Religious vs. Relationship: A Fuller View?

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If I may, I would like to suggest that most, if not all, believers in Jesus acknowledge we have a relationship and not a religion. We would define religion as a feeble, human attempt through rituals and sacrifices to obtain a relationship with the Almighty; whereas, in a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, we have this relationship with the Almighty (YHWH, blessed be His Name) by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by any merit of our own.

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But what also seems to follow with many who boast of this relationship is a license not to “do” something religiously because it might smack of religion. Have you found this to be so, too? If we do something religiously, like read the Bible every morning or prayer daily, it might become ritualistic, “so I’d best do it intermittently to avoid such.” Have you heard of this?

As I ponder what the Apostle Paul meant in our main text RE the Athenians in v. 22, “You are very religious,” it became evident to me that this was something of value, something commendable—and a good place to start a conversation. 

But if I have nothing religious in my life, if I have no godly habits that lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus, how can I even relate to those who truly are religious in their religion

True, any godly discipline can become ritualist and an end it itself: vain religion. Indeed, I have found I need to refresh myself in my daily prayer times or my daily Bible readings or weekly fellowships by asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this an end it itself or am I drawing closer to Jesus through these endeavors?”

What place do you see religious practices have for sincere followers of the Risen Lord? Do they deepen our relationship with Him? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Acts 17:22-23 (NIV84)— 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.— Philippians 4:8–9 (NIV84)

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. …— Luke 4:16 (NIV84)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Heavenly Father, refresh my soul with a gush of Grace and the Wind of Your Holy Spirit. Enliven my regular religious activities with Your Holy Spirit as the Lord Jesus Christ’s Life is manifested in both the seen and the unseen activities of my daily walk with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

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“An Intense Pursuit or A Disinterested Accomplishment”

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As I observe cats playing with a toy or a cricket, they act almost disinterested in playing with it. A little catch and release, and then they soon get bored. Ah, but if you give a dog a bone, he’ll gnaw on it until it is gone. Every morning, my dog pursues me until he gets this special minty doggy treat. I have taught him to politely take it from me. (Prior to this he would nearly take my fingers with his treat!) But once he finds his special place, he devours this treat—gnawing on it until it is completely consumed.

Pursue Righteousness

In my observations of these two different approaches to pursing, I have discovered that in some areas of my life, my pursuit of Jesus is like a cat: I have arrived! I’ve accomplished something, and then quite frankly, I appear disinterested and forget about “it”—whatever lesson or character aspect He has revealed…. But in other areas of my walk with Jesus, I am like my dog: I intensely pursue Him and then gnaw on the truth of His Character He is revealing to me until I have consumed it. (Grant it, this gnawing & consuming is not as instantaneous as my dog’s.)

Now, to be sure, for some, some truths about Jesus are an accomplishment, while others are a continual pursuit. But I am referring to the intensity and completeness of the pursuit versus the disinterest that appears to accompany accomplishing something. Have I settle for merely scratching the surface, or have I dug down deep (to change the metaphor)? Is it okay for me to sometimes be like a cat and take in only a little?  Intriguingly, the Greek word for “pursue” in our main text means, “to do something with intense effort and with definite purpose or goal.” This is the sort of pursuit of Jesus I want to have….

This Sunday’s Advent focus is “The Pursuit of the Messiah.” And as I focus on my pursing the Lord Jesus Christ with intensity and a definite purpose of getting to know Him as my Righteousness, I wonder what marvelous truths about myself and His being my Righteousness I will discover this Christmas, … Oh, and what does it look like to have this intense pursuit of a dog?

Join me on our journey with Jesus at this Christmas time to really inventory our intensity and purpose in our pursuit of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus!

… and make this Christmas especially merry.

Main Text: — 1 Timothy 6:11–12 (NIV84)— 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.— Hebrews 12:1–2 (NIV84)

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.— Matthew 6:33 (NIV84)

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.—Jeremiah 23:5–6 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, satisfy the desires of my soul as I passionately pursue the Lord Jesus Christ as my Righteousness. I put You on, Lord Jesus Christ, as my Breastplate of Righteousness that I might walk in paths of righteousness for Your Name’s sake. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

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Date: 07-23-15

My Thoughts:

I have been wondering for some time if I am prepared to face the challenges of pursuing the Lord Jesus, and perhaps this is why I’ve been holding back. Oh, as a Jesus Freak— young, single and ‘care-free’—I was ready for the fast track to heaven: martyrdom. But as I got older, got married, had kids, and now grandkids, I have often wonder if this is still my passion….

