Christianity 201

November 18, 2015

A Funny Thing Did Not Happen on the Way to Worship an Idol

by Clarke Dixon
•••click here to read at source

All religions are equal, right? Some say that they are equally bad, but many claim that they are all equally good. They all lead to the same morals. They all deserve respect. To say otherwise you will risk being labelled as intolerant. The prevailing mood of accommodation of all religions indiscriminately is a far cry from what God called his people to in Deuteronomy 12:

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” Deuteronomy 12:29-30

For those who think all religions promote the same moral values, the next verse is very important:

You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:31

As God’s people prepare to enter the Promised Land they are warned that messing around with Canaan’s god’s would make a real mess of things. God had given the law to His people as a gift of grace, as a set of ethics that would lead the obedient to be a light in a dark world. Idolatry would cause God’s people to plunge into darkness themselves. Our twenty-first century living blinds us to some of the atrocious things that happened in the name of religion in the ancient world including child sacrifice. The Law given to God’s people pointed to a better way. In leading God’s people away from God, idolatry would lead people away from God’s best for them; the godly, good, and wise way of life. Clearly, not all religions are equal and we should be grateful that many immoral religions have faded into obscurity.

Idolatry still leads people away from God’s best. Remembering that idolatry is loving anyone or anything more than God, consider the idolatry of Adolf Hitler who loved Social Darwinism more than God. Social Darwinism is what happens when you apply the principles of Darwinism, namely the survival of, or “natural selection” of, the strong to a society. Evolution demands that the “weak”, like the Jews according to some, really ought to be eliminated. Hitler was not a crazy man, but a quite intelligent man who was unfortunately informed more by his idolatry than by God’s way. Had Hitler been influenced by the very people he sought to destroy he would have realized the implications of all humanity created in the image of God and history books would now tell a very different story.

Another example of idolatry leading people away from God’s best for them can be readily seen in ISIS. ISIS has a morality problem. ISIS seeks to build a religious state, a caliphate, through violence. Islam has a fundamentalist problem. When people who call themselves Christian turn to violence in the name of Christianity, we point them back to Jesus and the call to emulate him in the way of the cross. When people turn to a violent expression of Islam, the moderate Muslim has trouble calling them to emulate Mohammed. They are convinced they already are. When a Christian wants to create a Christian state, we point them to the teaching of Jesus who said “Go therefore and make disciples,” and not “Go therefore and make a Christian nation.” When a militant Muslim wants to support the creation of a religious state, a caliphate, the moderate Muslim has trouble sending them back to the teaching and example of Mohammed. They are convinced they have already gone there. Islam is idolatry that is keeping people away from God’s best for them. As a Christian I am called to love the Muslim. I am not called to like Islam.

But someone may object that the very passage from Deuteronomy we began with has God’s people creating a religious state though violence. That is a very good objection and one which demands a response. First, consider that God was establishing a nation for the purpose of keeping his promise of blessings for all nations (Genesis 12:1-13). Second, consider that those times and places were very different from our own, being more like the tribalism that we have seen in places like Rwanda, than like the nation states we are comfortably used to. Third, consider that the inhabitants of Canaan were ripe for God’s judgement. They were no better than the people who experienced the flood in Noah’s day. Fourth, consider that this was a one time event. The command to take Canaan was not a command to be dusted off whenever God’s people feel like taking territory. Yes, we do have in Deuteronomy a people called to create a religious state and yes, violence was to be involved. But this was one step, a necessary step, on the journey to the cross where God Himself would suffer violence to bring salvation to sinful people. This was one step on a long road to blessing.

So which should we be following today? The prevailing mood validating all religions as equal, or the Biblical call to religious purity and evangelism of people we see as lost? In leading people away from God, idolatry leads people away from God’s best for them. That includes the godly ethics he longs for people to enjoy. But there is more; idolatry leads people away from God’s very best for them in leading them away from his salvation. Idols can never rescue us from the effects of sin. Jesus does. Atheism does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Islam can not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Hinduism, Buddhism, and everyotherism cannot rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Even the Christian religion, when it is just religion for the sake of religiosity does not rescue us from sin. Jesus does. Jesus said  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

We can and should affirm religious pluralism in our nation, to a point. A religion that demands something like child sacrifice would be clearly very far from Canadian values. So religious freedom does have its limits. But as Jesus followers we are called to religious purity. Are we not to respect the religions and world-views of other people then? As followers of Jesus we recognize these views for what they are: idolatry which leads people away from God’s best. How can we respect that? But as for the people who hold these views, who follow these idols, we are to go far beyond respect, to love. And if we love them, we will want them to know Jesus, His way of life, His way of salvation. We will want want them to experience the very best He has for them.

