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When Religion Takes Priority Over Ministry

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Unless you live in a bubble, a cave, or in a penthouse surrounded by opulence, you cannot help but see the misery of suffering humanity all around.  On the TV, on the sidewalks of your city, standing in line at a food bank, dialing the crisis hotline, misery and suffering are things this world has an abundance of.

But what if you don’t live in a bubble, a cave, or a penthouse and yet see nothing of the sufferings of humanity that are all around you? What then?

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “there is none so blind, as he who will not see”. The meaning of this is that there are people who willingly choose not to see by closing their minds and their hearts to their surroundings. [1]

Such are those in our day who are ‘religious’ in name only. They have the title but not the heart. They want the appearance of godliness but not the costs associated with it. To maintain appearances within the community they open their checkbooks, but never their hearts.

Jesus had a name for religious people like this. He called them hypocrites. Not a very flattering term, is it? And while it is easy to look at them with disdain, in all honesty, most of us would have to plead “guilty” to some degree of hypocrisy as well. Pretending to be something we’re not comes rather easily for us, does it not?

Jesus had an encounter one day with just such a person while teaching in the synagogue. Follow along with me as we find Him confronting the high priest on a certain Sabbath day.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?
“So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.   Luke 13:10-17

This story perfectly illustrates how religion separated from a relationship with Christ can become more important than ministry. The religious leader was concerned only with the letter of the Law, rather than the spirit of the Law. His strict interpretation was that no one should lift a finger to perform any type of work on the Sabbath Day, and in his view what Jesus did in healing the woman was work. Thus he was condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

Isn’t it amazing how ‘hard’ and uncaring religion can be? When it’s more important to follow your creed than it is to follow your heart, something is terribly wrong. When rigidly enforcing “the rules” takes precedence over serving others, we are out of step with our Savior.

For eighteen long years this woman had not been able to stand upright. Have you seen someone like this? I have seen several people in this condition, where their body was permanently affixed in a jackknife position. Some are so bad that their life has been condemned to staring at the floor because they can no longer look up. It is truly a horrible affliction. [2]

This is the situation that Jesus was confronted with that day in the synagogue, and I doubt He hesitated even for a moment to reach out to this woman. While everyone else came that day to hear the Law taught, Jesus had a divine appointment with someone in need of much more than words!

Did you notice how the high priest told Jesus that there were six other days in which to work? I guess he would have preferred that Jesus tell the woman to “come back tomorrow’ than for Him to heal her right then.

That’s another difference between religion and ministry. Religion doesn’t feel the pain of its adherents, rather it is more concerned that everyone fall in line and follow the established protocol. Real ministry feels the infirmities and sufferings of people, and does not wait around for prior approval to meet the need.

I love how Jesus turned the tables on the religious ruler by telling him if he had an animal that was thirsty, he would untie it and lead it to water on the Sabbath Day. By all accounts that too was ‘work’, so we see that the real issue here was not that Jesus was breaking the Law, but that this man’s religion was more important to him than ministering to the needy. In other words, this man had a ‘heart condition’ that would not permit him to offer comfort to the needy at the expense of his doctrine.

As Christians, this is not what we are to be. Knowing that Jesus came not for those who were whole, but for those that needed a physician, it stands to reason that such a mindset should be ours as well. [3]

As we gaze upon humanity with open hearts and minds, it is plain for all to see that people are imprisoned by sin, sickness, addictions of every sort, and are in distress and great need.

Our world is quickly losing its capacity to exhibit mercy and compassion, and is becoming insensitive to the plight of others. Additionally, we seem to have an insatiable appetite for gore, violence, and immorality. Such is the cost of a society that has rejected God.

May it not be said of us that we looked, but did not see. Rather, may it be said of us that we looked upon suffering humanity with the same eyes and heart that Jesus did.

After all, that is why we are here. Isn’t it?

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] This saying has been traced back to 1546, and has its origins in Jeremiah 5:21

[2] The affliction this woman had is known medically as Camptocormia, and is typically associated with another disease

[3] Scripture reference Mark 2:17

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The Beatitudes: conclusion

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As I have a very busy week ahead of me filling in for my Pastor, I need to finish up my thoughts concerning the Beatitudes. So even though it makes for a lengthy read, I have included the remaining four in this final blog.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the act of forgiveness and compassion from someone who has the authority to punish you, but instead chooses to offer mercy. If you’ve ever been the one in need of mercy, and you know you have, you can surely appreciate knowing that your Father in heaven is merciful.

When we are merciful and forgiving to others, we give them a glimpse of the Father’s heart of mercy and forgiveness that is offered to all. As his representatives on earth, we must always be mindful that we are often the only examples of the hands and feet of Jesus that people will ever see.

