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MAY 2009

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Religion vs. A Relationship

 

Galatians 1:13-14

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

 

The word religion or religious is not used much in the text of the Bible. In some versions, the above verses have "Jew's religion" in place of Judaism. In James we have true religion being explained. James 1:27 says, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." However, In my mind and in the minds of many of my friends the idea of being religious has a very negative meaning.

Religious Jews crucified the Lord. They didn't care if they were doing right. All they wanted was to be "in charge". Paul continued the tradition of being "religious" by persecuting the early Christians. Many of our early Christian communities in this country were controlling and cruel. They used "stocks" to publicly humiliate those who violated their laws. Down through the last 2000 years, some people who have disagreed with established religious authorities have been beheaded and in some cases burned. Wars have been fought trying to destroy infidels in the name of religion. Inquisitions have been used to find, convict and execute those who have been considered heretics or who held doctrines that the formal church considered divisive and wrong.

Paul's religious activities stopped when he met the Lord on the Damascus Road. He no longer supported a religious system, but he trusted in the resurrected Lord. He no longer followed man's rules, he followed a man. He no longer had a religion, he had a relationship.

I have held Bible studies with some who say that when studying the world's religions, the thing that impresses them about Christianity is it's compassion. Christians believe in loving their neighbors. They believe in saving people both practically and spiritually, not in destroying people. They are burden bearers rather than laying burdens on people that cannot be born (See Matthew 23:4).

I know that there are those who point to the old testament wars where God showed his hatred of idolatry and where he tried to spare Israel from being exposed to it and its excesses, and they will say God is cruel. Some will point to the Biblical teaching on eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Christ and will say that God is cruel. I do not think they understand God or His purposes in saying that, but if we Christians are truly saved and if we are living a life that pleases God, they shouldn't be able to point to us Christians and say that we are cruel. The Bible teaches that if our relationship with the Lord is right, our relationship with one another will be right. Instead of being controlling we will preach the truth and let the Lord do the controlling through the power of the Holy Spirit. We will stand for what is right without resorting to violence. We will keep the church holy, but we will not be cruel in the way that we do it.

Satan is the roaring lion who goes about devouring and accusing. The true Christian is compared to a defenseless lamb who not only would not but could not hurt someone. If we are religious we likely are living like the roaring lion. If we are enjoying our relationship with the Lord we will be living like the defenseless lamb. So the question we each need to ask ourselves is, "Do we have religion or do we have a relationship with the Lord?"

 

Meditation for the week of May 3, 2009

Who is the Real "Troubler?"

 

1Kings 18:17-18

Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?" And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals.

 

We used to speak about people being "troubled" when the Holy Spirit was convicting them of their sin. This was a good thing. It led them to search for peace in the right place and many came to the Lord Jesus for salvation. Once they were saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus and sure of it because of the promises of the Word of God, they were no longer "troubled" but they were filled with joy and peace in believing.

Now anyone who is "troubled" is considered by many to be disturbed and in need of counseling or medication rather than needing to have their sins forgiven. Those of us who preach the Gospel are considered "troublers" because we read and explain Bible passages about sin. Many of these sins are acceptable to society in general and to many Christians as well. Christianity and Christ are considered to be the problems in our society rather than being the cure for our problems. When this country was founded, the basic legal system embodied the virtues of the moral law of the Bible. Our society was ordered by the concept that that we are to "do unto others what we would have others do unto us." Submission and respect to God and to governmental authority was taught in our schools and colleges. Even those who did not believe in the God of our Bible or in the need for salvation, knew that abiding by the moral principles of the Bible would make for a healthy society. Today that has all changed.

Who is the "troubler" in our society? Is it the one who says that there is a God in heaven who hates sin and will judge those who turn away from Him and practice immorality because of their belief system? Is it the person who preaches the Biblical truth that there is judgment coming both on this world that has rejected Christ and on the individual who rejects Him? Is it a mercy to preach that we need to be saved or is that a message that only disturbs the peace of our violent, greedy, immoral society?

Elijah preached against the idolatry and immorality of Baal worship. A nation that had once known the Lord intimately and had seen His miracles when they were saved from the bondage of Egypt had been deceived by their leaders into believing that the sensual worship of idols was better than than the moral worship of the Living God. Who really wanted the best for Israel? Was it Ahab and Jezebel who promoted powerless Idolatry? Or was it Elijah who "caused" a drought and famine so that the people would remember that God had promised that this would happen if they turned away from Him? Was the troubler Jezebel or was it Elijah?

