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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

Am I my brother’s keeper?

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Many of you will no doubt recognize that question, taken from the Genesis account of Cain and Abel.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Cain was angry with his brother Abel because his brother’s offering was acceptable to God, while his own was rejected. In a jealous rage, this is what happened:

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:8-9

We know that Cain asked this question as a means of deflecting attention away from his guilt for having murdered his own brother. He basically told God “how should I know where he is, it’s not my job to watch him, is it?”

Ever since then, it’s a question that individuals have been asking themselves whenever needs arise, whether man-made or natural. It is a question that probes at the heart, and our answers reveal a lot about how we feel about our fellow man.

In a perfect world, there would be enough of everything to go around. There would be a job for every able-bodied person. The issues of hunger, sickness, and poverty that now plague the world’s society’s would vanish.

It doesn’t take a sociologist(or a theologian)to look around and determine that we are not living in a perfect world. That world existed for a very short time in a place called Eden, a place where the only two humans on the planet existed.

In our modern world however, things are quite a bit different. In this less than perfect world, there are a lot of people that are in dire need of help. The notion of a perfect world to them is the stuff of fairy tales.

It may be the hungry child down the street, or the immigrant family trying to cross the threshold into what they perceive as paradise, or a thousand other desperate situations.

Regardless, the numbers of people who have reached the point of helplessness in their quest for survival is nothing short of staggering. So much so that one could make the case for not even trying to find a viable solution to this seemingly impossible situation.

But how do you tell the desperate, the hungry, and the hopeless that their plight is too big to bother with? How do we look them in the eye and say they are not worth the effort?

Sadly, there are an ever increasing number of people who believe just that, that the problems are too large and complex, and besides, it’s not us but “them”. But is that how loving, civilized society’s are to function?

Poverty in the U.S. alone affects over 40 million people. An additional 95 million are living at ‘near poverty’ levels. How can this be ignored? And what of the rest of the world, all of which is far worse off than the United States? [1]

My contention is that we as a society, particularly a society founded upon Christian principles, do indeed have an obligation to help those who cannot help themselves.

Otherwise, ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘only the strong survive’ become the new laws of the jungle and it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Is that what any of us really want?

All of us, irregardless of political, religious, or sociological backgrounds are inextricably linked together by a common bond: the need to have enough food to eat, clothing to wear, and a roof over our heads.

When you really think about it, the question of “Am I my brother’s keeper” is actually more relevant today than it was in the days of Cain and Abel.

In the world that Cain and Abel lived in, there were only four humans upon the earth. Four, as in Adam,Eve,Cain, and Abel. Four souls.

In our world, we have a far greater challenge before us.  At last count, there were over seven billion people living on earth. While some will contend that the numbers are too great for anyone to have any kind of positive impact upon, I say that God is equal to the challenge.

He just needs a few willing vessel’s to step up and say that “yes, I am my brother’s keeper”.

Something to ponder, I trust.

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] For a detailed look into the poverty crisis in America, please go to povertyusa.org.      Here you will find an enormous amount of data, broken down into many different categories that will help you better understand how severe the problem is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Sometimes it takes a storm”…

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All of us endure storms in this life of one type or another. Most of the time they catch us unaware as they strike without warning. Having little or no time to prepare, more times than not we’re forced to endure the best way we can.

Truthfully, just hanging on is sometimes the equivalent of a major victory.

One of life’s great lessons however is that no one gets a free pass, everyone must confront their personal storms. There is no other way.

The good news in all of this? We don’t have to confront the storms alone. The Bible tells us that “God is a very present help in the time of trouble”(Psalm 46:1). He is our helper when life is teetering out of control.

In Mark’s gospel,there was an event that took place that caused all of the disciples to fear for their lives. What started out as a simple boat ride soon turned into a confrontation with a violent storm that threatened to destroy all of them.

35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to Crisisthe other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”               Mark 4:35-41

Had Jesus not been there,how different this story might have ended! But the fact is Jesus was there with them in the boat,and the disciples knew their only hope was to awaken the Master.

A crisis will do that to us won’t it? Sometimes it takes a storm to enable us to better see the sun.

Do you know that the same thing happens when we call upon the Lord during the times of storm? He will calm the troubled waters of your soul, because He is the peace speaker.

If today you find yourself in the midst of a raging storm, there is a Savior who will rise up and speak to that storm and say “peace…be still”.

All you are required to do is call upon the Master.

Please listen to this beautiful song if you are in need of shelter from the storm.

Sometimes it takes a storm”, by Jessica King

Have a blessed day, in Jesus name!

Ron

“I am the Lord…”

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I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:”    Isaiah 45:5   KJV

God revealed himself to his chosen people Israel as “I am The Lord” over 160 times. Repeatedly, God felt the need to remind his people that they need not look to another god because there wasn’t any other, that He stands alone as God.

This was necessary because Israel was surrounded by nations who served any number of false gods, and as Old Testament history shows us Israel went after these gods time and time again.

Indeed, idolatry was something that Israel struggled with throughout its ancient history, eventually leading to the destruction of both Jerusalem and the entire nation of Israel.

In today’s world however, many take offense at this verse, believing that it is the height of arrogance for anyone, including God, to declare Himself as the One True God. Today we seem to want to have options for everything, including our God.

Christians are, of course, fully aware that there are those that teach that there are many paths to God, just as there are many today proclaiming the existence of many gods. True Biblical Christianity however refutes such doctrinal error, as we believe God to be the One True God, Jehovah.

