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.

Not About Religion

Generally today, when someone talks uses the word ‘religion’ they mean a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teaching of some denomination or some cult like leader. The Apostle Paul considered himself on top of the pile when it came to strict religion. In his words: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” [Gal 1:13 ESV]

The real issue of religion is that we have forgotten the source of Christian religion. We have forgotten the Bible. It is not just a collection of musty writings from long-ago out of touch old men. God wants to reveal His story and His vision for us.  Religion according to God is learning to find the pathway to Him so that we can live satisfying lives. James, the step brother of Jesus, was not always a Christ follower. Later in life he had this to say about religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” [Jam 1:27 ESV]

At least two or three times a year, we can pick up the newspaper and find some article on how a christian group or leader has fallen. All too often, the source of the fall is embedded in the avoidance of God and not taking seriously personal interaction with Him. This is not about tradition, public practices, parental upbringings or backgrounds. This is about personal relationship with the Sovereign Living God.

So, when you read your Bible, are you focusing on the events you are reading about? Are you possible focusing on how questionable they sound? Or are you focusing on how God is defining life for you? Do you see life-shaping issues in your life that God might want you to trust Him with? You know the stuff I am talking about … those thoughts and actions that simply will not go away no matter what you do.

Yes? Then the very next time that you sit down and start reading your Bible, pause just for 15 seconds and simply ask God to “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” [Psa 119:18 ESV] “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle-wonders.” [MSG]

Try it. Seek God were He can be found. He will find you.

Fickleness

Words matter. The words of Jesus matter most. We live in an age where there is a plethora of words in continual bombardment on our senses. But words become meaningless when people adopt a fickle attitude. Observe what happened to Jesus in a very short period of time.

“[Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” [Luke 4:16 ESV] Synagogues were most likely started around the time when the Jews were freed from Babylonian capture. A synagogue could be started anywhere in town or country, where 10 or more respectable men of like mind wanted to gather to read the Torah, pray and sing praises to God. To the Jews, worship was a public affair and men were expected to participate. After Jesus had read the portion from Isaiah he sat down. It was expected and hence all were focused on him, to see what commentary he would bring to this reading. He spoke and “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?'” [v. 22] It appears that they wanted to hear more but were puzzled by this this man who was raised and lived in their village who had no training religiously.

Jesus does say more. Luke tells us that “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.” [v. 28] As I read this account this morning, I was impressed with the word ‘fickle.’ By definition it is an adjective that describes people characterized by erratic changeableness or instability. A short talk by Jesus triggers a reversal of affections in the listeners, so much so that they intend to kill him.

One moment they were ready to lionize this apparent prophet who grew up in their midst and then the next they reject him. What triggered such reversal of attitude? They were men of tradition. They worship the tradition of having the Sacred Writings carefully stowed in the synagogue and each Sabbath, ceremoniously brought out to be read and then carefully put back in an ark. This was God’s word to them on how to have a relationship with him and those around them. They worshiped the tradition of worshipping God. Their fickleness shows up because they were not firmly governed by God’s word but rather by the traditions of the elders.

“… my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable …” [I Corinthians 15:58 ESV] Stand firm. In other words, God wants us to be firm in our affection, behavior, opinion and loyalty. The men of the synagogue in Nazareth were ready to kill Jesus based on their capricious emotions. They were ready to break both the Roman law and God’s Law based on a sudden whim. In their rage they carried Jesus to the edge of a cliff intending to toss him to his death, but God intervened and he walked away. “But passing through their midst, he went away. And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” [v. 30-32] The Scribes and Pharisees taught with a detached coldness and indifference. They taught tradition, depending on the authority of others. Jesus taught with fervency and majesty, teaching what his Father told him to teach and his words penetrated their hearts.

Fickleness describes a person that is not firm or steady in their affection, behavior, opinion or loyalty. May we be the opposite? Under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit may we be men that “… continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard …” [Colossians 1:23 ESV]

Organic or Synthetic?