I am willing to be a "troubler" if by being that I can help a few people see their need of the Lord Jesus. I am going to continue disturbing people by telling them that there is a heaven to gain after we die and a place of eternal conscious punishment to avoid. I am going to continue preaching that God is holy and that the definition of sin has not changed as society has changed. I am going to continue to preach that the Holy God that they are going to meet wants them to know these things so that they can be saved. He sends out preachers and He sent His Son because he is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God really does love us.

I believe that a person can feel well and find out that they are sick by going to the doctor for diagnostic tests to determine the state of their health. It may disturb them to find out that they are sick. But finding out that they are sick in time to do something about it is obviously a blessing. Please do not consider those of us who are preaching the Truth of the Bible to be the problem and the troublers. Christ is the answer to the person who sins are troubling them.

 

Meditation for the week of May 10, 2009

What shall we do?

 

2Kings 6:15-16

And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" So he answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

 

Have you ever been in a predicament where you have said, "I have done everything that I can, I guess I will just have to trust the Lord!" I think most of us have said that at some time or another. If we haven't said it, we have at least thought it. But obviously, we should have trusted the Lord before we came to the end of our own resources. I think that the reason we don't trust the Lord until we have "come to an end of ourselves" is because most of us don't like to depend on others and because sometimes we aren't sure that the Lord is going to give us the results that we want.

People generally do not trust in the Lord Jesus for salvation until they have found out that they can't save themselves. Most of us try everything we can to be saved before we are able to relax in the promise that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We think that if we believe right, if we pray right, if we confess right we will be saved. We have to find out that none of that counts because we simply need to do one of the hardest things any of us have ever done. We need to put our complete confidence and trust in someone besides ourselves. If we don't come to that place of true repentance, we will always think that we did something to deserve salvation. But God wants us to depend wholly on the Lord, not just partly. He wants all the credit for saving us, not part of it. I have seen people struggle with this, and often it takes a while before they can "give up" and "just trust in the Lord". But when they do, they will always find that the Lord is trustworthy.

After we are saved, we have God for us (Romans 8:31), the Holy Spirit in us (Ephesians 1:13, and angels serving us (Hebrews 1:14). With heaven on our side, why do we so often ask the question that the servant asked of Elisha, "What shall WE do?" Elisha had the Lord open the servant's eyes to see a heavenly army protecting them. We know that there are a lot of things happening in our lives that we can't see. Ephesians 6:12 is clear that we are battling unseen forces. We are not sufficient for this battle but the Lord is.

We need to learn to trust Him. Instead of saying, "God helps those who help themselves" we need to learn that God fights the battles of those who live in fellowship with Him and who learn that they cannot trust themselves. We can trust the Lord because God is faithful.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, " No temptation (test or trial) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."

This verse convinces me that when we give the Lord control, there will be a way of escape. We will not be overcome by the enemy. My prayer is that the Lord would open our eyes to see and understand the protection that God has provided for us.

Meditation for the week of May 17, 2009

Memories and Memorials

 

Luke 17:32 Remember Lot's wife.

Genesis 19:26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

 

Memorial Day weekend is a time for remembering. Our current custom is to honor living and dead veterans of the wars that we have fought as well as honoring all of our loved ones who have died. Memory links us to the past. However some of our memories are good and some are not.

We are told to remember Lot's wife. She is an example of what not to do. She looked back to the destruction that was taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah and became a pillar of salt. She had been told not to look back and when the Lord tells us not to do something, He tells us that for our good. Her children were back in that city that was being destroyed, and I am quite sure that when she looked back her heart broke. Whether she died right there and had the destruction overtake her or whether she was immobilized with fear when she saw what was happening and had the destruction overtake her is not clear. But one thing is clear, she shouldn't have looked back. However, I do sympathize with her. She loved her children and she didn't want to see them destroyed with the sinners in Sodom. Her children had not believed Lot or God when Lot said destruction was coming and they did not leave. I suspect that they had become comfortable with Sodom and with the sin of that place. They needed to be saved, but they didn't want to be saved. Their unwillingness to listen to the warning cost them their lives, and it cost the life of their mother as well.