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

The Bible talks a lot about the heart, doesn’t it? The condition of our heart as it relates to God is of the utmost importance in our daily walk. Having an impure heart, for example, keeps us from seeing God for who he is because having such a heart is like walking around wearing blinders.

Having a pure heart, however, allows us to see God in all his glory and splendor because our vision is no longer clouded by sin, judgement, or guilt.

When the Psalmist prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me“, he was essentially asking God for a pure heart. [1] May this be our prayer as well.

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

Would you agree with me that the world could use a few more peacemakers? After all, God is a peace-loving and a peace-making God, and we sure could use a respite from the constant bickering and fighting among ourselves today.

Peace is something that God has always desired for us. The whole history of redemption, starting with the fall of Adam in the garden to the death and resurrection of Jesus, is all part of God’s plan to establish a just and lasting peace between man and himself.

Not to be overlooked in this plan of redemption is God’s desire for men to also have lasting peace among themselves. It is never God’s will for men to quarrel and fight against one another.

If this message would somehow be heard by all today, what a different world we would be living in! All of us would do well to remember that if we are truly our Father’s children, we will display his attributes and character. What he loves, we will love. And God loves peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted. Not exactly a word that we associate with being blessed, or as some say today “highly favored”, is it?

Yet Jesus does calls us blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness sake. For certain, there are many types of persecution, and varying degrees of it as well.

Some will say that they are being persecuted because someone said something that hurt their feelings. Perhaps a promotion did not come your way and you determine that because of that, you are being persecuted.

I believe though that the persecution Jesus was referring to here is the type that results in the loss of liberty, freedom, and even one’s very life. So while American Christians have been spared (so far) such persecutions, regular readers will note that I have posted several articles on this blog detailing the severe persecution taking place in other parts of the world today.

Literally tens of thousands of Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered for the testimony of Jesus in our day. Yet for all that, Jesus calls those of his servants enduring such persecution “blessed”.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Let’s face it, the world in which we live is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. Today, anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus is mocked, scorned, slandered, and generally treated with disdain.

This isn’t something new however, as Jesus said they did the same things to those who came before us. Our job is simply to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. [2]

Peter even went so far to say that if we were insulted for the name of Jesus, we are blessed because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon us! [3]

I hope that this series on The Beatitudes has been both worthwhile and a source of encouragement to you. I never tire of reading these words of Jesus because they seem to fan the flames when we need a little spark to keep us pressing onward, and my prayer is that you feel the same way.

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] Psalm 51:10

[2] Philippians 3:14

[3] 1 Peter 4:14

 

Sometimes all it takes is a hug!

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My daughter,who teaches at a local Day Care, told me about an incident where a little boy got extremely upset over a game he was playing with another child. It seems that the little boy was having a hard time convincing his friend that “winners go first!” when it came time to start a new game.

All of this resulted in a major melt down, and my daughter told the upset child to go sit in the thinking chair until he calmed down, and then they would talk about it. After a few minutes in the thinking chair the little boy was still very upset, so my daughter asked him if there was anything she could do to make him feel better.

His response? “Yes, a hug”!

So he got his hug and amazingly all was right with his world. For now.

Sometimes all it takes is a hug, and it doesn’t matter if you’re six or sixty six!

Have a great evening!

Ron

 

The day two “only son’s” met

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How many of us have ever been at the end of our rope? Like many of you, I’ve had my back to the wall so many times I’ve lost count.

Well, if this describes you, or if you’ve ever been to the point of hopelessness, I have good news for you.

God will meet you at your place of brokenness and despair. He doesn’t wait until your world is back on track and all is well before he decides to come to you. No, He comes in the midst of whatever struggles you may be facing, and no one does it better than our Lord.

Jesus’ ministry revolved around people. Broken people. People who, just like you and I, were at the end of their rope. Such is the following story from Luke’s gospel. There is something so incredibly powerful about this story that I just had to share it. I trust that it will bless you today.

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.   Luke 7:11-17

On this particular day a mother was in the funeral procession of her only son. The fact that her son was dead was made even more tragic because this mother was also a widow.

The Bible doesn’t give us the details about the deaths of her son or her husband, and I suppose it really doesn’t matter because in reality, in turns out that death wasn’t the real story here after all.

What is important to know however is that during this period of time, if a man died his sons were expected to become the caretaker and provider for the remaining family members.

Losing her only son meant that this woman would likely become destitute, as women in those days had no viable means of supporting themselves. A quick glance at the story of Ruth and Naomi gives us a glimpse into the world of poverty and desperation that she was about to enter.

Not only was the woman consumed with grief, but I have no doubt that a feeling of complete despair had come upon her. How would she live? How would she provide for any other children?

I’m sure she must have been thinking that her world had collapsed around her after losing first a husband, and now her only son! Wouldn’t the average person be thinking ‘how much more can I bear’?

