seemed uncharacteristically packed. Deacons, rubbernecks, parents, peers, everyone accounted for. Her competition was two boys.

The final three.

The first reference was called and the frenzied rustling of pages began. The first person to get there lunged forward and proudly recited it for the whole auditorium to hear. The next was called. And the next.

2 Chronicles 7:14!

Psalm 23:4!

James 5:16!

Ancient renderings from Nehemiah the adults in the audience had never heard. An interesting subplot was taking center stage. The two boys were running away with the competition. The poor girl fumbled her way through every challenge.

Not once.

Not once did she step forward.

Her older brother was sitting in the pew in front of me with a group of friends. His peers snickered as every squandered verse ran through her fingertips. At one point in hushed brotherly rage he whispered, “Shut Up!”

As the debacle unfolded her shoulders drooped. Defeat washed over her countenance. I could feel the white-hot embarrassment emanate off of her. She likely felt every eye from the faceless shadows peered at her; the spotlight on her ineptitude.

bible drill

At the time I didn’t know what to think; except how bad I felt for her. Now I think:

What a Stupid Petty Tradition

What did this competition teach that girl? That drive by knowledge of a reference and using the Bible as a silly sports ploy is what church is about? That the Christian life is namely about performance?

That night I learned I sure as heck wasn’t going to be a part of any such game. If I felt that much anguish from the back row I can’t imagine what she felt.

Children should be taught not to drill the word but to dwell in it (Colossians 3:16). If anything they should be led to handle what they hold with care and reverence, not rip through it as some recreational means to an end.

The Pharisees were the “Bible Drill” Champions of Ancient Israel. They flaunted their knowledge of the Law with brash eloquence. They wielded their Scripture swords like a drunk pirate, always lazily pointing outwards, never inwards to their own black heart.

Scripture was just a means to an end for them.

I’m informed by generally good scholarship that these teachers of law had the whole Pentateuch memorized by the time they were this girls age…thirteen. The only claim to memorization I had at that age was Blues Traveler’s mildly popular song “Hook”: “Suck it in, Suck it in, Suck it in, if you’re Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn…..”

Pharisees and Bible drill

The Verse That Powns Pharisees

This all brings me to one of my favorite verses in the bible. It’s Jesus’s words to the Pharisees:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;
it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39)

From Genesis to Maps. Every Jot. Every tittle. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The eviscerated goats on the altar. The weeping prophets. The immaculate temple. The lovesick king in Songs of Songs. The unlikely shepherd boy who slayed a giant for his people.

The Bible is a progressive unfolding of the person and work of Jesus. The Old Testament had veils and shadows, we have the substance: Christ! If we study the Bible and miss Him we miss everything. That’s why I shake my head when I see a preacher endeavor to open the word, open his mouth and a few quaint stories, funny jokes, principles only, and practical vignettes come out.

People don’t need a little humor and new laws, they need Jesus. Period.

The grace He freely gives will both humble the proud Pharisee, and lift up the perplexed Bible drill loser.

I don’t know where that girl is today. She may not even remember that night as vividly as I do.

I do know this:

She won’t have to find Jesus in a fit of staged performance anxiety.

The Jesus the Bible testifies of can find her just fine. Right where she is. He already won the only victory that matters in her life.

Bible drills be damned.

What “unique” traditions did your childhood stream have growing up?

Bryan Daniels

Hug, Don’t Hate, The Pharisees In Your Life

There are some modern groups in which it is still politically correct to hate. For instance:

Westboro Baptist Church.

Dallas Cowboys.

The Kardashians.

Nickelback.

In Christian culture there is one biblical group in particular that gets our self-righteous blood boiling more than any other:

The Pharisees

They were the most religious, prestigious and openly critical Jewish sect towards Christ’s brief public ministry. They wielded their knowledge of the Law like a battle-axe. They held people captive and enslaved under the crushing weight of the meticulous ceremonial law. They would hold immaculate banquets to honor their own religious devotion before Israel’s upper crust, while locking out the broken, poor and unclean from their sight.

Ancient Jewish religious culture was married to the political establishment. Pharisees weren’t just the religious elite. They were the social elite. Political elite. Educational elite.

Jesus definitely had hard words for this particular religious opponent: They were called bleached tombs housing rotting corpses on one occasion (Matthew 23:27); on another, he accused their mothers of shagging the devil (John 8:44).

