religion

No Longer Required

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Religion is viewed by many to be restrictive. It certainly can be. "Religion is just a bunch of do's and don'ts," people will say.

But God desires something beyond an attempt to keep a list of rights and wrongs.

Scripture

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

I waited patiently for the lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.

O  lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. [vss 1-5]

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand— you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.

Then I said, “Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.”

 I have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O  lord, well know.

I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. [vss 6-10]

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.

For troubles surround me—too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage.

Please, lord, rescue me! Come quickly, lord, and help me.

May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The lord is great!”

As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay. [vss 11-17]

(Psalm 40:1-17 NLT) [Context– Psalm 40]

Key phrase— Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord

[bctt tweet="Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does this psalm begin? What does the psalmist (David) rejoice about? What does he say about the Lord?

What does the Lord not take delight in or require? What does bring joy and why is this what God desires?

What specific things has David told people about the Lord?

What are David's two requests and why does he make them? What blessing is given near the ending?

Reflection...

This psalm has many different literary elements (see Psalms Study Guide). It begins with a testimony of God's rescue and declarations of God's greatness. It ends with requests for God's help and a blessing.

In the middle is a declaration by David that is prophetic. He speaks to the heart of what God desires, but in the voice of Jesus the Messiah, as noted in Hebrews 10:5-7 (also see Luke 24:44).

God isn't interested in sacrifices and offerings, though required by the Law of Moses, He desires trust and obedience from the heart.

Jesus came as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for humanity's rebellion towards God. His coming was foretold centuries before He came, but the nation of Israel did not accept it.

He will come a second time and those who've experienced His mercy and faithfulness are to proclaim the freedom found in Jesus to others until He returns.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you feel burdened and restricted by things you should or shouldn't do? If so, why?

Have you experienced the freedom of God's mercy and grace in your life?

If so, in what specific ways have you experienced the Lord's mercy and faithfulness in your life?

Has the Lord put a "new song" in your heart? Do you share what God's done in your life with others?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Tolerance and Intolerance

Photo credit: lightstock.com Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don’t get into an argument over differences of opinion. Some people believe that they can eat all kinds of food. Other people with weak faith believe that they can eat only vegetables.

People who eat all foods should not despise people who eat only vegetables. In the same way, the vegetarians should not criticize people who eat all foods, because God has accepted those people.

Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.

One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord.

When people eat all kinds of foods, they honor the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honor the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God.

It’s clear that we don’t live to honor ourselves, and we don’t die to honor ourselves. If we live, we honor the Lord, and if we die, we honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Christ died and came back to life so that he would be the Lord of both the living and the dead.

Why do you criticize or despise other Christians? Everyone will stand in front of God to be judged. Scripture says, “As certainly as I live, says the Lord, everyone will worship me, and everyone will praise God.”

All of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God. (‭Romans‬ ‭14:1-12‬ (GW)


Jesus said His followers are to be known for their love for one another (John 13:35). Sadly, Christians have a reputation for being self-righteous and judgmental, not to mention hypocritical.

Why? Because of disputes about beliefs and practice, and other petty disagreements. This tends to create an "us versus them" mentality towards believers and nonbelievers.

As Paul points out, this has gone on for years. Intolerance towards others is nothing new. Christian believers get outraged by the intolerance of non-believers towards us, but we don't realize the log in our own eyes (Matt 7:1-5).

How we live out our faith shouldn't be focused on what we do or don't do, but how the Lord shines out through our lives towards others.

We are to be examples of the cross—the Lord Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection—by walking the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

One day, sooner than expected, we will be held accountable for how we live. Everyone. That Day will reveal how we've honored the Lord with our daily lives now. ©Word-Strong_2016

The King of Glory

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What is the focus of your life? What are you best equipped to do? Think beyond natural abilities and learned skills, and beyond the routine of everyday life.

If you have a hard time seeing what that optimal thing is, it's because we all tend to drift from the simple, most basic reason we exist.

Every artist, builder, or designer has a purpose in mind for what they create. It is, in someway, an extension of who they are internally.

Scripture

A psalm by David.

The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s. The world and all who live in it are his. He laid its foundation on the seas and set it firmly on the rivers.