This world is going to be destroyed. In Noah's day, the world had become violent and men's hearts were evil. They were motivated by Satan and not by good. We live in a day like that and judgment is coming. It will not only overtake the sinner who rebels against God after death, but the nations on this earth are going to be judged for their sin as well. I wonder what it will be like for us to know that we had children who did not believe us and who ended up being destroyed along with a Christ-rejecting world? Some teach that we won't be concerned with those things after we die, but I know people in hell have a memory because in Luke 16 the rich man in hell remembered. I suspect that those of us in heaven will have a memory as well. Fortunately, we will no longer be bound by earthly ties and earthly attitudes and earthly sin, so I have no doubt that we will be willing to justify God's judgments even when it involves our children. They, more than others, will deserve God's judgment when it comes, if they reject the Lord. Our children have been raised in a privileged environment where they have been warned about coming destruction, and where they have been taught the truth.

Those of us who are saved may end up with some bad memories, but we have some good memories as well. One of them is of a Man who came to this earth to reveal God to us. Though good and though sinless He died on a Cross. We can look back over 2000 years and thank God for those who have been saved from eternal destruction because He was willing to suffer. Every Sunday mornings there are groups of Christians who gather for the sole purpose of "looking back" and memorializing Him. It is because of Him that we will be spared the destruction that this unbelieving world is going to experience. The death of the cross was a terrible thing but we have good memories of the One who was willing to die there in our place.

Remembering Lot's wife reminds us of the cost of lingering when God says to run. It reminds us that not all choices that make sense are good choices. When Lot separated from Abraham he chose the well-watered plains of Jordan. Those plains should have made him happy and wealthy but they put him near Sodom. Ultimately he moved there. His choice led to the loss of much of his family.

Our memories of the Lord remind us of the cost of our salvation. Those of us who are saved will only memorialize the Lord by eating from a loaf of bread and drinking from a cup of wine until He comes, but even in eternity we will never forget the wonders of God's love as demonstrated to us in the sacrifice of His Son.

 

Meditation for the week of May 24, 2009

Why does God care?

 

Hebrews 2:6-7

But one testified in a certain place, saying: "What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him?

You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands.

 

Why does God care about sinful rebellious man? Man was made innocent and placed in a privileged place in the Garden of Eden. He was given authority over all the works of God's hands according to King David in Psalm 8. Apparently that authority has not been rescinded even though I personally do not want to meet lions or bears or cougars or other wild animals when I am alone and when they are on the war path. I think they might have authority over me.

Man was the crowning act of God's creation. He made a creature that could represent Him as His image. He made a creature that could communicate with Him since He made man in his likeness. No other part of God's creation could think and talk to God like man could. And in that original state, man and God had unhindered fellowship in the Garden.

Satan spoiled all of that. By convincing Eve that she was missing out because she could not eat from the fruit of one tree even everything else was available to her, she disobeyed and her husband disobeyed. Because of the change in man's nature when sin entered the world, man who had been made for God, started remaking God into his own image. To this day, most people won't worship God unless He makes sense to them and acts like they think He ought to act. Man in his pride has turned away from God and has spoiled the work of God's hands.

Man has proven to be disobedient in every different governmental program that God has provided for him. Adam fell in the Garden of Eden. His descendents became so wicked that God destroyed the society of that day with a flood. Noah was spared from the destruction that came on a lawless world, but it wasn't long before the Canaanites and others had turned to idolatry. After the world was destroyed by the flood, the society of that day wanted to approach God their own way at the Tower of Babel in Gen 11. This created confusion that is evidenced by the many languages spoken in the world to this day. God spared the Israelites in a miraculous way and brought them into the promised land so that He might have a people that would be faithful to Him and instead of that they turned to idolatry. Ultimately, man who was made for God, crucified the Lord even though He was the one who had created them (Colossians 1:16).

Why would God care about a rebellious people like this? Why not just destroy them all and start over? Why does he have patience with individuals who, like the prodigal son of Luke 15, want to go their own way and do not want God to restrict their lives in any way? Some people think that the unanswerable question is "Where did God come from?" I think it is "Why does God care?"

But He does. He cares for the unsaved and the only reason He hasn't returned is because He is not willing that any should perish. 2nd Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack (slow) concerning His promise (to return), as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." I like that little word ALL.

And after He has saved us He cares. 1st Peter 5:6-7 says, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Why does He care? I don't know. Does He care? YES!

 

Meditation for the week of May 31, 2009