Everyone ELSE is a Pharisee

Some modern Christian groups commonly get compared to those ancient hypocrites: The red faced Fundamentalist who shuns sex, drugs and rock & roll. The Theological nitpicks and watchdogs, who commonly accuse other Christian groups of heresy. Any pastor who may say any word of exhortation on the matter of homosexuality, abortion, or anything deemed a political issue.

We love to hate on the Pharisees. And we love to ascribe that title to every other group but the one we happen to identify with. It may sound like this:

“Sure, grace is for tax collectors, prostitutes, gang bangers, drug addicts, etc….But don’t get me started on that old fart deacon who gave my wife an ugly look when she raised her hands during worship…I can’t stand that guy!”

Do we really think we’re gonna reach that crazy dude with the megaphone, who is thumping nothing but the law to deaf masses, by shouting “SHUT UP!” out our window as we screech by in our car?

Modern pharisees need grace as much as the anguished teenager considering an abortion.

I know this because they are human. And we all happen to be in the same sinking ship by nature (Romans 3:23).

Hugs Not Drugs….Or Hate

I also know this: The apostle formerly known as Saul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). And a dang good one. Before Christ knocked him off his donkey, Paul was notorious for his ability to hunt down men and women of “The Way” and see to it they were murdered for their faith (Acts 7:54-60). The blood of the saints was all over his hands, and he was quite proud of it (Acts 22:4)

A Pharisee of Pharisees
Paul, a “Pharisee of Pharisees” murdered Christians

Think:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be murdering Christians in Sudan.

Maybe more shocking to you:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be the church deacon you’re cursing underneath your breath.

If we have any reservations over those statements it is because we don’t believe in invincible grace. One thing is for sure: The only force that changes the heart of a murderous or judgmental Pharisee, is the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Next time you’re shocked by their critical spirit and blind religious hubris: stop, take some deep breaths, smile and say something like:

“Is there anything I can pray for you about?”

“You wanna go for coffee some time?”

“Tell me your story.”

or even, God willing:

“Can I give you a hug?”

If God’s kindness brought Pharisees like us to repentance (Romans 2:4), you never know what similar grace will do to the hearts of those bound in legalism now.

Stop the hate. Try a hug instead.

What are some ways you could express greater grace towards the “Pharisees” in your circle?

Bryan Daniels

What a Prostitute Teaches Us About Worship: Extravagant Love, Radical Boldness Part 2

(This is Part 2 of a two-part blog series on the one true source of passion, boldness, and worship. It is a study on Luke 7:36-50)

We left the last post with a nameless woman giving wordless worship to Christ, as Simon the Pharisee looked on in utter dismay (Luke 7:36-38). 

In v. 39 the true motives of Simon are laid bare. He thinks to himself: “This woman is unclean according to the law!” Simon’s premise was this: If this man, Jesus, is a prophet he would know the character of this defiled woman. If he knew her character he would cast her from his presence. Jesus is accepting her affection, so He must not be a prophet. In other words, Jesus should do exactly what I would want him to do. 

Simon wanted a Messiah and God that acted and looked a lot like him. Do we do that? 

In v. 40 Jesus speaks to the thoughts of His dismayed host. In an efficient way Christ addresses Simon’s unvoiced doubts, proving himself to indeed be a prophet. The omniscience of God is mingled with mercy in Jesus. Instead of jumping down Simon’s throat for his critical ignorant spirit, Christ remains gentle with His rebuke.

He shares a parable.

The parable in v. 41-42 contrasts two men who owed debt to the same lender. The comparison is between a man who owed roughly 20 months wages and a man who owed two months wages. There is an important reason Jesus speaks of Debt. Sin is debt. The “wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Our debt is infinitely great, and can never be repaid in a lifetime through our work. That is why it says in the story “Neither had the money to pay him back.” (42) Both men were unable to lift one finger toward their debt load.

The moneylender forgives both (42). And here we find our answer to the prostitutes scandalous display; it’s not a six step process or sowing a seed, it is beautifully simply this: Forgiveness.

 Why didn’t Jesus just tell a story about someone paying off a debt? Because grace and forgiveness of sin is the point. Notice forgiveness precedes gratitude in the parable. The woman did not pay off a debt to Christ by her generous giving. In fact, she sees how Christ has canceled her debt and it freed her to give out of a broken heart of gratitude. 