Who may go up the Lord’s mountain? Who may stand in his holy place? ⌊The one who⌋ has clean hands and a pure heart and does not long for what is false or lie when he is under oath.

⌊This person⌋ will receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from God, his savior. This is the person who seeks him, who searches for the face of the God of Jacob. Selah [vss 1-4]

Lift your heads, you gates. Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in. Who is this king of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty! The Lord, heroic in battle!

Lift your heads, you gates. Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in. Who, then, is this king of glory? The Lord of Armies is the king of glory! Selah [vss 7-10]

(Psalm 24:1-10 GW) [Context– Psalm 24]

Key phrase— The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s

[bctt tweet="The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are two things we're told about the Lord and the world we live in on earth?

Who is able to approach God and stand in His presence? What are four things said about them?

What does this person seek and how are they rewarded for doing this?

Who is spoken of in the last half of this psalm? How do you see the beginning and end of this psalm connected (beyond who they describe)?

Reflection...

Every human bears the image of their Creator, whether they acknowledge it or not. Each of us is best equipped to be in relationship with our Creator—God.

Of course, not everyone chooses this, nor seems to want this. But each person has the capacity and need for a relationship with God. It is embedded in us (Gen 1:27).

Instead of asking, "Why are there so many different religions?" Consider that an indicator of the innate desire all humanity has for a relationship with God—the sovereign Creator of all.

But how can we do this? This psalm reminds us of what's required to be in the presence of God, and we all fall short of this every day.

The last half of this psalm reminds us that God would make Himself known and approachable—

Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in.

God did this through His Son Jesus (John 1:1, 14)—the Lord, the King of Glory and grace. Relationship with God is available by trusting in Jesus, not in ourselves or our efforts to please God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are you aware of your innate need to have a relationship with God?

If you have a relationship with God—how did you come into this relationship? What led to it?

If you don't have a relationship with God—what causes you to be in awe or say "wow"?

Are you willing to question the purpose of your life in an honest, open way, and to see what God's purpose is for your life?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

How I Got Theology– Part 1

Photo credit: unsplash.com_APokusin The truth of God is not relative. That is, it doesn't change to adapt and conform to changes in the culture and beliefs of people.

Much is made of the idea of relativism and a post-modern mindset. The concept that what's true for you isn't necessarily true for me, isn't truth.

Personal, philosophical beliefs don't become reality just because they're thought out. The natural laws of the earth and universe illustrate and reflect the unchanging nature of God, its creator, and His truth.

Clichés aren't sufficient

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, "Got Theology?" The gist of it is that theology can become highly personalized. And yet, the truth of God remains unchanged. It's based on who He is, not opinions or a belief system.

[bctt tweet="God's truth remains is based on who He is, not personal opinions or beliefs " username="tkbeyond"]

Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe. The trite saying—God said it, I believe it, that settles it—isn't sufficient, it's a cliché.

Arriving at why we believe what we do—our theology—can be understood by seeing how we arrive at that belief. I won't backtrack through what is shared in the previous post, but I do want to look at a challenge I posed in that post.

[bctt tweet="Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe" username="tkbeyond"]

The challenge—3 questions

The challenge involved 3 questions that help determine how our personal theology develops. As an example, I'll answer these questions for my own life. I'll do this over the next three weeks.

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you. Here are the 3 questions—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

My learning curve

I'm a visual and kinetic (experiential) learner. I tend to learn best by watching, then doing. I'm also a reader.

My search for truth and faith included the study of various philosophies and eastern religions. I attempted to live these out to a certain extent, as I read about them. Music and hitchhiking were also part of the process.

I also read the Bible each day for at least two years, yet without understanding it. I talk about this in my book, some of it in the first chapter.

My life reflected the times of that search—the mid to late 60's in America. I was immersed in the turbulent counter-culture that marked those years. This carried over to my faith search.

A turning point

I'm a rebel at heart when it comes to learning. I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all. Of course, this doesn't go over well with authoritarian teacher-types. It even got me thrown out of a church when I kept pressing for answers.