She was destined to become dependent upon the kindness of others in order to survive. Fortunately, if she had anything at all going in her favor, it was that the large crowd assembled for the burial indicated this family was well known and respected in the community.

Her future, if you could call it that, was bleak indeed.

I imagine all of this was going through the mind of Jesus as he approached the funeral procession, and he was moved with compassion for this family because He knew what was in store for this widow if he did not intervene.

Now, here is what I find so powerful about this particular encounter: On this day two “only son’s” met, no doubt for the first time. One son was dead, yet destined to live; one Son was alive, yet destined to die.

Isn’t that amazing? Do you see the irony in that? Who but God could do such a thing as this? He is an on time God my friends!

The message here is clear: even when it looks like all hope is lost, Jesus Christ is the death defeater. He is a way-maker even when there doesn’t seem to be a way out. When you’ve exhausted all of your abilities and resources, let go and let God!

A widowed mother had her only son restored to her, while God was soon to lose His only Son as a sacrifice for us all.

And yet He is not dead, but alive forevermore!

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

 

 

 

And we wonder why…Part 4

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As I conclude this series I want to begin by focusing on a key point of contention being tossed around today, that being that our school systems are somehow to blame for all of the recent school shootings.

What has brought us to this point in our nation’s history, a point where we find ourselves burying innocent children who have been murdered at school, is not an inept educational system.

Dysfunctional at times…absolutely. However, the current media fixation on all that is wrong with our schools being one of the leading causes of the repeated carnage taking place is just plain wrong.

Interestingly enough, if you were to look closely at the past six decades of education in America, you would see that our schools have always been used as a “battleground” of sorts.

For example:

  • In 1954 Segregation was finally outlawed.
  • In 1962 prayer was banned from public schools. The following year reading the Bible was also banned.
  • In 1972 Title IX became law, prohibiting discrimination based upon sex.
  • In 1983 President Reagan issued the report “A Nation at Risk”, detailing the ways in which America’s schools were underperforming.
  • In 2001 President G.W. Bush signed into law “No Child Left Behind” ,increasing funding while ushering in standards based reforms.
  • In 2010 President Obama’s “Race to The Top” program brought with it many additional education reforms.

It is obvious that the education of America’s children has long been a priority. For certain, mistakes have been made, but there have also been tremendous successes.

Today, our educational system is one of the best in the world. More importantly, our children continue to receive a quality education. While some countries may boast of better test scores, considering the sheer magnitude of our educational system I believe we do a great job.

I think we can also safely say that a lack of funding is generally not a problem (yes, I know, tell that to a teacher!). After all, the trillions of dollars spent on providing a good education testify of our commitment to continue doing so.

The problem of school shootings therefore does not lie with either the school or the government. Both of these entities continue to do what they’ve always done. Why anyone would think that either is to blame for the tragedies in our schools is beyond me.

Of course, there is that issue of finding a Scapegoat…

If not the schools system itself or the government, what then is the problem?

Here’s a thought for you: if you are 50 years of age and upward, how many school shootings happened while you attended school? In my case, there were exactly ZERO school shootings during all of my years of education. How about you?

Likewise, when I was in school we had exactly ZERO school psychologists. The closest thing we had to a psychologist was a guidance counselor, and I realize what a stretch that is.

Did you know that the position of school psychologist is currently one of the most in-demand and highest paid positions in the state of Florida? Not an educator of students mind you, but a psychologist. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.

How have we gone from a nation where our children’s education was of such primary importance that generation after generation approved one tax levy after another in order to support our schools, to a nation where career educators today have less value than a school psychologist?

How have we gone from a nation where we would send our children off to school each day, confident that they would be taught the necessary skills needed to succeed in this world, to a nation where each day we say goodbye to them causes a nagging fear to surface that this might be the last time I see my child alive?

The hard question that no one wants to ask is this: WHAT HAS CHANGED?

What has changed is the heart and consciousness of America is now on life support. Our society has gone from a vibrant, thriving, God loving one to a society known more for its capacity for evil than its good works.

Our collective soul as a nation is on a death watch.

To put it in the simplest terms: as a nation we are sick. We have been infected with an incurable (by man’s standards) disease. And we need to accept the fact that this disease has infected every facet of our society, including our schools.

And we wonder why the killings?

Judging by the frequency of attacks upon our children, one could make the case that we would rather argue and cast blame than admit we have been inflicted with this disease so that we can then be able to ingest the antidote.

Which by the way, is NOT a school psychologist.

As long as we can argue and blame one another, we can avoid having to confront the real issue here. You see, it’s difficult to admit that we have a disease called SIN, because not only is God not welcome in our schools, neither is He welcome in our government.

And He is becoming less welcome in our homes each and every day.