 Was Simon more holy than her? Did he “owe” less debt than her? No! He is utterly prideful! Simon is blind and hardened. His righteousness by no means exceeds hers. Remember, neither in the story were able to pay the debt off.

So the moneylender forgives both the debts of the two debt-laden, and Jesus asks Simon, “Which one of them will love him more?”

In answering Jesus’ question (v.43) Simon rightly guesses the debtor who owed more, adding, “I suppose.” What a snide attitude Simon displays. Yet Jesus still didn’t chastise him!

Jesus graciously affirms Simon’s response, “You have judged correctly.”

 In v. 44, our attention is brought back to the wordless worship of the unnamed woman.  The woman never changes her posture throughout the scene. In that day, a diner would sit at a short table on a floor cushion with their feet angled behind them. All of this time she was behind Jesus (v.38). She’s still weeping and kissing his feet. For the first time Jesus turns His back on Pharisee and faces the broken woman.

In v. 44-46, we see Jesus’ first rebuke of the Pharisee. Simon was a bad host for not doing the customary cultural greeting of kissing a guest. This was a cultural norm and the reason Paul charges brethren to “greet each other with a holy kiss.” At the very least a host would have a servant wash a guests feet as a sign of welcome. Since people wore sandals in their travels and the roads were dusty, this was common Jewish etiquette, like shaking an outstretched hand or not farting public is today. Simon fails to give the bare minimum cultural respect to Jesus.

The woman has done all this for Christ and more. Why?

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In v. 47, Jesus overtly answers the question that troubles us: Where does such passion/worship/boldness come from?  Forgiveness is the root of every fruit of radical passion and extravagant obedience towards Christ.

Through the woman, we see such passion comes from knowing our great debt/ sinfulness before a holy God, and repenting and finding grace in the person Who can forgive us. This is where extravagant worship is birthed. The feet of Jesus is where a sinner belongs. 

Worship isn’t for the religious.

Worship is for sinners. 

Worship is for enemies of God. (Roman 5:6-11) We were once an enemy, but in Christ we are an heir of God.

Worship is for children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-10) We were once children of wrath, but in Christ we are adopted sons and daughters.

Worship is for slaves to the flesh. (Romans 5:12-23) We were once slaves to the flesh, but in Christ we are slaves to righteousness.

 Worship is for adulterers. (Ephesians 5:21-27) We were once spiritual adulterers, but in Christ we are a spotless bride.

No wonder such an unquenchable outpouring takes place at the feet of Christ alone.

With a realization of the deep depths of our sinfulness, comes a deeper depth of repentance, which comes with a realization of the deep depths of God’s mercy. And that cycle continues until death ends it for good.

The perfect lamb of God, Jesus, beckons such a lifestyle of joyful sacrifice. It reminds me of the declaration that helped spark the Moravian Missionary movement, as told by Paris Reidhead:

There was an island somewhere in the Atlantic, owned by a multi-millionaire slave owner, who also happened to be an atheist. For that reason, he would allow no Christian workers to come to his island to preach the Gospel to his slaves.

Two young Moravian believers, both young men barely out of their teens, were concerned that these slaves, who were living on this island, had no opportunity to hear the Gospel. After some thought, they decided that their only course of action would be to sell themselves into slavery, to the atheist British owner, so that they would be transported to the island, to live and work among the other slaves, and thus have opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Naturally, their families were quite distraught, and grief-stricken at their decision. This was not a temporary separation. These young men with their whole lives in front of them knew that they were selling themselves into a lifetime of servitude, with no hope of ever returning home to see their families and other loved ones.

When the time came for them to leave, their families and friends stood on the dock, weeping as they watched these two young men pull away from the dock. One of the family members cried out the question they had been continually asking; “Why are you going?”

After a few moments of reflection, the two young men cried out, at the top of their voice, for all to hear, what has since become the banner cry of Moravian missions:

“May the Lamb Who was slain receive the reward of His suffering”!

 

The Moravians and the “woman of the city” were displaying the virtues of the final Kingdom of God. At the feet of the Lamb who was slain, we will all likewise assume their broken posture for eternity.

(Rev. 5:8-13)

Yes, may Lamb who was slain receive the reward for His suffering, now and forevermore. 

