Christianity 201

August 27, 2017

Sunday Worship

Romans 12: 1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In the church service we attended this morning, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  (v.31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 5 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said this morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

November 4, 2016

Advocacy: Joining Our Voices With Those Whose Cause Is Important

Today we’re paying a return visit to writer Dr. Gregory Crofford. His blog is titled “Theology in Overalls – Where Theology Meets Everyday Life” and in the article we’re using today, we see that intersection of theology and practical concern, or as some would say, the meeting of orthodoxy with orthopraxy.

Click the title below to read this at its source.

Holiness as compassionate advocacy

When asked the nature of holiness, John Wesley (1703-91) often pointed to Mark 12:28-31. All of the commandments are summed up in just two: Love God and love your neighbor. This love is the essence of holiness and it is the foundation of all compassion.

In recent years, we’ve spoken of compassionate evangelism. Now it is time to lift the banner of compassionate advocacy. Advocacy is concerned for social justice. As such, it is hardly a distraction from Gospel work. Rather, it is part-and-parcel of the church’s holistic Good News. In his article, “Social Justice in the Bible,” Dominik Markl notes:

Prophets such as Isaiah and Amos raise their voices on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, those belonging to the ‘weaker’ social groups. God himself prescribes a brotherly and sisterly social order in his Torah, and, in the same divine wisdom, Jesus develops a Christian ethics of love.

Those who are not followers of Christ will judge those of us who are by how we treat people who have nothing to offer in return. Right now on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota, a few thousand Native Americans – water protectors, as they call themselves – are peacefully resisting the construction of a pipeline across their land. Their concern is that the pipeline is to pass under the Missouri River, potentially fouling its waters with oil in case of a spill. This is hardly an imaginary threat. On July 1, 2011, such a spill polluted the Yellow Stone River. So muscular has been the response to the current standoff in North Dakota that Amnesty International is sending human rights observers.

Why should followers of Christ care? The simplest answer is that we should care about what Jesus cares about. Isaiah 42:1-4a (CEB) is a prophecy of the coming Messiah:

But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I’ve put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in public He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice. He won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land.

As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of co-existing with those who were here before our European forebears arrived. We haven’t cared much for these “faint wicks” or about justice in our dealings. But what about the church, particularly the Wesleyan-holiness tradition that I call home? If we are about making Christlike disciples – and that is a crucial task – then we need to cast a broader vision of what being Christlike means. It is more than abstaining from sins that defile us; it is also about coming alongside the weak and the oppressed in their time of need, standing with them in their fiery trial like Jesus stood with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:25). How can we read a passage like Isaiah 42 then yawn as if nothing is happening in North Dakota?

Perhaps our inaction stems in part from few of us ever being water deprived, yet water security is a growing issue around the world. Drought can drastically alter how we view this precious gift. When I visited the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2015, they were suffering an extended drought. The missionaries with whom I stayed sometimes had to decide whether they would wash the dishes or wash themselves. Thankfully, we prayed for rain and God answered our prayer. I went away from that stay taking water a lot less for granted.

Neither do the Sioux take water for granted. They cannot drink oil nor bathe in it. You need water for that.

Some churches are speaking up. Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church issued a statement last August in support of the water protectors. In his statement, he noted the theological importance of water in Scripture, including it being the baptism symbol of new life in Christ. I commend Bishop Curry for speaking up, but it makes me wonder: As holiness people, where is our voice? If the essence of holiness is love of God and neighbor, then here is a clear-cut chance to show a historically mistreated people that we care. These are our neighbors. Where is our love?

I’m glad that God is raising up around the world a generation of believers for whom justice issues are Gospel issues. May they be patient with us who have been around a bit longer, we who have been slower to see that holiness is both personal and social. And once we’ve seen, may the Lord move us to compassionate advocacy.

September 27, 2014

Dealing with Religious Spirits

Some days we post articles by mainstream Evangelicals, some from people from liturgical churches, on other days we’re Reformed, and today we’re decidedly Pentecostal/Charismatic. This is actually part two of an article which in turn is an excerpt from the author’s book. To read the entire piece you need to click this link in which the author explains how she was familiar with the practice of deliverance, but never had considered that religion might be something for someone to be delivered from.

Spiritual Housekeeping = Kimberly Danielsby Kimberly Daniels

What Does the Bible Say?

The Word of God has something to say about religion. In Acts 25-26, we see that Jewish religious leaders wanted Paul put to death and had petitioned the Roman authorities to have him executed. In Acts 26:4-11, as Paul defends himself before the Roman ruler Agrippa, he confirms that since the beginning of the church the enemy has been using believers to persecute one another.

He states:

“My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first … that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 

“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. For this hope’s sake … I am accused by the Jews.

“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”

One of the main ways to recognize the work of religious spirits is this: Under the disguise of religion, they persecute the righteous and faithful.

Paul makes a clear distinction between his time growing up as a leader under the religious law and his born-again experience after he met Christ on the road to Damascus. The road to Damascus represents more than the dramatic conversion of Paul’s life. It also reveals the plot of the enemy to persecute and trouble God’s elect from within the church. Paul told the Galatians:

“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” (Gal. 1:13-14).