[bctt tweet="When learning, I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all" username="tkbeyond"]

In the midst of my search, I came to a turning point in my life. I went up into the mountains, where I lived at the time, and challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some way. I was expecting something like a sign in the sky, a burning bush, or audible voice, but none of that happened. Discouraged, I headed back to my trailer.

Still wanting to hear from God, I opened my Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible to read. It's then I came across Matthew 7:13-14 and realized I was on the wrong path.

Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. (Matt 7:13-14 GNT)

I took this as a challenge, but I refused to pray the ("sinners") prayer or write down the date, as the notes in my Bible suggested. Like I said, I don't just accept things without question. I did have an assurance in my heart that my faith search was settled. Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology.

[bctt tweet="Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology" username="tkbeyond"]

What about you?

So, what about you? Have you had a turning point in your life, come to a crossroads, or other cathartic experience that settled your faith and brought assurance?

[bctt tweet="Have you had a turning point in your life that brought assurance of faith?" username="tkbeyond"]

This is an important first step in developing a personal theology. It's called a lot of things—coming to faith, conversion, getting saved. Whatever you call it, it needs to happen. It's the starting point of a settled faith, a personal trust relationship with God.

I'd love to hear from you on this—

What stands out as most important in your life as a believer?

Why is this so important to you?


Next week, I plan to continue this series of posts and look at the influential spiritual leaders in my life.

Destiny or Direction?

Photo credit: lightstock.com We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom he has called according to his plan.

This is true because he already knew his people and had already appointed them to have the same form as the image of his Son. Therefore, his Son is the firstborn among many children.

He also called those whom he had already appointed. He approved of those whom he had called, and he gave glory to those whom he had approved of. (‭Romans‬ ‭8:‭28-30‬ GW)


Certain Scriptures are quoted often because they resonate with people in a special way. They are cherished, significant, considered as favorites, even called life verses. But when any Bible verse is personalized, it tends to lose its original meaning.

The verses above could be taken as if all that happens in life is destined to happen. Many religions in the world see life as a set of destinies. This leads to a loss of free will and individual responsibility. The Christian faith is distinctly different.

Godly direction and destiny are two very different things. Paul gave these verses as encouragement for believers who faced various trials and testings of their faith. He reminded them, and us, that God has a divine plan and we fit into it. But it is not set in cement.

God allows trials and tests in a believer's life for a purpose. They are neither random, nor fixed. They shape a person's purpose in life, God's purpose, yet without restricting our free will and personal responsibility.

He doesn't force us into a certain predetermined destiny, but provides direction for us to become whom He created us to be. ©Word-Strong_2016

Fuel for the Soul—part 1

Photo credit: lightstock.com What makes humans different from all other mammals? We have a soul, that is, we are a soul with a body—a spiritual soul. We don't live by instinct, but reason.

We have emotions connected to our thoughts, which effect our behavior. We are moral beings and are made like our Creator.

Generally speaking, we know right from wrong. We reflect on the past, imagine the future, while living in the present. And we need something more than just food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities. We need nourishment for our soul.

A need to know

The first human was created in the likeness or image of God, as are all humans. Humankind was created to rule over all other creatures on the earth, in the sea, and the air (Gen 1:26). This was the original design.

God also gave the first humans responsibility and purpose (Gen 1:28-30). He also gave us the capacity to think and reason (Gen 2:15-17), along with the need for companionship (Gen 2:18-25).

We also have the capacity to be wrong. This is made clear in Genesis 3. We have an innate need to know the truth, which spurs our curiosity and imagination. This enables us to be creative and productive.

[bctt tweet="We have an innate need to know the truth, which spurs our curiosity and imagination"]

"What is truth?"

But what truth do we need? Many claim to know and understand the truth, but all truth is not the same. This is revealed in the dialog between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, where Pilate asks, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

I was somewhat like Pilate earlier in my life. I sought out truth from various sources including the Bible. Along with other religious and philosophical books, I read the Bible every day for about two years.

Did I understand what I was reading? No. I was like the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah whom Philip encountered (Acts 8:30-31). I needed some guidance, but where would I go and who could help me?

