Oct12WedOctober 12, 2016
A few days ago, I took some extra time to make pizza dough from scratch. But as it was rising, our family got a last-minute invitation to an evening cook-out with my wife’s relatives. I quickly wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge. Hours later, when we returned, I opened the fridge to find something unexpected. The dough had pierced through the plastic membrane and had continued to expand – covering the surrounding refrigerator items with its light brown, elastic mass. I had greatly underestimated the power of expanding yeast!
This week, our Scripture readings take us to Mark 8 where Jesus, after feeding over four-thousand people, instructed his disciples to “beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Evidently, he also wanted to warn them about the danger of underestimating the power of expanding yeast. However, he wasn’t referring to some Pharisaic entrepreneur who was selling a special brand of bread yeast or some huge lump of dough which was covering the Judean countryside. Instead, Jesus was drawing a comparison between yeast and hypocrisy (see Luke 12:1).
The Pharisees were very diligent to study the Scriptures and live out a righteousness which (they thought) was pleasing to God. However, this ‘conservative movement’ was producing leaders who were only righteous externally. They were unwilling to practice what they preached. When Jesus began to expose the true condition of their hearts, they refused to change. Their hearts grew harder. Therefore Jesus needed to warn his young disciples, “Beware of this kind of yeast!”
Whether we like it or not, you and I need the same warning. If there is a group of Jewish leaders in which Central Illinois Christians can most relate to, it is probably the Pharisees. They loved the Scriptures just as much as many of us do. They were committed to living by God's commands. We are too! Yet it is very easy for us to read something in Scripture, commit to doing it, and then proceed to neglect our commitment or even do the very opposite. For example, how easy is it for us to read the command to “making supplicating prayers for the saints” (Ephesians 6:18b), commit to pray for people, tell people that we will pray for them…and then never actually get around to doing it! According to Jesus, this is a dangerous form of prideful religiosity – one which tempts me often.
Prayer is one category of discipleship in which it’s very easy to be hard-hearted and hypocritical. We claim that prayer is essential for The Church, and yet we barely give it time in our various corporate gatherings. We claim that prayer is necessary for daily walking with the Lord, and yet we can go days without surrendering some quiet time to lingering in the presence of God.
After observing this attitude among North American Christians, pastor and author Daniel Henderson wrote, “I have concluded that the devil does not care what we replace the centrality and sufficient of the Holy Spirit with – as long as we replace Him with something.” In the category of prayer, our spiritual enemy wins every time we talk about prayer and then refuse to practice it – either because of busyness or arrogance. Either way, we can easily entertain the yeast of hypocrisy until it expands beyond control.
Can you relate to that?
On October 24th-26th, I will be taking a spiritual retreat to refocus upon the priority of prayer in my life and as the pastor of FMC. As we continue to study the Psalms this fall, I encourage you to do something similar. What would it take for you to deal with "the yeast" which keeps you from praying?
If you desire to grow in this area, I invite you to read “Old Paths, New Power” along with the Elders and Church Board and weave Psalm 1 into your prayer life. May we all learn to have soft hearts which grow into new habits of prayer! Then, and only then, we may be able to keep the yeast of hypocrisy from taking over.