Suffer for Jesus

Have I gone to the other extreme? Have I become too soft? Am I prepared to face the challenges that naturally come with pursuing the Lord Jesus? And I’m not talking about my own personal challenges, per se, but the challenges a life pursuing Jesus brings to others—you know, accusations of being “holier than thou,”  the teasing from friends and family that we’re taking this ‘religious thing’ a little too seriously?

Back to that discussion I had had with Brother Andrew of Open Doors those many years ago. He also said to me during our talk, “Michael, Americans are not persecuted. They are intimidated….” He was referring to people thinking that they are suffering for Jesus because they cannot pray in schools, wear a cross at work, or are scoffed at by a neighbor….

Now, years later, as I reflect on his comments, I am forced to ask myself this question: “Have I joined in our culture’s intimidating assault, and helped them place a muzzle on me? On the church?” Have we muzzled ourselves by wincing at their shouting and barrage of insults? Am I really prepared to face the challenges that are presented when I passionately pursue the Lord Jesus? Is this why some do not as well?

I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this conversation….

Main Text: — Acts 4:3-4— 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  — 2 Timothy 3:12-13 (NIV84)

 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  — 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV84)

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.. — Galatians 6:17 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, embolden me to share You with all I meet. Overcome my silly fears of intimidation and insults. Lord Jesus Christ, honor Yourself in my Life that others may know You, the One True and Only Hope. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Lover vs Fearer: What’s the Difference?”

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Date: 06-02-15

My Thoughts:

The Gospel writer, Luke, addresses his second treatise, The Book of Acts, to the same person, Theophilus (see Luke 1:3). Indeed, this could be a real Roman official whose name means, “Friend of God” or “God’s Friend” or “God lover.” But I am suspicious that this is really a euphemism for anyone who desires to move from a “God-fearer” to a “God-lover”.

I have notice that throughout much of the Book of Acts the phrase, “God-fearer,” is employed to describe those who are drawing closer to the true and living God. It is used of God-fearing Jews in Acts 2:4; of a God-fearing Gentile named Cornelius in Acts 10:2; and of some God-fearing Greeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4). This phrase appears to mean that although they have a deep, reverential worship of the one True, Living God, they need to come into a more personal intimate relationship with Him.

So is it possible that Luke is encouraging these “God-fearers” on their journey to the Messiah to become God-lovers? What do you think, lifestyle worshiper?  What do you see are the differences between one who is a “God-fearer” and one who is a “God-lover”?

Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 1:1-2 — 1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

We love because He first loved us. — 1 John 4:19 (NIV84)

…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. —Ephesians 3:17-19 (NASB95)

  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. — 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, may I realized how much You Love me; ignite my love for You melting my fear of You and transforming it into Love for You.  Empower me, Lord Jesus Christ, to be patient and kind to myself as well as to others. In Your Name, Amen. 

Caoch Mike

“The Start of My Journey becoming a ‘People of the Book’”

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Date: 03-11-15

The Big Idea: Early on my journey with Jesus, I had a deep hunger for the His Word, His People and His Person.

As I went off to college, I expected to be tempted with drugs, sex and partying. But instead, the Lord began to rock my world at its core. I was rather religious according to the Roman Tradition—indeed, very devoted, but I met someone who had a peace that was promised at then end of each mass that I did not have. He challenged my religion with a relationship with God.

In pursing an answer to this challenge, I began to study and read. I read  many, if not most, of the world’s great Holy Books, some to the point of memorizing them. I pursued eastern mysticism and western materialism and much in between. I was even so audacious as to attempt to create my own religion. But as I began to lay the foundational principles, I kept being drawn back to one particular Holy Book: the Bible.

Somehow its words spoke to a part of me none of the other books could reach.

I might say my pursuit ended on a Fall Friday night, but really it just began—just on a more focused path. That Friday night I ask and answer a simply question: “Lord, I don’t know if I am a Christian or not, but tonight I want to make sure; I would like to become one now.” And then and there I committed myself to the Lord Jesus Christ….