[bctt tweet="I sought out truth from various sources including the Bible for about two years"]

Fuel for my soul

Right before 1970, I was invited to a church where the Bible was taught in a simple, clear way. This church became a reference point for me.

I still wandered a while longer, but returned there, made a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus, was grounded in the truth, and began serving in God's kingdom.

What was the key? The truth of God's written Word. I realized it was the fuel I needed for my soul to grow in a healthy way. It was the nutrition—the food—my soul longed for and needed.

[bctt tweet="The truth of God's written Word was what my soul longed for and needed"]

Spirit and life

As pointed out by many, when jesus was tempted by the devil, Jesus answered him with the truth of Scripture (Matt 4:1-11). The devil's first temptation appealed to the Lord's hunger, after a 40-day fast.

Jesus' answer was, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4). This is a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3, where God reminded His people that our spiritual need is greater than the physical.

[bctt tweet="God's truth is spiritual in nature and is the only thing that satisfies my soul"]

This is what struck a chord in my heart. God's truth is spiritual in nature and is the only thing that satisfies my soul.

Jesus made this clear to His first followers—

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

But not everyone either accepts or realizes this, only those with a personal commitment to Jesus. Here is Peter's testimony about it—

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

What do you think is the best way to be nourished in the truth of God?

What role is the church to be involved with this?


We'll look at answering these two questions in a follow-up post soon.

 

No Longer Helpless, but Restored

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When we were unable to help ourselves, at the right time, Christ died for us, although we were living against God.

Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die. But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.

So through Christ we will surely be saved from God’s anger, because we have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death. While we were God’s enemies, he made us his friends through the death of his Son.

Surely, now that we are his friends, he will save us through his Son’s life. And not only that, but now we are also very happy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we are now God’s friends again. (‭Romans‬ ‭5:‭6-11‬ NCV)


Most every person wants to be self-sufficient and independent. This is especially so when we are young, but even in old age. Some people may succumb to what is called a victim's mentality, but even then a toddler mindset of "I want to do it myself" exists.

When it comes to living a guilt-free, forgiven life we are all helpless. No exceptions. Of course, various religions, philosophies, psychological views, and even atheists say we can help ourselves. We can fool ourselves with our own self-justification, but only God can set us free forever.

God is God. He alone can and did provide the means of reconciliation with Himself through His Son Jesus. This reconciliation is not just a free-get-into-heaven ticket for eternity, but restoration for this life, now.

So rejoice, be glad! God made it possible to have a personal friendship with Him everyday for eternity. ©Word-Strong_2015

Confidence in God

Photo credit: Anthony Easton-cc I’ve heard the sentiment, “religious faith is just a crutch,” expressed many times over the years, but never understood or accepted it. Perhaps it’s a variation of Karl Marx’s famous quote, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

The idea is that those interested in religion or spirituality are somehow less than those who aren’t. The assumption is that when people exercise faith, they toss reason aside. I don't believe this.

Religion isn't a cure

Why don’t I believe this? For one thing, when there’s pain or injury, it’s both wise and reasonable to provide care. Sin causes pain, and it injures everyone in some way. But the cure for sin isn’t religion, it’s faith in Jesus who conquered sin by His death and resurrection.

Have you seen someone spin a basketball on one finger? Have you ever tried spinning a ball on the tip of your finger? I have and didn’t do it well. But I’ve watched people who are good at it.

It seems like they could keep spinning the ball forever. When it begins to wobble and starts to fall off the tip of their finger, one confident and deft tap of their hand keeps it spinning.

The difference between unbelief and faith

“He [Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.”—Roman 4:20 (NKJV)

What I notice in this verse is the contrast between unbelief and faith. It’s the opposite of what some people might think. Faith isn’t anti-reason, it’s greater than reason. Unbelief causes a person to waver. It creates a resistance to trust.

Faith is strength, not weakness. Real faith, genuine trust in God, sees beyond what others focus on. It doesn’t see the ball wobbling, it sees the ball spinning strong.

Abraham’s confidence was in God, not himself. He believed God’s promise of a son, though he and Sarah were past the age of bearing children. Faith, true faith, sees beyond the doubts of others, even discouraging circumstances.

