Sunday, November 14, 2010

Underlying Causes

As a teenager I remember going to the doctor with a sharp pain in the back of my right hand. If I did anything with my fingers, the pain would stab. After a few days my handwriting at school went from awful to illegible, and teachers began to complain. I spoke to my folks, and off to the doctor we went.

The doctor did the usual palpation finding nothing, but noticed my grimaces. He X-rayed the hand and found something distinctly triangle shaped on the film. With dad's permission, he gave me a shot of Novocain to deaden the area, and made an incision at the base of my hand's palm. “Hmmm... Nurse, bring me the forceps,” he said. He lifted an entire sharped tip of a pencil out of my hand. Then I remembered that six to eight week previous I had stuck the pencil in my hand, but saw nothing in the wound and my puncture wound healed. Little did I know that the tip of the now-lost pencil was in my hand.

Pain in the back of my hand was not the problem. There was an 'underlying cause' for the problem not related to the pain. The cause had occurred earlier.

Jesus encountered a group of people oblivious to the problem and even less knowledgeable about their underlying cause. Read Mark 7:1-13

The Pharisees and some scribes were oblivious to their problem. Approaching Jesus, they were saying Jesus had a problem with his disciples not following the ceremonial washing of the hands before eating.  Mark records in verse 3 how they did this washing in a special way. Their problem was not related to the ceremonially 'dirty' hands, but was in their “holding” the traditions of the elders. They were treating the ceremony of washing hands as equal to any other of God's commands.

Follow along as 'Doctor' Jesus dissects their problem of treating something men say or do as equal to what God has said. Check out verse 4 where the Spirit, through Mark, says they had many things they have “received and hold.” The Pharisees and scribes, in speaking to Jesus, openly spoke of the traditions, not recognize it as the underlying cause. Verse 5 has them saying Jesus' disciples do not walk “...according to the traditions of the elders.” Jesus quotes Isaiah's vain worship passage in verse 7 concluding the unforgettable phrase, “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” Then 'the doctor' applies Isaiah's thoughts to them, exposing the underlying cause plainly. “ hold the tradition of men...” after they have laid aside God's commands.

Jesus continues to excise the problem and reveal the underlying cause. He illustrates his point by showing how they would set aside God's command to “Honor your father and your mother,” so they could “keep” their tradition.

Unfortunately, their tradition-keeping had invalidated the word of almighty God. God's word was of “no effect” because of the traditions they had “handed down”.

Have you ever “been to church” and walked away with that empty feeling? Have you left wondering what was accomplished? Could it be that you need Jesus to show you the underlying cause?

Our “preacher Paul” recently spoke of a time when Paul the apostle came to town and wanted to meet with the saints. This is Lynn Anderson's account of what might have happened.
“Oh look! Here come the apostle Paul riding up Central Boulevard on a donkey and looking for the church.  

'Well,' we explain, 'there is the church at the corner of Fifth and Jackson, and the Pleasant Hills church, and the congregation near the new subdivision, and ...'
Paul's eyes widen and he asks: 'What are the brethren doing in all these places?'

'Oh,' we explain again, 'that is where the building are?' 
'Buildings?' [Paul questions with a confused look on his face.] 
'Yes, church buildings, of course.' 
Paul leans forward with curiosity: 'What is a church building?' 
'Well, its where the pews and the pulpit are.' 
'And what are those?' Paul asks. 
'Well, the pews are where the members sit when the communion trays are passed,' we answer. 
'And what are communion trays?' asks our beloved and bewildered apostle. 
This line of discussion isn't getting us anywhere very quickly, so we shift direction: 'The pulpit is the place where the song leader stands and ...' 
'Excuse me,' Paul interrupts, 'I'm not familiar with a song leader.
What or who is that?' 
'Oh, he tells us where to open our hymnbooks and leads us in praise before we go to our Bible classes in the educational wing.' 
Poor Paul is having a hard time understanding our ideas of church.
'Forgive me again, but I don't understand these hymnbooks, Bible classes, and educational wings that you have mentioned.' 
This guided tour rambles on as we lead Paul through explanations of the baptistery, the foyer, the nursery, the fellowship hall, youth ministry, bulletins, our worship times, and so forth, as we describe 'church,' or at least what we think when we think of church”.

In addition to this humor, I have many friends, maybe some of you, who practice religious ideas passed down to you by good-meaning people, but have nullified God's word. Would you let Jesus show you the underlying cause of your dissatisfaction with religion?


  1. I like the story about the pencil lead! Really a good example!

  2. Thanks. I just wish I had not gotten the pencil in my hand in the first place. It hurt!!


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