“Talking a good game” isn’t good

Posted Jul 24, 2020

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong.’

Reflection Questions

Yesterday we read Jesus' warning that there can be people who look outwardly religious yet bear “bad fruit.” In today’s reading, he upped the ante! He pictured people on the Judgment Day talking about prophesying in his name, expelling demons in his name, doing lots of miracles in his name—and yet hearing the tragic words, “I’ve never known you.” Clearly there was (and is) a deeper dimension to doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven” than just putting on a good religious show.

  • “It’s not even enough to name Jesus as Lord, or perform extraordinary activities (like throwing out demons or working miracles) in his name. What matters is that one put into practice in one’s life the true righteousness of which Jesus had spoken in Matthew 5:20.”* How would you define the difference between showy outward “righteousness” and an inner as well as outer life that puts “true righteousness” into practice?
  • Scholar N. T. Wright said Christians today can still look on the outside rather than the inside: “Within the Christian church there is always a temptation to ask different questions about people. ‘Is he one of us?’ people enquire. ‘Does she belong to my party, to our group, to the proper tradition?’ But parties, groups and traditions have a way of attracting both genuine believers and true prophets on the one hand and false prophets and hangers-on on the other.”** How can you look beyond labels and seek the deep inward reality of faithful service to Jesus?


King Jesus, the focus of your ministry was not making people say “Wow!” but drawing them into the Kingdom of God. Teach me how to live a life with that same focus. Amen.

* Eugene Eung-Chun Park and Joel B. Green, study note on Matthew 7:21-23 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 18 NT.

** Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 77). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group and a men’s group, and serves on the curriculum team.

As I was scrolling through my Twitter Feed I came across the following posts:

Heavenly Humor: St. Peter is holding the Pearly Gates open. A basset hound lies in front of the open gate. St. Peter says, “Well? In or out?”

Jokes for Jesus: An auto mechanic appears before St. Peter. St. Peter looks over his book & notes, “Let’s see here. We have sins of commission, sins of omission, & in your case, sins of transmission.”

And then I “saw” a promoted tweet for the S.M.U.G-Band-5000 & was intrigued:

Remember those Mood Rings from the 1970’s that could show your mood by the color of the ring's crystal? Welcome to the 21st century! Let us introduce you to the S.M.U.G-Band-5000. The Sanctimonious-Moral-Upright-Gauge constantly monitors your faith walk to help you determine when you have earned your place in heaven.

Here’s how it works: We hired a team of top theologians to evaluate & provide a point value for every possible Godly activity. This is registered on your S.M.U.G.-Band-5000 & gives you a real-time tally of your celestial score.

For example, you get 9 points if you facilitate a Sunday School class for middle-schoolers. You get an 8 point bonus if you are asked, “Can God make a rock too heavy for Him to lift?” You can earn 4 points for worshiping online. You get a 2 point bonus if you wear a collared shirt.

The S.M.U.G.-Band-5000 changes colors as you advance up the proverbial Jacob’s Ladder to heaven. We start with platinum, then bronze, silver, & gold. (After all, what’s the point of knowing your heavenly score if you can’t flex/brag in front of your fellow congregants?)

We also offer an online newsletter that offers cheat-codes that help boost your score if you feel it is lagging. (For example, if you leave our patented online Bible app open to the Book of Job overnight – Boom! Your score will really pop!)

We are already working with multiple churches to offer perks for our S.M.U.G-Band-5000 members: for our bronze members: reserved seats with no draft on the back of your neck, for our silver members: the urn with the really good coffee, & for our gold members: a dedicated H.O.V. lane from the parking lot. (HOV – Holy Occupant Vehicle.)

With the S.M.U.G-Band-5000, you will now know with certainty that your hard work has reserved you a place in heaven. Don’t delay. Order yours today!

I was t-h-i-s close to giving my credit card information, when I read some of the common side effects:

Users have experienced various symptoms of being hoity-toity, pompous, & haughty. If feelings of “holier than holy” (or even "than thou") persist for more than 4 hours, consult Matthew 7:21-23.

As we Christians grow in our faith & start to worship, volunteer, & join Bible studies, we can be easily tempted to think that we have begun to earn our own salvation. We review our heavenly resume and are pretty sure God will be impressed with all our efforts. However today’s passage pointedly warns us that despite all of our outward activities, we can still fall short of the Kingdom. What are we to do now?

One of my favorite theologians, Dallas Willard, uses the analogy of washing a coffee cup. We don’t start washing the cup from the outside; rather we start on the inside of the mug. In the midst of all of our outside activities, perhaps we should prioritize cleansing our own insides – our heart & soul.

Jesus began a revolution to change the hearts of all mankind that will require a transformation of our entire character as we develop a spirit in sync with God, where our initial instincts over time become more & more Godly. As this transformation takes hold, we’ll develop a peaceful confidence in our salvation; not because of anything we did or didn’t do, but solely because we have come to appreciate that God has given us an undeserved gift: grace.

Back to scrolling…

Cosmic Comedy: St. Peter is locked outside the Pearly Gates. “Good grief. Where in heaven did I leave my keys?”

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