Almost immediately I had a hunger for the His Word, His People and His Person. One instance in my early walk with Him seems to typify this hunger. I had been studying intensely for a couple of hours reading a Political Science text book with very, very fine print. My eyes were sore and aching. “I think I’d better take a break,” I decided. So I set down my highlighters, bookmarked my place, and laid down on my dorm room bed. “Maybe I’ll read my Bible for a little bit.” What? Continue reading? It wasn’t until weeks later I realized the irony. And, in fact, I read for almost another hour. And the interesting thing is: My eyes appeared to be just fine and I was most definitely refreshed.

I am reminded of the time when Jesus was hungry and asked the woman at the well for some water. When His disciples came back offering Him some found that they had gather, He said,  “I have food to eat that you know nothing about…. My food … is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” To me, His Word was that food for my soul and rest for my weary eyes… Fascinating, no?

This was the beginning of my journey as a People of the Book. Do you have a story you’d like to share about becoming a People of the Book?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:2-3— 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh accomplishes nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.— John 6:63 (ISV)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” —Matthew 4:4 (NIV84)

I arise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.— Psalm 119:147148 (NASB95)

Coach Mike

“True Religion”

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Text: James 1:26-27 — 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keeps a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 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.  [NIV84]

The Big Idea: If our walk does not line up with our talk, then our ‘religion’ is merely mutter words.

My Thoughts: 

Many Christians often border on boasting when they say, “I don’t believe in a religion; I have a personal relationship with God.” And for the most part, I would agree that  indeed having a personal relationship with the Living God through the Lord Jesus Christ if vitally important. And, yes, this is vastly differently from the typical religions offered by this world. Religions are man’s attempts to make himself right with the powers that be, but Christianity is rather unique here: It offers God’s way, and His way is making us right with Him in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is in Him and through Him we have peace with God and access to the Throne of Grace in time of need….

All this being said, the passage noted above from James 1:26-27 is rather fascinating to me in light of this religion vs. relationship conundrum. But what clears it up for me is the word that James uses for religion. It is a rare word, with potentially two meanings. One meaning focuses on external religious behavior. The other potentially refers to ‘the muttering of prayers.’ With this word, James appears to be challenging those who say they are doers of the word: “Okay, you say you are a doer of the word (see vv. 22-25). Very well, then. If (and you most definitely do) consider yourself religious, have you reined in your tongue? Oh, and do you really take care of orphans and widows in their distress? Just asking….” If their walk does not line up with their talk, then their ‘religion’ is merely mutter words.

Lifestyle worshipers, I know you can see that it is very important that our walk lines up with our talk. In short, true integrity: we do what we say and we say what we do. And both must spring forth from a sincere faith (see 2:14-26). Otherwise, our ‘relationship’ with the Lord Jesus is merely religion in the human sense—‘muttered words’.

Ah, but when the Lord Jesus Christ is truly our Life, this vital relationship naturally produces the religion that James identifies as pure and faultless: Taking care of orphans and widows. As we lift up our eyes from the din and dust of our self-absorbed ‘religion,’ we will soon see that orphans and widows abound all around, literally and functionally. We know the literal orphans and widows. But the functional orphans? These are they who have absent or disconnected parents, either through  divorce or neglect. Likewise, functional widows are they who are neglected or abandoned through neglect or divorce.

How do you see the Life of the Lord Jesus Christ living out this religion that is both pure and undefiled? Your thoughts?

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.  — 1 Timothy 5:3-4 (NIV84)

 And when the Lord saw [the widow who had lost her only son], He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. — Luke 7:13-16 (ESV)

This is what the LORD says: “Do what is fair and right. Save the one who has been robbed from the power of his attacker. Don’t mistreat or hurt the foreigners, orphans, or widows. Don’t kill innocent people here.” — Jeremiah 22:3 (NCV)

Lord Jesus Christ, clear my vision to see the orphans and widows around me. Burn within me a passion to meet their needs as You have gifted me both spiritually and physically as well as emotionally.  Empower me to be truly religious in this manner so that my relationship with You will deepen. In Your Holy Name. Amen.

Pastor Mike