Tag Archives: religion

August 12; Where Do You Live?

Ezekiel 10-13

I thought of what Jesus said in Matthew 7 as I read more of Ezekiel’s vision this morning. God is telling Ezekiel that the Jews were about to face judgment for the sins they’d been committing. The Jews were a religious people. But the religion they were following was an affront to God.

False prophets had lulled them into a stupor, a false sense of security. They seemed to have believed God was just blowing smoke. He’d talked about punishing them for years, and nothing happened yet. They were still free to live like they lived, so there was a message of peace in the land.

I’m ok. You’re ok.

But even though they worshiped in the temple, and identified themselves as God’s chosen people, they were about to find out God is serious about His judgment for disobedience. His patience is not weakness. God told them they were living behind a flimsy whitewashed wall that was about to come falling down upon them.

Jesus told the parable of two men, one wise and one foolish. The wise man, He said, built a house on the strong foundation of the Word of God, and nothing could shake it. The foolish man, however, built his house on sinking sand, and like the flimsy wall in Ezekiel, it collapsed when the winds began to blow.

Last week I took a ten day challenge to read only the Bible, and to let God be the only commentary I considered. I have loved it!

Today I am reminded that God’s Word is the strongest foundation I can build my life upon. Not religion. Not theology. Not opinion. And certainly not myself. There are people out there preaching peace when there is no peace, whole denominations tweaking God’s Word to be politically correct and tolerant. There are some satisfied with religion, and who go through the motions of worship faithfully.

But I’m afraid they are living behind flimsy walls.

So my question for us today is, where are we living? Are we living on lives built on the sure foundation of Jesus? Are we deeply grounded in the Words God Himself breathed into existence? Can our lives withstand the storms of life because our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and His righteousness?

Or are we hiding behind religion, church attendance, love, peace, good deeds? Those sound like flimsy walls on sinking sand to me.

So I’ll ask again. Where do you live?

June 27; Not For Sale

Amos 7-9; Hosea 1-3

Amos did not have a college degree. He wasn’t a scholar or an authority on spiritual things. He was a shepherd, and we know tending sheep wasn’t exactly a career choice that was held in high esteem in those days. Yet God  spoke to this humble, plain, unassuming man and gave him an important word for Israel. That same word reaches to us centuries later.

The word is this: God is not fooled by religious activities. In fact, I don’t believe God even likes religion. God says the religious people, His chosen people, will prostitute themselves.  And He promises to destroy them.

We might go through the motions of religion by going to church, reciting prayers, giving of our finances, and wearing Jesus’ name like a get-out-of-jail-free-card by calling ourselves Christians, while at the same time selling ourselves to the world by compromise, by participating in things that dishonor God, or simply by harboring bitterness or hatred, and having a depraved thought life. We might look religious to those around us, but the reality is we are nothing more than prostitutes.

When I read God’s Word I realize He’s not fooled by my outward appearance. He knows my heart. And I want my heart to be totally, sincerely His. When the world knocks at my door and wants me to join in, when sin entices me to compromise, I want to slam the door in its face. Let it be known my heart is…

Not For Sale.

 

March 20; A Relationship

Deuteronomy 23-26

Religion is full of rules. If you do this, this, and this, and don’t do that or that, your god will accept you, won’t punish you, or will at least tolerate you. We read about religions that advocate sacrificing children, or killing the infidel to appease a god. We hear about religions that require X-number of prayers, abstaining from certain food and drink, or wearing veils and head coverings as part of their religion.

Now I’m not saying Christianity doesn’t have rules. God gave us the Ten Commandments and holds us accountable for obeying them. The Bible, especially the Old Testament like the chapters we read today have pages and pages of rules, often repeated several times.

But there is a reason I believe Christianity stands out from all the rest. The rules God gave His people were given so that He, a Holy God, could fellowship with us. The rules we abide by were given because God loves people.