Abraham's confident faith

Abraham didn’t waver with unbelief, he trusted God with confidence.

He honored God and God honored him because of his faith. Abraham is our example—an example of strength, not weakness. Abraham didn’t have the benefit of the written Scriptures and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as believers do today.

Yes, he had very personal encounters with God that most of us may not experience, but he still lived by faith. The majority of his century-long trust in God was lived in simple faith, which is the same life of faith each follower of Jesus is called to live.

What challenges your faith? In what areas of life do you struggle with unbelief?


Click here to see the original post, as it appeared on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post with others!

 

Clearing Out the Marketplace

WS-devo_PMSOn reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (‭Mark‬ ‭11‬:‭15-18‬ NIV)

Jesus shows us God's attitude towards turning faith into religion and religion into marketing. The worship of God should not be at the expense of the people who come to worship, nor stripped of its original purpose.

The house of God is to be a place of prayer for all nations. Not a place of introspection and self-interest, but of compassion for and restoration of others. ©Word-Strong_2014

Don't Turn Back!

WS-devo_PMSRemember the past, when you first learned the truth. You endured a lot of hardship and pain. At times you were publicly insulted and mistreated. At times you associated with people who were treated this way. You suffered with prisoners. You were cheerful even though your possessions were stolen, since you know that you have a better and more permanent possession. So don’t lose your confidence. It will bring you a great reward. You need endurance so that after you have done what God wants you to do, you can receive what he has promised.

"The person who has God’s approval will live by faith. But if he turns back, I will not be pleased with him.”

We don’t belong with those who turn back and are destroyed. Instead, we belong with those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-36, 38, 39 GW)

This exhortation was to encourage believers not to go back to an empty and dead form of religion.

Are you discouraged in your faith? Are things in life not going the way you expect? Don't turn back! God is faithful, so we need to be faithful to Him. ©Word-Strong_2014

What Should I Do?

WS-devo_PMSAs Jesus was coming out to the road, a man came running to him and knelt in front of him. He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Never cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

The man replied, “Teacher, I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. He told him, “You’re still missing one thing. Sell everything you have. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!”

When the man heard that, he looked unhappy and went away sad, because he owned a lot of property. (Mark 10:17-22 GW)

The issue here is not money but relationship with God. This young man put great confidence in his own ability to keep the Law, that is—his own righteousness. It says Jesus loved him, then He called him to a relationship of trust in God rather than self.

What do you trust in? Your own religious effort at being good enough for God, or in God (Jesus) alone?

Set Apart for God

WS-devo_PMSWe have been set apart as holy because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do by sacrificing his body once and for all. Every day each priest [under the Old Covenant] performed his religious duty. He offered the same type of sacrifice again and again. Yet, these sacrifices could never take away sins.

However, this chief priest made one sacrifice for sins, and this sacrifice lasts forever. Then he received the highest position in heaven. Since that time, he has been waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool. With one sacrifice he accomplished the work of setting them apart for God forever. (Hebrews 10:10-14 GW)

Why keep repeating the same thing over and over if it isn't effective and has less value? Why not choose what is perfect and guaranteed for eternity?

Pursuing our own efforts at goodness is futile. Exchanging our effort for Jesus' perfect work is wise. What will you choose today?

Your Own Rules

WS-devo_PMSYou have stopped following the commands of God, and you follow only human teachings... You cleverly ignore the commands of God so you can follow your own teachings. Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but it is Corban—a gift to God.’ You no longer let that person use that money for his father or mother. By your own rules, which you teach people, you are rejecting what God said. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:8-13 NCV) Traditions are not bad in themselves, until they replace and distort the truth of God. What do you hold onto that loosens the grasp of God's truth on your heart? ©Word-Strong_2014

Ritual, Religion, and Relationship

Photo credit: www.janebaileybain.com Thanksgiving in America has rich traditions and a significant history. The origin for this American holiday reaches back to the legendary Thanksgiving feast of the Pilgrims and Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621.

It was made a federal holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, but the holiday had earlier observances under Presidents Washington and Adams. Its current observance was set in 1941, during President Franklin Roosevelt's tenure.