Through his own testimony, Paul reveals that the traditions of men are the strongholds of religion. Jesus highlighted this as “vain” worship in Mark 7:7-8:

“In vain (fruitlessly and without profit) do they worship Me, ordering and teaching [to be obeyed] as doctrines the commandments and precepts of men. You disregard and give up and ask to depart from you the commandment of God and cling to the tradition of men [keeping it carefully and faithfully]” (AMP).

Vain worship is like a person going to the gym seven days a week and working out with no results. God says vain worship produces no results. This is why many people accept defeat in God and backslide. But the Word tells us there is no failure in Christ! This victory can be manifested in our lives if we give high regard to the commandments of the Lord and take our attention off the traditions of men.

The traditions of men flow through generational religious spirits. People literally pick up religious habits that have nothing to do with the commandments of the Lord and are more faithful to them than to the Word of God.

Colossians 2:6-23 teaches on freedom from human regulations through a new birth in Christ. It warns us of man-made traditions and speaks of the cancellation of “the written code” and its regulations.

This code worked against the believer in Christ, not for him. It made people set unattainable goals that gave birth to the fruits of failure, defeat and misery. It literally opposed the abundant freedom in Christ that was meant to be.

Galatians 5:1 commands that we stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free. It adds we should not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. The Greek meanings of words Paul used are important to understanding the verse:

» “Stand fast” (steko): To stand firm in faith and duty; to have a constant flow that causes one to persevere.

» “Liberty” (eleutheria): To be blessed with generosity and independence that is bestowed upon a person as a result of the economy of God’s grace, which was not made available under the law of the Old Testament. To also have independence from religious regulation that is rooted in the legal restrictions of man. James 2:10-14 teaches on “the perfect” law of liberty in Christ:

“For whosoever keeps the Law [as a] whole but stumbles and offends in one [single instance] has become guilty of [breaking] all of it. For He Who said, You shall not commit adultery, also said, You shall not kill. If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become guilty of transgressing the [whole] Law.

“So speak and so act as [people should] who are to be judged under the law of liberty [the moral instruction given by Christ, especially about love]. For to him who has shown no mercy the judgment [will be] merciless, but mercy [full of glad confidence] exults victoriously over judgment. What is the use (profit), my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has no [good] works [to show for it]? Can [such] faith save [his soul]? (AMP).

» “Entangled” (enecho): To be held subject to or be under the control of. To struggle over or to quarrel with.

» “Yoke” (zygos):  Something that attaches two things together. It couples things and causes them to be connected by a burden that’s hard to bear.

» “Bondage” (douleia): Servitude that promotes dependence upon a person, place or thing; the state of a man that prevents him from freely possessing abundant life and enjoying it.

Based on the Greek definitions, anything that causes a believer to struggle or be double-minded about something to the point that he becomes attached to a burdensome load and cannot enjoy abundant life in Christ is devilish. It is not of God. To sum it up: The spirit of religious bondage is demonic.

Many believers are stuck in ruts whereby they are not experiencing new growth in Christ. When there is new birth, it must be confirmed with new growth. With the genuine new birth, old things are cut off and pass away. Once the old is pruned, the new can grow.

If a believer continues to return to the old yoke of bondage, he will be bound by spiritually arrested development. He will not experience the level-to-level, glory-to-glory promised him in the Word.

He will be condemned to a form of godliness, which makes a person appear to be victorious in Jesus on the outside. But actually they shut down the power on the inside of them that is greater than what is coming against them in life. There is no victory in the life of the believer who succumbs to the regimens, rudiments and habits of religious forms.

August 29, 2012

God’s Priority Things-To-Do List

Six months ago, I introduced you to Gathering Rubies, the blog of Janice Garrison, who posts infrequently but has some great content. I always highlight the scripture verses here in green, because God’s Word is life; and today’s there’s a lot of green here!  This one appeared a couple of months back under the title What Does the Lord Require of You?

If you are like me, ever so often you need to take inventory before a trip to the grocery store or when your insurance comes up for renewal, asking, do I have enough or too much.

 I pause often to take my ‘spiritual’ inventory.

Am I saying “no” to self and “yes” to Christ… am I remembering —  Galatians 2:20-21 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 I recently finished reading Micah again and am reminded how God hates idolatry, unfairness, rebellion, and empty rituals.

 I love this question from Micah 6:8 And what does the Lord require of you? (I find this a good question for beginning my spiritual inventory).

 Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 This scripture has a strong message and should not be taken lightly. It gives instruction on how we are to live every day. Not when we are trying to impress others, not in ritualistic actions or service. It is to be so ingrained in us that it becomes our nature.

 Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

 Isaiah 1:16-17 Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

 Jeremiah 22:3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

 Zechariah 7:9-10  ”This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

 James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 For me, this next one covers all of the above, if I am loving God and my neighbor as stated below, I will be obeying the ones above. It’s all about loving God and loving others and expressing that love in the way I treat others. I know full well it’s not as easy as it sounds, because we all know how others can get on our last nerve at times. I also know that God doesn’t ask any thing of us that we can’t do.

 Matthew 22:37-40 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 It all comes down to our heart, God doesn’t want sacrifices, he wants our hearts to be in tune to others, loving Him, loving others and serving. Finding our talents and using them.

 I am also reminded that our God is truly an awesome God…Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

 Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvationand grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

~Janice Garrison