Relationships bring meaning to life and are the key toward good health in mind, body, emotions, spirit and soul. My question to you today is simply this: Do you have an organic life in Christ or are you a synthetic Christian by association? If you say that you have an organic relationship with Jesus Christ then those who you do life with will see you growing in your spiritual life. Children do not stay children long. They are constantly hungry and growing. Maintaining childhood is not natural, either in the physical realm or spiritual. If you starve a child it will die. I find it interesting that it is the people who call themselves Christians and are starving for the Word of God who are the biggest abusers of religion. Calling myself a Christian means, according to the Bible, that I am a saint. Sainthood is not reserved for a special group of people. If you think this way, then what do you make of Paul’s salutation: Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. [Philippians 4:21-22 NASB] We have a choice. We can believe humanly spawned dogmatic criteria to what a saint is or is not. We can believe as the Bible teaches that saints are simply those who worship Christ. A saint is nothing more or less than a holy one. And the only way to true holiness [again according to the Bible] is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Caesar’s household had many saints, none of whom are known today.

An organic Christian [saint] should be a faith-builder. They are the ones in the church who should be seeking to represent the ‘fullness of Christ.’ In everything they do they look for the mature way of doing something. Children [synthetic Christians] know no boundaries and can be destructive and suck the life out of a church. Synthetic Christians are interested in themselves. They love others when others love them. A saint is like wheat and seeks to feed the body of Christ whereas a child is like a weed and seeks to crowd out the wheat so they can fulfill their own agenda. A saint struggles to love people as Christ loves them. They work hard to bring those feelings of “I cannot stand that person” to the altar so that Jesus can love “that person I cannot stand” through them.  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ … (Ephesians 4:15 NASB) As an organic Christian, Jesus desires nothing more or less than for me to be growing in all aspects of what He wants to accomplish through me. What was true in the Old Testament is still true today: For I am the Lord your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. [Leviticus 11:44 NASB]

Biology 101 teaches us that living cells split apart and replicate themselves. Are you replicating more organic or synthetic Christians? Intellect means nothing in the spiritual realm. Does the Word of God pierce my heart? If so then what should I do now? Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37, 38 NASB)

Lying lips …

Finding just one proverb to write on is like going into a candy story finding just one favorite candy in a store full of candy. So after wandering around the Proverb Candy Store, here is mine: Proverbs 12:22. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.”

The word ‘abomination‘ is not a commonly used word in today’s vernacular. The word we us today is ‘to detest something of someone.’ Where I have most often heard the word abomination used is by Christians who misquote and misapply what God says is because they are on some righteous bandwagon [e.g.: the gay-lesbian debate]. They will say that God says that all gay people are ‘an abomination to the Lord’ [attempting to quote a 1611 KJV version that they probably have never read for themselves]. They quote this as if that were the ONLY thing that God detests. Shame on them.

Key Word: Abomination. It means abhorrence, disgust, an action that is vicious, vile; an intense loathing. It is a strong word and God does not sling it around randomly. Other words that help describe abomination would be: outrage, atrocity, repugnance, something detested. The opposite of abomination is love: consider John 3:16. This is the love that God exhibits as He overlooks and puts away our sin. Not only does he condemn the sin [not the sinner] but He eliminates the sin. Wow!

Two reasons that God hates lying enough to call it an abomination: [1] it breaks His Law. God never lies. God never misspeaks. God never has to go back and correct something He has said. [2] it is destructive to human society. We do not seek out liars to be friends with. We do not seek out those who we suspect might stab us in the back to share our lives with. No. We want to be friends with those who will be honest with us and that we can place confidence in.  

Lying is so easy to do. We will lie because our pride prompts us to protect ourselves. We will lie because our pride tells us that we need to protect others; a mindset of “they cannot handle the truth.”  