All scripture references are from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and as we learned this week, a very competent musician.

May 9, 2013

God Defends Us Against Accusation

Tim Burt has been blogging since 2006, and in the last couple of years has been posting daily devotions at his blog, Fresh Manna.  This recent one deals with how God sees us, not as we are but as we shall be; and appeared under the title How Does God See You?

by Pastor Tim Burt

I received the Lord into my heart and as my Savior in 1977 at the age of 24 years old. In the early season of my Christianity, growing in the Lord had been a wonderful, yet long and sometimes very difficult process. The only reason I say difficult is not because of hard times or bad things that happened. The process of growth was difficult because there were so many times where I felt like I stood before the Lord stained from sin, filthy, and unworthy of Jesus’ sacrifice for me.

I remember shortly after giving my life to Jesus and asking Him to forgive me of ALL my sins. I felt so clean and wonderful. Like a man who was given a second chance to live life right. I remember how I felt like it was yesterday even though it was many years ago. I felt so clean and fresh. I was determined not to do anything to violate the Lord and “dirty myself.” As much as I didn’t want to, it didn’t take long.

If you’ve ever had a pair of new white pants, new shoes, or a brand new car, you know how much you want to keep them fresh and new. The reality is, they just won’t stay new! That became a reality that made my growing process in the Lord seem difficult. Much like Adam in the garden, I wanted to hide when I did something wrong. Thank God someone taught me to do the opposite of that. I was taught to run to God not from Him. When I did, I often felt much like Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chapter 3. He also was standing before the Lord with filthy garments. The Lord did for him what He does for all who believe and receive Jesus and receive His forgiveness. He exchanged filthy garments for new snow-white robes.

Over the years, I have renewed my mind to God’s Word. I now know that my own righteousness is like filthy rags compared to the Lord’s. I have learned that I have to stand before God in the robes Jesus provided for me by His love on the cross – His robes of righteousness. It took me years to really understand that it is not my own righteousness that gets me into Heaven or allows me to stand washed before Jesus. It was His sacrifice and the gift – an unearned grace from God that made me worthy before Him. His robes of righteousness cover me and my faults. Like Joshua, God wants us to permanently exchange our filthy garments for His rich robes of righteousness.

You see the reason Joshua was before the throne of God was prayer. That’s what a high priest did. He interceded to God in behalf of others. He needed to be confident in his right standing with God. Just like us, Joshua was standing before the Lord, being accused as unworthy by Satan. Look at these verses and you will see.

Zec 3:1-5 “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! … Is this not a brand plucked from the fire? Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sins, and I will put rich garments on you.”  Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.”

The Lord rebuked Satan. He said, “Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” What did that mean – “a brand plucked from the fire?” What is a brand? You remember! It was one of those hot iron pokers that sat in a blazing fire until it was red-hot. They branded cattle with it as a sign or mark of who they belonged to. Joshua belonged to God. So do we! Jesus paid the price for us!

As God’s children, we represent Him in this earth. We are clothed with His righteousness and presented before God as righteous! We present His gospel as we are led. We pray and intercede for people. We minister to people. And God says we have been given the privilege to come before Him. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Anytime you stand before God to pray and intercede, Satan will point out your faults and try to disqualify you – to literally embarrass you before the Lord. We are to go to the throne room and stand before God clothed in His righteousness. We shouldn’t listen to the condemnation of Satan. God will cleanse us, not condemn us! Then we can come in the authority of His Word and represent others before His throne – others who need our prayer. Their life may depend on it.

One night a woman at church said to me, “Pastor Burt, you don’t know me but my name is so and so. A couple of months ago, you were given my name and you and your prayer group held me up in prayer.” She said, “My friend who is in your group told me you all prayed for me.” She said, “I had very bad cancer, a terrible report, and I had to go in for surgery. Your group had prayed for me. When I went in to surgery, they closed me back up and said something had changed and they did not need to do surgery. She told me she was fine and wanted me to hear this great report.” Praise God!

God wants you to know you are His righteousness and His hands and feet in this earth so that He, through you, can “destroy the works of the devil.” (1John 3:8) We are now His body in this earth and He still wants to do what Jesus did then. Walk in your robes and in your authority! You’ve been branded as His!

Rev 5:10 “And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”