Shake off your religion

When you think of the church, have you ever ask yourself this question: “Are you in relationship with a person or with an organization?” As with any relationship, there is always the opportunity for misunderstanding, hurt, neglect and abuse. Sometimes it is intentional and sometime not. The thing that pushes people away from God is not isolated to just one thing. It is like trying to pull apart a hairball. [Thanks Jason for that illustration!] The problem with religion is that it was a good thing that went wrong a long time ago. It comes down to four basic issues.

With religion there is the issue of “us and them” or whether one is “in or out.” Jesus encountered this when the religious leaders of his day asked “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” In other words, how come you and your group do not do things as we do them. We are right and you are wrong. You are out while we are on the inside.

Religion can also create the problem of power. Power equals control and is too easily turned into manipulation. How often have you heard a TV evangelist tell their audience that they just send in money they will be blessed by God. I heard one man tell his audience that they would just send in handkerchief to him he would blessed it and return it to the sender; and God in turn would bless them in answer prayer all for a small donation.

The problem of righteousness scale is a problem of trying to keep certain commandment to please either a group of people or to please God. It becomes a thing of judgment if you fail to keep those certain requirements. Who is keeping track of the ‘righteous scale.’ Is it a church group? Jesus made a startling statement when he said to the religious leaders “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” In Jesus day, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jewish people who worked for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. They were hated and seen by their own people as traitors of the worst sort. But here’s the point of what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes were generally not proud of their professions. They knew they were not living a life that would be pleasing to God. And when Jesus confronted them they were humble. The people that were not humble or those that thought they were living a righteous life. They were proud of their ability to keep the law and were not of the worse sort, tax collectors and prostitutes. And because of that pride their heart was closed to God when Jesus appeared on the scene. You might want to read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. It will give you insight into the difference between prideful righteousness and humility that God seeks.

And then there’s the problem of just simply missing the point. When we’re missing the point we are spending more time obeying and loving what men have set up as the right thing to do rather than loving God and our neighbors. Being legal is more important than loving others. And interestingly enough the world is not becoming less religious but more religious. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day they were setting aside the guidelines of God to follow the guidelines of men. They were setting aside what God wanted in order to keep their traditions.

One reason people adopt following a religion and not a relationship with Jesus has to do with humility. Following a religion and being part of ‘in crowd’ can give us a false sense of security, all in the name of worshipping God. Jesus said “whoever exalts himself will eventually be humble; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So if you turned your back on religion for whatever reason, that’s a good thing. Now start afresh and go seek out Jesus. Abandon fear, fighting, control, wall building and just simply trust Jesus. He is far superior to religion.

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Invitation

Being other-centric is hard to do consistently individually, much less for a church. It is much easier for both to institute and follow rules for controlling people’s lives. I like to be connected to churches that want to intentionally reach people who do not go to church. I like being a part of a church that looks out at those people who are outside of the church looking in. Jesus made disciples of all sort of people – people that society would normally ignore. Jesus embodied the good news of salvation and restoration to God’s kingdom. That is what we are to be about, inviting people looking in, people of all sorts regardless of their social or economic status.

Jesus was deeply passionate about setting the stage to be able to invite people to “do life with God.” And that is what we should be about as well. Biblically based Christianity is a life that is not about rules but about relationship. Church should be a place where we can bring our friends, family and any others that are far from God. I think that we have lost the concept of the original church that started in the marketplace. We tend to only invite to church those that appear to be a fit for our church. With that attitude goes the hope that they will get a taste of what life with God will be like and help them move toward a better understanding of who and what God is all about.

An Unashamed Worker

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” [1Ti 2:14-15 NASB]

If I need to divide a pie into four equal parts than I need to accurately divide it so each piece is equal. I need to cut straight. When teaching I need to be accurate and not fudge on my research. Communicating the gospel requires care and a willingness to work hard. At each step I need to ensure the Holy Spirit is working and I am not hindering His work in me. Let’s look at the word “approved.” Webster defines this word as: acceptable, tried and refined, proven to be genuine. Synonyms would be worthy, able, chosen, faultless and blameless. The antonym would be reprobate.

I heard a preacher say recently that we cannot know everything in the Bible. And that is a very true statement. The God we worship and serve not only created us but the time frame we live in. He alone is outside our time. If we cannot know everything in the Bible what is the point? Because God loves it when we search to know Him. In His wisdom, we are made of dust but we handle eternal things when we study His ways and means. We are handling eternal beings when we engage people in eternal truth.

Journeymen Electricians must go through a rigorous process. They may either work under a journeyman electrician for 4000 hours and then take the licensing examine or they may first complete an apprentice program. An electrician apprentice program combines classroom work with field training. This program lasts about four years and requires the apprentice to complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. While the classroom work teaches about blueprint reading, electrical code requirements, soldering and electrical code requirements, field training allows the apprentice to apply this knowledge to practical work under the supervision of a licensed electrician. After all that, then they are ready to take the licensing examinations. This examination ensures that the apprentice understands the various aspects of electrical theory, the National Code, the state and local building and electrical codes.

Churches should be doing the same thing with every member so that they are trained “as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” We have lots of programs in the church that fill up the calendar. But what are we doing in the average church to provide the opportunities to become a workman approved by God? To become skilled in accurately handling the word of truth, we must provide not only classroom training but also OJT [On the Job Training]. This is where we allow our members to actually practice what they are learning. Teach them how to take a passage of Scripture and create a simple lesson plan. Then get them up in front of the class and give the lesson. Have them pray in front of the church by praying for the offering. Teach them how to witness. Then go out and actually do that in the local park. Have them give a sermon. That is scary, isn’t it pastors!