It’s not about rule-following so we can get Him on our side. He’s already on our side. It’s not rule-following so that He’ll forgive us. He’s already forgiven us by the blood of Jesus. The God of Christianity put down rules so that He can:

“set (us) in praise, fame and honor high above all nations he has made and that (we) will be a people holy to the Lord (our) God, as he promised.” (26:19)

The God of Christianity doesn’t look at people as something to dominate, or control. He looks at His children as “his treasured possession.”

When the followers of most other religions follow their rules, the only thing they can hope for is a god that might let up on them, and maybe promise them some kind of eternal peace. The God of Christianity promises Himself, His Spirit living in us, blessings and joy, as well as an eternity in His Presence.

It’s for that reason I agree with those who say Christianity is not a religion as much as it is a relationship. Here’s God, awesome in power, Holy, Holy, Holy, creator of the universe, wanting to hang out with me. Here is God, knowing that I cannot obey all the rules, that I am a sinner by virtue of the first sin I ever committed, paying the penalty Himself that my sin deserves. Here’s is that same God, knowing I can’t come to Him no matter how many rules I follow, coming to me.

And I, as His child by His grace through Jesus, will demonstrate my love for Him by obeying Him, cherishing Him, walking with Him. It’s not about the rules. It’s about the person of Jesus Christ, a Holy God who came down to my level so that I can have a relationship with Him.

It’s about a God who actually loves me. And I love Him, too.

February 16; It’s Not All We Have

Leviticus 1-4

“Religion is man’s attempt to make peace with God on his own terms. Redemption is God’s offer of peace through Jesus Christ.” (With the Word; Warren Wiersbe; Thomas Nelson Publishers; 1991; page 72)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

What we read in Leviticus are instructions for sacrifices to God. Blood was shed daily, and the Jews had to follow these instructions religiously. It was all they had in order to please God.

But it’s not all we have after the cross. What we read in Leviticus, what the Old Testament Jews were required to do, demonstrates what Jesus did when He died once and for all, when He fulfilled every requirement for our sin debt.

I am not religious. I’m not even what you might call “spiritual.” I am a woman with a relationship with God Almighty. I am a woman who has accepted what the blood of thousands of goats and bulls could not do. I am a woman redeemed by the precious blood of my Savior, Jesus the Christ.

I am a woman at peace with God. On His terms.

As I read through the book of Leviticus I want to see Jesus. I’ll not get caught up in the details of the sacrifices without connecting them to what Jesus did for me. I have so much more than what the Jews had there in the wilderness. I have Jesus!

And that’s all I need.

Ezekiel 11-15; Cardboard Houses

Jesus used the terms, “whitewashed wall,” and “whitewashed tombs” in reference to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. (Matthew 23) Here in Ezekiel 13 God uses the same terminology when prophesying against the false prophets in Israel during Ezekiel’s time. In this portion of Scripture God says in essence, you can paint a cardboard wall, but it won’t hold up in a storm no matter how good you make it look.

Sometimes you run into people who are adamant about their beliefs. They might believe God is merely a concept invented in the minds of needy people. They might believe you have to do X number of good deeds in order to escape hell. They might believe with all their hearts that good people go to a better place no matter what name they pray to. They might even believe all life is a delusion, or that whatever the Higher Power is out there, it certainly isn’t involved in the lives of individuals. 

If you press, even the most dogmatic of these lost souls, about where they base their beliefs, you’ll find them living in cardboard houses. Base my belief on science? On what is observable? On what makes sense to me? On the word of someone who claims to have had a message from God?

You might hear the argument that the Bible is flawed, that it’s no different than the Koran, or the Watchtower, or some other religious writing. Is it? Is the Bible just another collection of religious penmanship?

When I was getting my counseling degree, we studied a technique of the 5 Why’s. When presented with a problem, you ask “Why…” Then you use the answer to that question to ask the second “Why…” And so on until you get to the root of whatever is going on. 

I believe if we press deep enough into a person’s belief system, not just the “what” but the “why,” it will reveal if that belief system is based on Truth or opinion, on fact or myth. I have no problem going five whys deep into my belief because the bottom line is, I believe what I believe because God said it.

