Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Tag: Religion (page 1 of 2)

Being Truly Religious

Being ReligiousDo you consider yourself to be a religious person?

I know I do, in spite of the fact that I am told that Christianity is a “relationship not a religion.”

Religion is not a bad thing. Religion is the system of practices that guide people in worship and grow in their knowledge of God. In other words, religion is how we have a relationship with God.

We are not to avoid religion, but the religious spirit. This is what Jesus condemned in the religious leaders of his day. These leaders put a greater emphasis on following the regulations and rituals of their religion than truly having faith in God.

The basic handbook of our religion is the Bible. In the Bible we discover certain rituals that were handed down by God. This is especially true with Judaism. The books of Exodus and Leviticus contain the rules and regulations of how Israel was to relate to God. A person cannot help but notice as they read through these books that God was very specific on how things should be done.

As Christians we know there are two very important rituals that are to be part of lives: Communion and baptism. While many of the old Jewish rituals and feasts we laid aside after the death and resurrection of Jesus, these two rituals were commanded by Jesus for his followers to observe.

Some of these rituals that make up religion are the result of tradition and are the product of human ideas of what should be done in order to relate to God. They have little or no Scriptural base, but they are accepted because that is how things have been done, and people have found value in them.

These things include observing Christmas and Easter, two Christian holidays that are not mentioned in Scripture. They also include church buildings, the order of our worship services, and the liturgy that we used.

Besides helping us relate to God, religion has another purpose for our lives. That purpose is to help us change.

I can’t speak for other religions, but the purpose of Christianity isn’t just about having a relationship with God, but it is also about helping us become the people God created us to be. In other words, our religion is to be a catalyst for life change.

Read what James had to say about religion:

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:26-27; NLT).

James spent much of the first chapter of his book talking about how trials, God’s wisdom, and God’s Word are needed to help us become the people God created us to be, because sin has corrupted us. What James points out in these two verses is the truth that going through the motions of religion, doing the rituals and the traditions, is not the same thing as changing. If we can’t learn self-control, if we can’t have compassion for the needy, and if we cannot remain pure in this sinful world than our religion is worthless.

The only way religion has any effect on us, this is also true for trials and God’s Word, is if we first commit ourselves to being faithful. Faith, our choice to commit and trust God, is what makes the difference. Without faith religion is just empty rituals and traditions. Without faith the trials and tragedies of life serve no purpose. Without faith God’s wisdom, which is found in His Word, is nothing more than a nice way to live.

Faith, our trust in God, is what makes all the difference. God cannot change our lives, cannot restore us to true life, until we trust Him. So in the end it isn’t about being a religious person, but it is about being a faithful person.

Two questions we have to consider are: Who am I faithful to? Will I trust Him with my life?

If the answers aren’t Jesus and yes, our religion just might be worthless.

What Makes Christianity Different from Other Religions?

hard questionsMany people believe that all religions are the same. There seems to be a logic behind this belief because it seems that a common morality is taught by the major religions of the world.

The reality is that the appearance isn’t even skin deep. Religions teach many doctrines that contradict the doctrines of other religions. What this means is that all religions cannot be true. They may all be false, but they can’t all be true.

This is why it is important to know why Christianity is different from the other religions of the world. The more we know about the distinctive features of Christianity, the better we will be able to distinguish it from other religions. We will also be in a better position to evaluate the truth claims of Christianity.

This sermon was the 7th sermon in the series Hard Questions, Real Answers. In it I explain the different ways that make Christianity unique. For the most part the uniqueness of Christianity is centered around Jesus Christ and his resurrection. You can list to What Makes Christianity Unique? Here.

Don’t forget to like Paul’s Ponderings on Facebook. If you enjoyed the sermon make sure you like Bethlehem Free Methodist Church on Facebook as well. 

Be Alone with God

Alone with God{Matthew 6:5-6; NLT}
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

A temptation that Christians face is to substitute following Jesus with living a religious life. The reason this is easy to do is because religion feels “spiritual”, and the purpose of religion is to connect us to God. Yet, religion often stunts the spiritual formation of our lives.

One of the ways we will know that we have a problem in our relationship with God is when our “spiritual” life is done entirely in public and for the show of others. We neglect using our private time to connect to God, but we use public moments to appear “spiritual” or “religious” so we can impress people. In my life the people I have wanted to “show off” my “spiritual” life have been my family and a small group of friends. Who has it been for you?