If we are to fulfill the mandate of Matthew 28 that Jesus left we need to be serious about discipleship and training our flock to do the work God has given us to accomplish. God has only one plan for the prorogation of the Good News regarding Jesus. He has no backup plan for telling people of the comfort, truth and love that He alone can provide. That one plan is us in the fellowship, sitting there comfortably in the pews. The “pastor” cannot do it all nor should he. We are to be the witnesses. The propagation of the Gospel is a participatory ministry. We need to be in the marketplace where the people are, exercising the gifts that He has given us.

He knows that each of us is up to the job. All we need to do is allow ourselves the opportunity to be trained as workmen. The training is available. The Holy Spirit awaits in the wings for us to take what we learn and go to stage center … wherever that is that He directs. We have learned His Script. He promises to direct our feet and our words so that the play unfolds and lost people find Christ.

So what is the point of all this?

First, we will get to not only do what He commands us to do but we will get to see up close and personal His working in the lives of others. Watching a life be redeemed and then transformed is more awesome than any miracle found in the Bible!

Second, Pastors, keep your flock “Reminding them of these things…” and give them the training and opportunity to “accurately handle the word of truth” in the church [that is the training ground] and then in the world around you.

Third, remember you only got proficient in handling the Word by doing it in real time. Practice makes perfect.

“See, I have told you beforehand.” Jesus

Judgment Day on May 21, 2011?

For months now there have been billboards on freeways and flyers circulating about the coming judgment of God on the world.  People are asking questions as to how can anyone teach that Christ’s return will happen on a particular day?  Some Christians have seen this phenomenon predicted more than once in their lives and so chalk it up to a nut-case.  Some Christians see the billboards and wonder because they do not know their Bible.  Some Christians read what appears to be a Godly pamphlet and wonder if they have missed something.  And Satan smiles with delight.

Last week I was out doing my daily walk, noticed an eight-page pamphlet on the sidewalk claiming “THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE!”  Picking it up I skimmed through it as I walked and found nothing obviously or blatantly wrong … as a matter of fact it sounded really evangelical.  I folded it up and stuck it in my pocket for further analysis.  What I discovered is a lie couched in some bible verses.  Here are some excerpts:

“…about 35 years ago God began to open the true believers’ understanding of the timeline of history. Thus it was discovered that the Bible teaches that when the events of the past are coordinated with our modern calendar, we can learn dates of history … However, it was not until a very few years ago that the accurate knowledge of the entire timeline of history was revealed to true believers by God from the Bible.”  It continues on by saying: “During these past several years God has been revealing a great many truths, which have been completely hidden in the Bible until this time when we are so near the end of the world.”

“Several years ago we had learned that the silence in Heaven for about half an hour referred to the 2,300 days that were the first part of the 23-year (exactly 8,400 days) Great Tribulation period. This period began on May 21, 1988. It was during this 2,300-day period that, both in the churches and throughout the world, very few, if any, were saved.”

“We had learned that May 21, 1988 was the last day of the church age and was also the first day of the 23-year period of Great Tribulation, during which Satan has been employed by God to officially rule all of the churches as well as the whole world. During the first 2,300 days of this 8,400-day period the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from all of the churches as well as the entire world. This produced silence in Heaven. However, beginning 2,300 days after May 21, 1988 (the end of the church age), the Holy Spirit was again poured out, producing what the Bible calls the “latter rain” (Zechariah 10:1; James 5:7) throughout the world (but not in any church), and God began a final great harvest of salvation, bringing great joy in Heaven. This salvation is not occurring in any church, but will continue outside of the churches to the end of the Great Tribulation, on May 21, 2011.[1]

Jesus, in His own words told the disciples: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” [Act 1:7] Jesus, the Master Teacher did not make mistakes or have after thoughts about what He spoke about.  The tone of what He plainly said “It is not for you to know…” seems to imply that we can ask but we will not get an answer.  Jesus spoke these words as He was departing from the disciples.  They were asking questions that were running through their collective minds.  These were troubling times for them.  I agree with one commentator who said that this was a rebuke to them and a cautionary statement for the church down through the ages.  Beware of getting focused on the wrong things; intruding into things that I have expressly stated as forbidden knowledge.  The implication for the church is there are limits to our curiosity.  In other words: “…concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” [This is quoting Jesus from Mat 24:36]  Finding scriptural evidence to the contrary of what Jesus spoke plainly about is walking into Satan’s trap.

I am reminded of Gen 3:1 where we have the account of Eve’s walking into Satan’s trap. “Now the serpent was craftier than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  We seem to feel that we know more than God and that we should understand more than we are capable of understanding.  Eve looked at the tree and saw it was good looking fruit.  Instead of remembering exactly what God had told them about this particular tree, she missed the subtle shift that Satan included in his misquoting God.  God said: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Gen 2:16-17]  Satan, always the liar, quoted God as saying: ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’

Like Eve, we miss what is right because we fail to remember to go to the Source of all knowledge.  Instead we create perplexing questions that take our eyes off of Jesus.  By doing that we miss the very next thing that Jesus told His inquiring disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Act 1:8] You are asking about end times but that question is irrelevant to the business that I want you as my church to be about.  Being my witnesses is you work now and in the future until I change it.

Jesus warned clearly that the church would encounter people creating parties and factions.  Jesus warned that Satan appears as an angel of light so that he can deceive people with the greatest evil with a convincing show of what appears good.  Jesus warns that Satan will incite men who pretend that they have some special insight or divine inspiration that runs outside of the Word of God but it is a lie.  Jesus warns that Satan will take advantage when there is trouble that threatens our security; people will seek out anything that looks like salvation.

Mat 24:5 “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” Verse 24: “… false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Jesus warns us to be watchful by paying attention to all of His words!  “See, I have told you beforehand.” [Mat 24:25]