Bryan Daniels

What a Prostitute Teaches Us About Worship: Extravagant Love, Radical Boldness Pt. 1

{This is part one of a two part blog series on the one source of love, boldness and worship}

As Christians, we spend a lot of time wondering what is wrong with us.

We hear of martyrs on foreign soil  laying down their lives for the gospel in bloody extravagant fashion. Church history testifies of men and women who stood against fierce political and social opposition and proclaimed boldly the foolishness of the cross. In our bible reading the fearless radical passion of the early church in the book of Acts is an indictment on our listless and dry spiritual estate.

For every one Francis Chan there are thousands of other struggling saved sinners who will never be able to quit their vocation to visit the underground church and prayer walk the major US cities to find their call. And even reading a popular book calling us to “Radical” gospel commitments doesn’t necessarily bring the quick spiritual fix we long for.

It’s enough to make any solid sincere saint at the least question their own fruit, and at the most question their very salvation.

All of this begs the question.

Thankfully, as is always the case with the most important questions, the Bible is forthcoming with a more than adequate answer. It’s found in Luke 7:36-50:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Where does such passion, boldness, and extravagant worship come from?

In the verse right before this scene (Luke 7:34) Jesus speaks of eating with the “wrong people.” The Sinners and tax collectors were despised by the religious establishment. The Pharisees primary charge against Jesus was that he threw the best parties (“a drunkard”) and invited the lowest classes of a people. They probably were jealous they weren’t invited. Jesus turns that theory on its head in the very next scene.  Being no respecter of persons, Christ eats with the “right” person in v. 36. Pharisees were the creme de la creme of society, pillars of the first century Israeli religious system. The Pharisees were OCD in their religious zeal. They fasted frequently and even tithed out of their spice racks.  

In v. 36 Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. Dinner was a sign of intimate acquaintance in ancient Israel culture. A gesture of supreme respect towards the person invited. Is it possible to pay outward respects to Christ and inwardly oppose him?

It takes no time for a broken vessel to rain on Simon’s party. 

In v.37 we have a very public “sinner” show up to the Pharisee’s house. The phrase “woman of the city” usually connotes sexual sin, which was probably committed as a prostitute. In that day, women were second class citizens on the level of children. For a woman to show up to a man’s dinner party uninvited was a serious party foul. For a known prostitute to show up at a Pharisee’s dinner party uninvited was a colossal Kanye Westesque error.  

The woman brings with her what is likely her most valuable possession, an alabaster flask of perfume. The expensive stone flask was probably used for her line of work. In a profound way, the jar contained her very livelihood. It was worth a healthy portion of her salary for the entire year.

Yet she pours it out in a reckless display of love.

 Because of our lack of historical context, the cultural significance of v. 38 is lost on us. She washes Jesus’s feet with her hair. A woman’s hair had a weighty impact on her identity in Jewish culture.  In 1 Cor. 11:15 Paul calls a woman’s hair her “glory.” The first century Jewish woman kept her hair up all her life. But on her wedding night when she was standing before her husband for the first time the man would reach up and take her hair down. Before the marriage was officially consummated the new husband would first see his wife’s long hair fall around her bare shoulders and back, and he would behold her there, standing in all her “glory.” Because of these implications it was scandalous for a woman to have her hair down before other men in public places. But this woman does not care that she scandalizes the mind of mere men. She is on a solemn mission to serve at the feet of her tender Savior. 

Her hair is down, she is vulnerable, she lays it all before the feet of the only man who will never use and abuse her.

And she uses her alabaster jar, her savings plan, her only resource of earthly value and pours it on the feet of Jesus. The sandaled, dusty, unkempt feet of love. This was a slave’s job. She does it with tearful joy. Her tears were the soap that anointed the Savior’s feet.

Worship is a deeply emotional response to Christ. It is not just that, but it at least has that heartfelt component in it. Dignified stoicism is not a virtue lauded by Jesus.

This passion, boldness, and extravagant worship was a response she couldn’t hold back, no matter how her culture condemned her.

The gaze of the religious cut her to pieces. But she was pierced only by the gaze of One.

We’ll answer the question at hand in the next post. The question(s) for now are: What is holding me back from unhindered displays for my Jesus? What can this prostitute teach me about love and worship? Do I identify more with the Pharisee than the prostitute in this scene?

Peace and Grace til next time.

Bryan Daniels