The God of the Bible tells us how the world began, it shows God is who He says He is with example after example of supernatural occurrences, many of which can be verified by extra-Biblical sources. God inspired many men over thousands of years, to write down a cohesive book that consistently reveals God the same yesterday, today, and forever. “I AM” is the name which this God calls Himself in the Old Testament, and that by which Jesus identified Himself in the New. The Bible clearly says that there is One God, one way to God, one Truth, so therefore cancels out any other religion as remotely true.

My belief isn’t based on opinion. It’s not based on someone’s imagination or reasoning. My belief is based on the Words of the Creator, the inventor of life, the eternal God who loves me.

If anyone’s belief is based on anything other than the entire book we know as the Bible, they can dress it up in intellect, in emotion, in religion, or even apathy, but it is still only whitewash on a cardboard wall. One day, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, that God is who He has said all along He is, and that believing anything else is believing a lie. (From Philippians 2:10) And only those whose belief is grounded in Scripture will be able to withstand the judgment that follows.

I would challenge you to go “5 Whys” into your own belief system. Do you know the Scriptures that are the foundation for what you believe? Are you basing your beliefs on conjecture or downright lies or on Truth? Are you living on the solid rock of God’s Word, or are you hiding in a whitewashed cardboard house?

Jeremiah 7-10; Are You Religious?

The children of Israel were feeling pretty comfortable. I mean, they were God’s chosen people. The Ark of God was right there in a temple in their capital city. King Josiah had just led a revival, and the people were once again worshiping God like their forefathers had.

But Jeremiah burst their bubble.

“You might look like you’re obeying God to the rest of the world,” he says. “But God sees those idols hidden in your homes. God knows what’s in your hearts, and He sees as much evil in you as He does in the hearts of the pagan people around you. You might point to them and say, ‘well, at least we’re circumcised.’ I’m here to tell you God is more concerned about your uncircumcised hearts.”

I hope you went to church yesterday. I hope you opened your heart to God and worshiped Him among a fellowship of believers worshiping Him, too. To your neighbor and friends you might be the picture of a religious person. But how’s your heart?

The problem with being a religious person is that too many think going through the motions on Sunday somehow balances out the sin they commit on Monday.

It doesn’t.

God isn’t impressed with religiosity when the idols of jealousy, unforgiveness, self, dishonesty, or whatever a person thinks he’s hiding, are being hoarded. Those “hidden” sins indicate an uncircumcised heart. And Jeremiah will tell you God’s opinion of that.

Don’t think your religion is going to save you. Until you give God your heart and allow Him to cut out the sin you’re holding onto, you are as lost as the atheist or the Muslim.

When you stand before God on that day, He’s not going to ask you what church you belonged to. He’s going to look deep into your eyes, straight to your heart. And unless your heart is covered in Jesus’ blood, you will face eternity without Him.

Please. Don’t go there.

Ecclesiastes 3-4; Religion?

One of the things Solomon looks at in his search for the answer to the meaning of life is religion. In 5:1 he warns us to watch our step when we go into God’s house. Watch our step? Why?

There are many religions in the world. But all religions have something in common – ritual. Like: before entering, dip your fingers in water and make the sign of the cross. Pick up the beads and recite a prayer over and over. Bow down facing east every day at just the right time. Touch the box before entering the house.

Religions have set rules one must obey in order to follow that religion. That’s why you hear that Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship.

There are dozens of churches on this island where I live, and you will find dozens of expressions of worship. Oh, there is order to worship. But each church has the freedom to express worship as they wish, and still be a Christian church IF Jesus is proclaimed as Savior, Lord, and the Son of God whose death on the cross paid for the sins of the world.

But there might be a danger to making even our freedom in worship become religion. So many of us barge into a worship service like we’re attending a family reunion or a football game. We come laughing, joking, and high-fiving, while we sip on our lattes. We sing the praise songs over and over with our minds on what’s for lunch, or we work up that feeling of euphoria some equate with worship. We go through the motions, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But is that worship? Or is it religion? Is that nurturing a relationship or going through the motions?

Solomon goes on in chapter 5 to tell us our worship may be the same as the sacrifice of fools. Don’t be hasty in word, rather listen. Worship is communion with God, not performing for Him. It’s that connection that allows Him to place a finger on sin in our lives, to encourage us, to teach us. We’ve got to quiet our hearts, and listen.