Celebrating Thanksgiving incorporates many rituals and traditions, and carries some religious significance, as well. But for most of us, it centers around family and friends gathering together—relationships.

Rituals

Rituals can range from routine habits, to religious observances and rites of worship, to obsessive, compulsive habits. For example, I have a morning ritual that includes early morning prayer, coffee and toast, and reading God's Word. It is not a rigid ritual I must perform in a certain way, but a common routine.

Washing your hands excessively and in a certain way, well, that's healthy in one way, I guess, but not in another. Rituals are not wrong, nor necessarily unhealthy, especially when they have value to us and serve a purpose. (Click to Tweet)

Religion

My recollection of an Intro to Theology course brings to mind the definition of religion taken from the Latin– "to bind together." Religion binds people together because of common beliefs and practices. (Click to Tweet) The practices can be ritualistic and rigid, or simple expressions of worship. The beliefs may be commonly held doctrines connected to common practices, or dogmatic theological stances that exclude and isolate people.

Religion, in and of itself, is not a wrong thing. Consider these words from Jesus' brother, James—

If a person thinks that he is religious but can’t control his tongue, he is fooling himself. That person’s religion is worthless. Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world. [James 1:26-27 GW]

Even non-denominational groups are religious, as much as they may try not to be. (Click to Tweet) Each group has its own beliefs and practices that hold them together as a distinct group.

So, it's whatever holds them together that makes them religious. Consider the familiar and traditional hymn, "Blest Be the Tie That Binds?" Even if it's not your style of music, it has a great message.

The reality of rituals and religion

We all have certain rituals we practice with varying degrees of value and rigidity. (Click to Tweet) This includes how we celebrate holidays, or even go through a daily routine. Both my mom and dad (when he was alive) liked to go to Starbucks for a latte. It was special to them, and still is to my mom.

There's nothing wrong with rituals unless they lose their meaning or value. Or, unless rituals become priorities of their own and exclude things of greater importance in the process, especially people.

This is where religious beliefs and practices can become a problem. When they begin to exclude people, and become more important than people themselves, then they are suspect.

Here's what Jesus has to say about that—

[The Pharisees] asked, “Why do your disciples break the traditions of our ancestors? They do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “Why do you break the commandment of God because of your traditions? You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is pointless, because their teachings are rules made by humans.’ ” [Matt 15:1-3, 7-9 GW]

Ouch! Pretty strong language from Jesus, but it's true. When our own rituals and religious beliefs or practices collide with God's truth, we have a problem. (Click to Tweet)

"It's not about religion, but relationship"

A common expression during the Jesus People Movement of the seventies was, "It's not about religion, but relationship." Variations of it abound, and opinions to go with it. As with so many things, it's as if we need to choose one or the other.

My take on it then, and now, is that being a follower of Jesus isn't about following certain religious rules, but having a relationship with Jesus. But one does not need to be in opposition to the other.

I do believe the relationship with Jesus is of first importance, but, as said above, even those who are non-denominational have religious beliefs.

Relationships

Jesus said two relationships were most important and summarized the old covenant—our relationship with God and others (Matt 22:37-40). (Click to Tweet) One relationship can't be held at the expense of the other (1 John 4:19-21 GW). So, whatever ritual or religion we hold special, relationships are always more important. (Click to Tweet)

Speaking of relationships, who are you thankful for? It's good to be thankful for all we might have, but people ought to be more important to us than what we possess. (Click to Tweet)

As we head farther into the holiday season, let's keep our priorities in right order. What's that order? For me, it's God, then people, then whatever else holds value. What about you?

Photo credit: Bill Welsh

Speaking of the holidays...

Here's a new Christmas song written by my close friend, Bill Welsh.

Enjoy!

Right or Good?

