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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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Is God really doing a “New Thing”?

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You hear preachers say it all the time: ‘God’s doing a New Thing today’. This implies that the hearer should be expecting God to do something great, something that has never been done before.

In preacher circles, this is what is known as a cheer-leading statement, one used to elicit an exciting response from the crowd. After all, most people like to be in on a new thing coming down the road. And what could be bigger and more exciting than God Himself doing something new?

If you were to Google “God is doing a new thing”, it would bring up about 170 million results. You can take your pick from memes, rap songs, sermons, and videos. In other words, there’s something for everybody!

See, I told you people really want to be in on a new thing!

I have heard this repeated so many times in church from so many different preachers that I’ve lost track. Where does this statement come from, and what does it really mean? And who is it speaking to anyway?

Well, the phrase is part of a verse of scripture found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In context, this verse belongs with verses 43:16-28 in which God reminds Israel that it was He who delivered them from bondage, and it would be He who would bring them back from exile.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. Isa. 43:19

This verse speaks specifically to the Jews. It does not speak to the church, nor does it speak to individual Christians. There is nothing prophetic about it apart from their soon return from Babylon. It was spoken to the nation of ancient Israel. Period.

It’s incredible how we Christians will take a verse here and there and somehow invent a new doctrine, as is the case with the above verse. Then again, we are living in the time when Paul said that men would turn their ears from the truth.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  II Tim. 4:3, 4

Yet this does bring up an interesting question, at least in my mind. Why are God’s people always looking for the ‘next big thing’?

Why do we constantly need to be told that God is up to something? It seems that some believe that unless we are fed a steady diet of ‘new things’ we will lose interest and begin to drift away.

Which begs the question…

What is wrong with us?

Here’s what I think. I think if we were to humble our hearts, commit to seek His face on a daily basis, spend quality time alone with him in prayer, and study to show ourselves approved unto God, we would find that we would never need to look for the ‘next big thing’.

Our lives would be so full of excitement and enthusiasm coming directly from the Holy Spirit that we would no longer need to hear about ‘a new thing’.

We would be living it every day!

Now that’s something to get excited about!

Be blessed!

Ron

 

 

Aren’t They all Churches of Christ?

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Sunday afternoon my daughter and I went driving for a couple of hours as part of the requirement for her getting her license.When we drove past a local Church of Christ she asked me “aren’t they all churches of Christ”? Wow…what a question!

My daughter has been raised in church so she is of course well versed in “church”culture. Yet her question prompted me to ask her a question in return,which was “is it confusing for an 18 year old to see churches with so many different names”?

“It sure is” was her immediate response.

All of which got me to thinking: what kind of Godly relationship can we expect our children to have with the Lord when we who are supposed to be the leaders of the church are sowing so much confusion into their lives? How in the world are they supposed to know who’s right and who is wrong?

For example: according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there were an estimated 43,000 Christian denominations in 2012.

Forty.

Three.

Thousand.

Which begs the question:

Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?  1Co 1:13 KJV

So I ask again: how is anyone,much less a young adult,supposed to figure out which church to attend,or which doctrine is the right one?

We have instilled in our daughter the importance of reading her bible and of having a right relationship with the Lord,but I have no illusions that she will agree with me on every single point of doctrine.Nor should I expect her to read from the same version of the bible that I do.She is an independent young woman who with God’s help must chart her own destiny.

So what of those who do not yet know the Lord but may be seeking Him? To which of the 43,000 denominations do they turn to? Yours? Mine?

Of course,all of us believe we “know the way”,or at least have some assurance that we are on the right track.And heaven knows we could start our own version of jihad,or holy war by laying claim to having the answers for everyone.For certain we all know that wars have been fought and inquisitions enacted throughout the ages all in the name of “church”.

Many Christians today like to believe that their church can be traced back to the Apostles and Disciples of Christ.Some believe that their church was started due to a direct revelation from God Himself.Still others lay claim to a particular religious figure from the past,or as in the case of most mega churches today they follow a personality.

But do you see how difficult it can be to sort through this mess of religiosity?

Catholic,Baptist,Methodist / Wesleyan,Lutheran,Presbyterian,Pentecostal/Charismatic,Episcopalian/Anglican,Churches of Christ,Assemblies of God,Church of God,Seventh-Day Adventist,Church of the Nazarene,Church of the Brethren,Independent Christian Church…and on and on it goes…

Jesus said that “Do [you] suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” Luk 12:51 NKJV

Jesus was NOT referring to the church in this passage! Any division in the church comes not from Him ,but from US!

If the church’s divine mandate is to go out and make disciples of all nations,is it any wonder the church is failing so miserably? We cannot even agree among ourselves what we are to believe! And we expect the lost to somehow look at us as the answer to their lost condition,to entrust their eternal souls to our care?

Something has gone horribly wrong in the church! It would seem that any person that disagrees with their church doctrine or polity is free to start their own…to the tune of 43,000 of them! And I can assure you I have seen this happen far too often.The next time you’re out driving in your city,start looking at the various church signs out there.The number of them is astounding! Are all of them right? Are all of them wrong?

I cannot presume to speak for anyone other than myself in matters of faith and salvation.We are all on a journey of our own.Indeed,we are instructed in the word to work out our own salvation:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;   Phl 2:12 NKJV

What I do know is that many established,long time Christians are finding themselves at a critical juncture in their faith walk.Gone is the confidence they once had that the church had all the right answers.The church has been silent for far too long on issues of grave importance.Either that,or they have given them a simple,cursory response when what was called for was the voice of God thundering from the nations pulpits!

To answer my daughter’s question:”aren’t they all churches of Christ?”,I have to be honest and say I think not.What I know to be true and without fault or wrong is not any church or particular denomination,but rather Jesus Christ Himself.

He is the spotless Lamb of glory,God’s sinless sacrifice offered once and for all for the sins of all men everywhere.

And upon this truth I stand.