The king also talks about the kinds of vows we make to God. Do not be mistaken, God takes us seriously. You don’t say something to God, then later take it back.  “Oops. My bad” doesn’t cut it with our Holy God. How serious are we when we come into the presence of that Holy God in order to worship Him?

Whether you attend a church that uses rituals, or one in which there are no rules, why are  you there? My prayer is that we will attend our churches because we love Jesus, because we have acknowledged that we are sinners in need of the Savior, and have accepted Him as the only means to the Father. I pray that as we walk through those doors, we have hearts that are open to fellowship with the Creator God, and worship Him like He deserves.

Don’t let religion get in the way.

 

Psalm 50; Get Real

Well, I didn’t come close to reaching my goal of studying five psalms a day today. I couldn’t get passed Psalm 50. While I was reading it, God seemed to be emphasizing some verses, so I read it again. And I read it a third time. God seemed to be asking me to think on these things. So I did.

Here are my thoughts. I pray they are His.

God summons all of us from sunrise to sunset. Every minute of every day all of creation is proclaiming that God Is. And God tells us He will not stop revealing Himself to the entire world as long as the world exists. It reminds me that His will is that no one perish without Him. His will is that anyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved.

God summons all of us to be judged by Him, our Holy God, our Righteous Judge, the only one who can judge fairly. Asaph addresses two groups of people being judged by God here in this psalm.

The first group is made up of His children, those who have recognized that He is who He says He is, and have accepted His forgiveness through the blood of His Son Jesus.

Now back in Old Testament times, before Jesus shed His blood, they were required to offer sacrifices often. In fact, so often that the ritual became a no-brainer. The sacrifice itself became the goal. Listen to what God says about that:

“Are you kidding me? Do you think I need your goats? Do you think I eat steak from your sacrificed bulls for dinner each night? Those sacrifices are meaningless unless your heart is broken by the sin in your life. Those sacrifices are merely an outward expression of what needs to be going on in your heart.” (obviously a paraphrase)

Makes me think about religious people; people who go through the motions of worship every Sunday, maybe come away feeling good about their worship experience. Worship becomes the goal instead of the One who demands our worship. Maybe they teach Sunday School, refrain from vulgar language, have a fish attached to the back of their cars. But their hearts are not moved, their sins are not confessed.

God is saying:

“Are you kidding me? Do you think I need you to attend church? Do you think I give out attaboys for good behavior, put a star in some crown when you get your perfect attendance pin? Your service is meaningless unless your heart is broken by the presence of sin in your life. Not just broken once the day you confessed your sin and accepted the gift of salvation bought at the price of My Son Jesus. But broken over what you did or did not do yesterday, over the impure thoughts you think, or the unforgiveness you harbor toward someone. Unless your service in My Name is a result of your broken heart and the confession of sin, it’s meaningless.” (again, paraphrased)

Then God turns His attention toward those Asaph calls “wicked.” Those who can quote the Bible, who claim to be believers, yet align themselves with thieves, who gossip and slander those closest to them.

I think of so many people, whole denominations, who take God’s Word and twist it to make them feel religious without having to deal with sin. Those who deny Jesus’ godship, or who tolerate or condone sin that grieves our Holy God.

The thing is, according to verse 21, God doesn’t zap people who claim to be believers but aren’t. God doesn’t burn down churches where heresy is taught. And because God seems to be silent, they think He’s just like them. They mistake His silence for approval.

But be warned. God will accuse you to your face. He will tear you to pieces with none to rescue. (vs 22) God seems to have complete disdain for those kinds of hypocrites.

If you aren’t following God according to the Bible plus nothing, if your heart is not His through the blood of Jesus when you repented of sin, stop calling yourself a Christian. The consequences for using Jesus’ name in vain are serious, eternally serious.