WS-devo_PMSWhen Jesus went into a synagogue, a man with a crippled hand was there. Some watched Jesus to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath day so they could accuse him. Jesus said to the man, “Stand up.” Then Jesus asked the people, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath day: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” But they said nothing...Jesus was angry as he looked at the people, and felt very sad because they were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” The man...was healed. The Pharisees left...making plans...to kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6 NCV) Religion can breed hard hearts and judgment. God's love heals souls and bodies. One harms, the other restores. Which do you choose? What is right, or the good? ©Word-Strong_2013

Religion or Rest

WS-devo_PMSOn a day of worship Jesus was going through the grainfields. As the disciples walked, they began to pick the heads of grain. The Pharisees asked, “Look! Why are your disciples doing something not permitted on the day of worship?” Jesus asked them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and his men were in need and were hungry? He went into the house of God when Abiathar was chief priest and ate the bread of the presence? He had no right to eat those loaves. Only the priests have that right.” Then he added, “The day of worship was made for people, not people for the day of worship. (Mark 2:23-27 GW) Religion—man's interpretation of spirituality—brings bondage. Relationship through God's grace brings freedom and rest. ©Word-Strong_2013

New Wine, New Wineskins

WS-devo_PMSJohn’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some came to Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but yours don’t?” Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests fast while the groom is still with them? “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. Otherwise, the new patch will shrink and rip some of the old.... People don’t pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will make the skins burst, and both the wine and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine is to be poured into fresh skins.” (Mark 2:18, 19, 21, 22 GW) Jesus isn't being cryptic, but says a new way of relationship with God brings a new way of life. ©Word-Strong_2013

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

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For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

Planting or Transplanting?

This past week I shared a couple of posts I saw in Missions Frontiers on social media (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/). The first article speaks of 5 lessons American churches can learn from the Church Planting Movement (CPM) in the rest of the world (http://tw.gs/VbSa0). The second is how these things can be adapted to work in American churches (http://tw.gs/VbSaC). One addresses a need in typical American churches across the board (denominational and non-denominational), while the other gives examples and insights how these changes can be implemented. Most church plants in No America tend to draw from the existing pool of believers. However, many studies show that new pioneering church plants are more effective in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel (re: evangelism) than established churches. Yet, a fair amount of the people involved with new church plants are "transplants" from another church. Much has been said about the right and wrong of all this, but most of it is philosophical rhetoric (imho).

I've viewed the church planting experience from two perspectives, that of a church planting pastor, and as a member of a new church plant (currently). In the (hot) summer of 1978, my wife and I planted a church in the high desert area of So California. Brilliant timing, huh?! We survived the initial startup, which is another story in itself, and the church is flourishing to this day (thankfully). My original vision and heart for the church was reaching the unreached and unchurched. I'm thankful God graciously brought that about then and now.

Currently, Susan and I are involved with a new church plant in our present home town. Most of those attending are younger than us, a lot younger. We are the old folks in the back now. The church vision is similar and reminds me of the early days we experienced in the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. And BTW, the music is loud (lol)!

Here's my observation—the vision for reaching the unchurched and de-churched is essentially the same, but many who attend (including us) are transplanted from another existing church. This is not a bad thing—it's necessary—good experience is valuable.

But here's the challenge—How do we (the church) keep from falling into the same rut as so many churches. A lot of work is put into getting people to come into the church, and even more effort to keep them in it. Then the command of Jesus to go out to the world is set aside, except for those specially trained to go. But things are different now, or are they?

My heart to reach the unreached and equip those who desperately need training remains. I'm not a senior pastor, nor a missionary serving on the field full-time. Yet, I'm not absolved of my responsibility in God's kingdom. This is perhaps the most difficult hump to get over—removing the separation between clergy (ministry professionals) and laity (people in the congregation).

Lots of reasons exist for this separation, but that's another tangent. What's needed is training (discipling) for the believers in the church to go out to reach the nonbelievers. This requires intentional, relational discipleship—the method Jesus used to establish His church at the beginning. The very thing I experienced as a young believer.

This is why I appreciate these articles. They bring us (the church) back to our roots. In the early years of the Jesus Movement, discipleship was a natural part of the Christian life. There was little specialized training or organizational leadership. It was organic. Was it messy? Yes. Did it bear fruit? Yes. Has the church in America improved on it? No.

If this sparks any interest at all, please take time to read those articles. If you have a longing for discipleship in your own life or to disciple someone, these articles are well worth the investment of your time. Finally, what is your personal experience with discipleship? If you were discipled,  pass it on. That's how Jesus did it.