Get rid of God; get rid of the sin issue. Get rid of the sin issue, we have cleared our consciousness of any guilt in the matter. It’s as old as the original sin in the garden! Isn’t that what we have done?

We can talk all day long about policy changes and new/more gun regulations in the hope that they will put an end to the murder of our children. Let me be the first to say that there must be changes made to prevent access to weapons of any kind by anyone. To continue allowing things to continue as they are is madness.

But let’s be perfectly clear about something: no policy or regulation has ever been implemented that will change a person’s heart, any more than a simple STOP sign will cause everyone to stop at the intersection.

The biggest obstacle to changing the status quo is the fact that our society has yet to hit rock bottom, thus we do not yet want to change. As perverted as this may sound, apparently we have not yet suffered enough, or else we would take the necessary actions to right this sinking ship.

Until we acknowledge that we are incapable of piloting this ship apart from Almighty God, we will continue to flounder in the cesspool of sin and violence.

And our innocent children will continue to be killed.

I won’t bore you with one story after another from the Bible, because history itself is filled with examples of nations and society’s who have chosen the slippery slope of independence from God. And like the proverbial blind leading the blind, we too will fall into a ditch from which there is no escape unless we repent, humble ourselves, and seek His face.

As horrific as it is now, how loudly will this nation cry when these evil, sadistic murderers turn their guns on the nursing homes or the hospitals? How long will it be before someone bursts into a public library and commits the unthinkable?

Lest we forget, it’s happening in our churches right now!

Whereas this nation was once grateful, humble, and thankful for God’s mercy, compassion, blessings, and divine protection, we have in this generation decided that there is no place for God in America.

Accordingly, the innocent among us are now paying the price for the sins of the fathers.

This is our choice.

This is what we wanted.

This is what we received.

Let no one ever say again that God doesn’t give us what we ask.

May God help us is my heart felt prayer.

Ron

What’s Behind The Door?

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That was the title of a message I delivered Wednesday evening at my home church. My scripture text came from Revelation 4:1-5.

1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 

2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.

3 And He who sat there was[a] like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.

4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns[b] of gold on their heads.

5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.[c] Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the[d] seven Spirits of God.

The crux of my message was that God has so much for for His church than what we are settling for today. Just as the voice told John to “come up here”, I believe the Lord is speaking to the church to do likewise so that He may show us what lies behind our own door.

We cannot do the work of God if we stay in the same place, nor can we do it by doing the same thing the same way we’ve always done it and expect more from our efforts. Talk about the definition of insanity!! We need to finally get on God’s page!

I am convinced that behind the door is MORE.

More power. More love. More compassion. More faith. More strength.

More of everything the church needs to be Jesus to a lost and helpless world.

The question all of us must answer is this: are we willing to “come up here” to see what’s behind the door?

Think about it. Please?

Be blessed!

Ron

What does it mean to be Heavenly minded?

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Everyone is seeking something. That’s how God made us. We’re inquisitive by nature; always searching, looking, wondering.

Life would be pretty boring if we just sat around and became a lump of nothingness, don’t you think?

As Christians however, we must learn to temper our searching, looking, and wandering by prioritizing and aligning the things we deem so important against God’s Word. Paul explains it here in Colossians 3:1-3.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”.‬‬

Does this now mean that because I’m a Christian that I can no longer be passionate about my favorite cause? Of course not! If God’s children don’t participate in this earthly life, if we’re too Holy to get our hands dirty while ministering to others, of what value are we?

You no doubt have heard the expression that we can become “too Heavenly minded to be of any earthly good”. Speaking only for myself, I have yet to meet the person who accurately meets this description! Seriously, if any person becomes as Heavenly minded as Paul describes above, they would do more earthly good than they could ever imagine!

What Paul is saying to us is that as Christ’s representatives on earth we should be involved in what’s going on around us. We should care deeply about the plight of others. If not us, then who will?

But our first priority must be Him. If we will make Him our first priority, if He becomes the focus of our passions, our care and concern for others will be greatly enhanced.

You see, it’s only by seeking those things that are above, that we are then able to effectively reach out to those around us. Or to put it another way, before we can pour into others, we must first be filled ourselves. And we get filled by seeking those things which are above.

I think all of us would agree that we need more of Him at work in our lives. I know I certainly have enough rough edges to keep Him busy for a while! As we endeavor to seek those things that are above, we begin to die to self a bit more each day. Those rough edges become smoother, even our attitudes are improved.

Seeking those things that are above transforms our wants and desires into His wants and desires. When we seek to become more Heavenly minded we become more like Jesus. We love like Jesus. We have compassion like Jesus. The world can then see Jesus through us.

Isn’t that what this Christian life is supposed to be about anyway?

Be blessed,

Ron

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