  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to God’s nature. In His kingdom and in the final chapter of history as we know it, God says clearly: “… and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” [Rev 21:26-27 NASB]
  •  Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to community. Lying takes place in community; in relationships no matter how surface. Lying breaks the “imago dei” [Latin: asserts that humans are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of function.] in which we were created. But wait, is lying all that God considers an abomination; something that He detests vehemently? Consider Pr 11:1 “A false balance is an abomination…” Again, a form of lying in a community setting; e.g.: lying to another in a buyer / seller relationship. God also detests gossiping  
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the Scriptures that He has empowered to change our hearts. When God tells us the truth about ourselves, He tells us the whole truth. He leaves nothing to imagination. To tell someone a partial truth from God’s word [like Christians like to do with the gay-lesbian debate] is really lying to make a proud full point. And that is from the pit of Hell! 
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the essence of His Son Jesus, who is the embodiment of truth itself. There was always a harmony between the words that Jesus spoke and the inward intents of His heart. We need to be careful that our ‘favorite’ biblical truth is not taught to the exclusion of other biblical truths, producing a dangerous imbalance. We need to be careful that we do not teach a biblical truth in an exaggerated way, often going beyond what Scripture actually says, and in the end this does more harm than good. Many times clear, biblical warnings are ignored or reinterpreted so radically that they lose all impact or effect, leaving people vulnerable and exposed.
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the Holy Spirit who is the One who leads us into all truth as seen in Jesus

The opposite end of the spectrum from lying is loving faithfulness, loving people enough to always act in faithfulness to truth which is the delight of God. John 3:21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  Now I know that this is not directed toward those who have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it does clarify, if there was any doubt, about how God sees lying. It should give us pause to consider how well we tell the truth. Are we prone to misspeak and therefore mislead because our pride wants us to have the advantage in the relationship?

 

Love via Truth

We live in treacherous times. Truth has become relevant. The principles that we thought to be sacred are being eaten away. Our Constitution is currently being interpreted by events and “modern times.” The things that we held dear 100 years ago out of date by our society. Sticking to the things that the Founding Fathers thought important for freedom are now considered inappropriate and anachronistic. We no longer need to do things by the ‘old code.’ We live and act according to relevant beliefs. Since we have no standard outside of ourselves we behave according to the dictates of the circumstance. How sad. It looks like freedom but it is stressful. We need fences. As we reject the norms set by Judeo-Christian principles, we act more god-like. We seek wisdom and find folly. We talk and sing songs about love. But love without boundaries is chaos. Without a guiding principle love becomes greedy and self-serving. Jer 31:3 “…the LORD appeared to him [me] from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” I as a husband need to reflect and act on this continually.

If You Love Them, Speak Clearly with Them

“…each part… helps the other parts grow..”. Ephesians 4:16

We have all heard the term “beating around the bush” to describe someone who is not straight forward in what they say. Part of the impetus for change is the wish to clearly help men to become the men that God intended. And that means being honest and transparent with ourselves and others. It is not about confrontation. It is about being honest and direct. I suspect that one of the reasons that Jesus, with little fanfare, was able to recruit four fishermen at the very start of His ministry [two were brothers nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” which today would sound like a motorcycle club] was His clear and unmistakable way of laying it squarely on the line. These were hard living men who worked hard to make a daily living. Words such as tenderness, diplomatic and tactful would not be very accurate in describing their personal communication style. In their world men screamed and chewed each other out; communication was verbally abusive. I have first hand knowledge, I worked in that world as a young man. Look for avenues open that provides us men the unique opportunity to communicate directly and honestly with the One who wants to speak to our hearts with love and transparency. That was one reason that those fishermen over 2,000 years ago dropped everything to follow Jesus. They recognized love and transparency without an attitude of judgmental condemnation. Jesus is committed to having us ‘be all that we can be.’ Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.

“…I became…”

Getting “saved” is not about getting the right information to live by.  It is about gaining the right identity.  It is not about theology [although that is important].  It is about getting to know the Lord Jesus.  1CO 9:22 Helping people in getting “saved” is all about, to use the words of Paul: “…I became…”  He was not one of the frozen chosen.  He bent over backwards to accommodate and be culturally sensitive and relevant without compromising the Gospel.  Lord, help me to “become” as one of them.  The blessing [v.23] is seeing people snatched from a journey into Hell to enjoy an eternity working for Jesus.