The thank offering in verse 23 speaks to me of an intentional attitude of humility, recognizing that all I have and am are unmerited gifts from a Holy God. It’s the giving of myself, all of me, to the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. It’s recognizing sin in my life, and repenting, asking Jesus to forgive me. And it’s serving Him out of a grateful heart for the privilege of knowing Him. Listen to God’s Words about those who come to Him with thankful hearts:

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (vs 23)

I am reminded that God is not fooled by religious behavior. Saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one. And God knows the difference, and will judge us accordingly.

But to those who are real, those who come to Him on His terms, those who honor Him, He guides, directs, protects, all the way home.

 

Judges 17-18; What You Believe

What do you believe about God? On what or whom do you base your theology? Is it church doctrine? Are your beliefs based on the writings of a Bible scholar you like? A dynamic speaker, or your own pastor? Is what you believe about God based on your own thoughts and desires?

We read about Micah, his mom, and some Danite thugs, and they all seem to call on the God of their Fathers. But their religion cannot be described as one based on the Word of God.

The key to this account is the fact there was no king in Israel at the time. Everyone did as they felt was best for themselves. (18:1) So it was not unheard of that someone like Micah might fashion a religion to his own liking, one that appears to acknowledge God, yet in reality denies Him.

I am burdened for those here in 2017 who have fallen for the same deception as Micah did; religions that acknowledge God, or a higher power, or a supreme being, yet place idols around their homes and in their hearts. I am burdened for people who use God’s Holy Word as a suggestion rather than the complete and utter Truth.

Dear one, I would encourage us to put away the commentaries, the self-help books, the opinions of men and women for a while. Turn off the TV and radio, quit reading blogs, (including mine) and open up the Bible. Read it. Pray about it. Meditate on it. Open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit. Let God speak to us through His Word, as He longs to do.

I’m not saying we should never read study guides and enrich our beliefs with the opinions of others. I hope you’ll come back to reading my blog after you’ve spent time in the Word.

But I am convinced we shouldn’t be reading those things until we are first and foremost firmly grounded in the Bible. If our theology isn’t based on the Truth of Scripture, with no add-ons or take-aways, then we have acted as though there is no King, and have fashioned a religion to our liking.

And that, my friend, is not a religion, or a belief system God will honor.

 

November 26 – Say It Anyway

Acts 17-18:18

Religion is a hot topic. People are generally passionate about what they believe. Their beliefs defend their behavior. And their beliefs are often considered personal.

The people of Thessalonica are some of many examples in the Bible of what happens when talk about religion steps on toes. They listened to Paul for several weeks, and some believed in Jesus as a result. But, as often happens, other Jews got mad. It was ok for Paul to talk about Jesus, as long as they didn’t have to admit what they had believed was not true.

So, the Thessalonians decided to form a mob, and attack Paul. When they couldn’t find Paul, they beat up Jason instead. That’s what  mobs do. And this mob fueled by jealousy wanted to hurt someone.

Then, when the Thessalonian Jews heard Paul was preaching in Berea, they followed him there to cause trouble. This was not a mob easily distracted.

Do you ever feel like people are out to get you because of your faith in Jesus? Someone seems always belittling you, or talking against you behind your back, or making fun of you in front of your peers, because “you think you’re better than everyone else”?  Take heart. You are not alone. It’s been that way for thousands of years.

We can learn from Paul who, although he left Thessalonica, he didn’t stop talking about Jesus. He went through some tough situations, but he kept sharing Christ.

Here is the thing. If you know Jesus, you know the Truth. And there is only one Truth. If you know what Jesus has said, you know all religions can’t be true. There is One way, truth, and life, and no one goes to the Father except through His Son Jesus.

If you are tempted to keep your mouth shut because of the backlash of sharing Christ, don’t do it. Keep talking. It’s eternally important that people accept Jesus. They may be passionate about their beliefs, but unless they believe that Jesus is the Messiah who died to pay for their sins, they are lost. That’s not an opinion. It’s the Truth.

Let’s not be bullied into silence. It’s not enough to know the Truth. We’ve got to be taking about it, sharing it, leading others to their Savior. When people tell us to tolerate other religions, to accept other beliefs, don’t do it. When we are told to stop saying Jesus is the only way, say it anyway.