You may be asking why any of this should matter to you. Well, it matters because all of us will face the day in this life when we will need God. Whether it’s a crisis of faith or a personal tragedy that brings catastrophic news, all of us will need God at some point.

It’s in those times of crisis that we need assurance that the One we call out to is indeed the “I am The Lord” of the Bible, and not an impostor.

This is when having a personal relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, becomes most real in our hearts. To know that we can call upon him and that he hears our cry, is worth more than anything we could ever acquire in this life, and is yet another aspect of this Abundant Life we live in Him.

One of the greatest commentaries on this passage of scripture was penned by none other than Matthew Henry. I enjoy reading the commentary of Matthew Henry for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was written long before the divisive seeds of “political correctness” were sown in the Church.

In other words, he explained the truth of scripture without regard to man’s opinions.

I have included his commentary on Isaiah 45:5 so that you may read his clear and concise rendering of this verse.

“That he is God alone, and there is no God besides him. This is here inculcated as a fundamental truth, which, if it were firmly believed, would abolish idolatry out of the world. With what an awful, commanding, air of majesty and authority, bidding defiance, as it were, to all pretenders, does the great God here proclaim it to the world: I am the Lord, I the Lord, Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God besides me, no other self-existent, self-sufficient, being, none infinite and eternal. And again (v. 6), There is none besides me; all that are set up in competition with me are counterfeits; they are all vanity and a lie, for I am the Lord, and there is none else.”

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Invincible Hope

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Much is being said today about the state of the union here in America. If you’re following along you know that fear,anger,resentment,and a general feeling of hopelessness prevails.Daily outpourings of outrage over this,that,and the other are the norm.protesters

Lost in the disarray of all of this is the fact that America is inching ever closer to becoming just like the rest of the world. Let that sink in for a moment.

We’ve been sheltered,for lack of a better term,from the storms of unrest that have ravaged nation after nation.What we are seeing now,however,is the dismantling of that protective shelter right before our very eyes.

For decades we have witnessed other parts of the world reeling from countless famines,wars,diseases,and drug infestations,often of biblical proportions,all resulting in untold millions of deaths and incalculable suffering.

Tragically,they have been happening for so long that they have almost become normal. Besides,those things happen to them,not us. Short of a nuclear attack,little else gives us cause to stop and listen to what’s happening across the globe.

Meanwhile,we in America have watched these events unfold from the comfort and security of our recliners,smug in our thoughts that somehow we were anointed with “favored nation status”.Secure in our self righteous ideology that America was God’s favored nation,we were above such affliction.

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Until now.

Things are about to change.

Like many others,perhaps even some of you,I have been speaking out about the impending crisis headed for America for some time now. Like them,I have tried to sound a warning about the impending breakdown of our society from a biblical viewpoint.

I have also been very critical of the Church’s reluctance to confront the spirit of the age,and have drawn the ire of many for my position. Regular readers of this blog know that I am of the firm conviction that the Church of today has abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3),hence its reluctance to speak about the spiritual and moral back sliding we are witnessing.

For the most part what’s been said in pointing this out has been in vain…no real surprise there. After all, who wants to listen to some guy telling us that we need to “right the ship” by encouraging America to return to the God of the Bible?

It’s not very popular being one of those voices imploring our religious leaders to denounce the “sin which has so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:1). Then again,God didn’t call us to enter a popularity contest,did He?

Really,is it any wonder that a feeling of hopelessness permeates every facet of our nation? Even the most positive must admit that things don’t look good. We sure could use a little hope right about now,couldn’t we?

Which brings me to the title subject of this particular blog, Our Invincible Hope. Yes,in spite of everything you’ve just read,there remains a flame of hope that cannot be snuffed out by the angry,vitriolic protesters in our streets. A hope that cannot be voted out or decreed null and void by an executive order.

No,in spite of all of this we have a hope that is without end. It is because of the Resurrection that we have this Invincible Hope. Because of Jesus Christ all men everywhere have been made alive,and in the heart of every believer beats the drum of Invincible Hope. For all of us,a better day is coming! As Paul writes:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. I Corinthians 15:19-23

If in this life only we have hope in Christ then we are in serious trouble! So many people are fixated on this life,as if this is all there is! We expect those outside the church to behave this way,but this mindset has enveloped the church as well!

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We are so caught up in the concerns of this life that we are forgetting that this life is but a vapor (James 4:14). We aren’t here long!

We must be on guard lest the desires of our hearts shift away from the eternal to the here and now.

We can never abandon Paul’s admonition of “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”!

The tragic events I have described in this post hang over mankind like thick darkness,much like the Egyptians must have felt just before God delivered the children of Israel. A sense of doom and foreboding has cast fear into the hearts of billions.

America,indeed the entire world is on the precipice of an implosion the likes of which this world has never seen, and we seem incapable of looking beyond this in order to see the splendor that awaits us. And truthfully,we haven’t seen anything yet.

Christians must reconnect with the truths of God’s Word that reminds us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). That’s right,the perfect love of Christ repels fear and does not permit it to engulf us. Fear may reign in the hearts of those focused only on this life,but it has no hold on those looking for the promise of His coming.

It is the Resurrection that offers the promise of hope,of what God will do for each of us. For you see, God isn’t just offering possibilities to us,but rather the inevitability of a life far removed from the carnage all around us. I don’t know about you,but “as for me and my house” (Joshua 24:15)…

Our Invincible Hope! Grab hold of it!