Way back in 1895 a pastor by the name of Andrew Murray wrote:

If you are not willing to sacrifice time to get alone with him, and to give him time every day to work in you, and to keep up the link of connection between you and himself, he cannot give you that blessing of his unbroken fellowship. Jesus Christ asks you to live in close communion with him. Let every heart say: “O, Christ, it is this I long for, it is this I choose.” And he will gladly give it to you. (Humility and Absolute Surrender, emphasis added, p. 157).

I think Andrew Murray hits on one of the common experiences we all have as we follow Jesus: selfishness with our time. The older we get the less time we seem to have, and yet we seem to find the time to watch movies, hang out with friends, go to the mall, or skim through Facebook. What gets sacrificed in the process is our relationship with Christ, and thus our connection to the source of new life that will transform our lives.

The most important choice we can make each and every day is the choice to put aside good things and spend time with God through prayer, reading, worship, and meditation. God longs to give us life, but we must spend time with Him to discover it.

Questions to consider:

  • Why is it important to find time to be alone with God?
  • Has religion become an obstacle in your relationship with God?
  • What are some way you connect with God on a regular basis?

Pure Religion

{James 1:26-27; NLT}

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Father in heaven, Thank You for all the blessings of my life. Everything, from the air I breathe to the clothes that I wear, are a gift from You. Help me to be grateful for these gifts and not take them for granted.

I confess that one of the things I have difficulty doing is controlling my tongue. Too often I allow my mood to dictate what comes out of my mouth. If I am having a bad day, I have no problem passing that on to other people through my words and actions. Forgive me for not controlling my tongue.

Lord, I ask that You will open my eyes to ways I can help people in need. I get consumed with my life: my goals, my problems, my desires, my struggles, which causes me to miss the needs of other people. Help me to live out my faith in love by helping those around me. Use me to be a conduit of Your love and grace, so people can experience You through my actions.

It is in the name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior, that I pray, amen.

A Common Relationship

A Common RelationshipIt is said that “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.”

I would disagree with this idea. Religion is defined as; “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” (dictionary.com) Technically speaking Christianity is a religion.

The way I would phrase this cliché is: “Christianity is a religion that is experienced through relationship.”

We see this in the two great commands of Christianity: “And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31; NLT)

In many religions the most important things are doctrine and ritual. You need to believe the right thing and you to follow the right traditions. The most important thing in Christianity is the way we love. That is what the apostle Paul clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 13. We can have all the truth in the universe, but if we don’t love that truth means nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, correct doctrine is necessary, and our traditions are very important, but to focus on these things makes us religious, not Christian. Our religion must begin with our relationship with God, which flows into our relationships with other Christians, which then spills out in sacrificial service to the world. As James 1:27 says; Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (NLT).

The most important part of our ministry (the living out of our religion) is our relationship with God. Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God wrote; “The constant presence of God is the most practical part of your life and ministry” (Workbook, p. 55).

How do we experience the presence of God in our lives?

I think it comes down to inviting God to be part of our lives every day. Just as we build relationships with people by inviting them to join us in the things that we do, we need to invite God into our daily lives. We do this through prayer, through reading the Bible, and practicing other spiritual disciplines as we learn to trust Him.

This is what the apostle John wrote:

This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. (1 John 1:5-7; NLT)

Here John points out one of the reasons it is important to have a relationship with God. It is out of our fellowship with God that fellowship and unity within the Church exists. This highlights another reason what Christianity is a religion that is experienced through relationship: the Church exists out of our common relationship with God.

Arthur Harrington in his book, What The Bible Says About Leadership, wrote; “It seems that the emphasis of the word ‘church’ in its Christian context is upon the relationship of people to each other, due to their common relationship to God through Christ.”

While the doctrines and rituals of Christianity are important, what gives them significance is the fellowship that individual Christians have with God and with each other. Christians are not united by believing exactly the same doctrines. We are united because of Jesus.

For unity to exist in the Church requires making our relationship with Jesus the most important part of our lives. If Jesus is truly the Head of the Church, then he will hold the church together in unity. I also think we need to pray for unity, like Jesus prayed the night He was betrayed (John 17:11).

Remember our source of unity is found in our common relationship to Christ Jesus. We may disagree about some doctrinal issues, but if we share a common commitment to Jesus then we are family.

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