Religiously Worthless

Did you know you can be religious and yet not worship God? And no, I am not referring to false religions that ascribe the worship of false gods. I am talking about people who profess to know and follow the one true God but who are not sincerely worshiping Him.

As I will be preaching about Sunday morning, Lord willing, God addressed this very issue with the Israelites in Malachi’s time. They claimed to trust and follow God, but their supposed worship was worthless. They were religious yet worthless because they were not ascribing to God the worth He is due.

Rather than giving God their best, as the Mosaic Law required and as God clearly deserves, they were giving God their leftovers. They were going through the religious motions, making their religion worthless.

VALUE WORTH

If something has great worth, would it not be foolish if we did not value it? Value worth, or you are a fool. This is why we put money in banks, in safes, and in our pockets. We do not set it in buckets in our front yards and then claim that we value that money. Rather, we invest it because we value financial stability and security.

We do not buy a brand new vehicle and park it in the driveway if we have a garage. Well, some people do, while keeping junk in their garage, and that tells me that they probably do not value their vehicle like they probably should. Value worth, or you really do not believe it to be worthy of value.

We do not stick our hands in a fire because we value our hands and our health. When people do not take care of themselves physically, they are proving they do not value their health like they should. Perhaps their health is of less worth to them than the pleasure of overeating or being lazy or submitting to a harmful addiction.

The list goes on and on. Value worth, or you will regret it. And, of course, there is no one of greater worth than God Himself. Do your values point to that truth? Do you value God? Does your daily life tell others that He is worthy.

RELIGION DESPISED

Going through the religious motions is despised by God. Do not do it. Do not give in to the temptation to do “just enough” to look good or appear to be right with God. He knows our hearts, and He knows when we are simply going through the motions.

As is made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, God demands and deserves our best. Giving Him anything less is not acceptable. He is worthy, so do not toss Him your leftovers.

Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” (Malachi 1:8).

Imagine if you had someone important, like the governor, over for dinner one evening. You know he is coming, and not only is he the governor, he is also someone you claim is a good friend. As you sit down at the table together, you get out some leftover macaroni and cheese from the fridge and set it in front of him, while you begin cutting into a fresh, juicy steak for yourself. Does that show any sort of love for your friend? Does it imply that you value your governor? Are your efforts to be commended? Of course not!

Sure, that example sounds ridiculous, but so is any insincere religious effort we offer God. If we claim to know and follow and value God and yet give Him nothing more than our leftover time, money, efforts and devotion, then we are even more despicable than someone who gives leftover mac-n-cheese to a “dear friend” while eating a steak.

If we claim to love God and yet only think about Him or seek Him on a Sunday, then our so-called love is a lie.

If we claim to be Christ-followers but Christ’s church is no more important to us than sleeping in or getting some extra work done, then we not Christ-followers at all.

Religion that is half-hearted is despised. Do not believe the devil’s lie otherwise.

CHRIST SATISFIED

The truth is that none of us can ever be religiously devout enough to honor and please God. He is holy and perfect, and we are not. Our efforts will always fall short, as we are sinful people in need of a Savior.

For that reason, and because God loves us and desires a relationship with us, He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life of devotion to God. He satisfied the Law and did everything you and I cannot. His sacrifice on the cross in our place satisfied God’s requirement of justice and punishment for our sins.

And, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death for everyone who calls on His name. If you desire to be right with God, do not turn to religion. Turn to Jesus. Only He can satisfy you because only He has satisfied God.

Only after turning from sin and surrendering your life to Jesus will you sincerely long to please God with a life of worship. Only then will you begin to despise going through the religious motions like God despises it, but instead honor Him with genuine religious devotion.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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Your Reputation Matters

We had Vacation Bible School with our church family this week, and dozens of parents and grandparents dropped off their children or grandchildren for three hours each evening, trusting that the children would be cared for and loved. Why such trust? In most cases, the trust was a result of relationships with one, if not many, of our volunteers working with the children. In other cases, there was a general trust in the church and the proven VBS program.

Simply put, reputation matters. This is true for us as individuals, and this is true for the church. This is true for everyone.

If our church or individuals in our church had a bad reputation in our community, who would trust us to teach and serve their children? Rightly so, most would not.

On Sunday morning during our VBS family celebration and worship service, Lord willing, I will be preaching through the short letter of 3 John and talking about the “Proof from Reputation” for genuine Christian faith. I hope to challenge people to ask themselves three questions for self-examination regarding personal character and reputation. The message, along with others in the series, will be available Sunday afternoon HERE.

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to consider three requirements of a godly reputation.

1. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES TRUTH

Truth is essential when it comes to reputation. By this, I do not mean that everyone knows the truth about you, although that certainly affects your reputation. What I mean, and what John made clear in his letter, is that your understanding and commitment to the Truth are critical.

We must be “faithful to the truth” and “walk in the truth” (3 John 3-4) in order to be people of godly character, resulting in godly reputations. How? Well, only by God’s help “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). That “truth that remains in us” is the Spirit of Truth when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, resulting in faithfulness to the Word of Truth.

Have you ever met someone who is faithful to God’s Word but does not have a godly reputation? No such person exists because someone who faithfully obeys the Word of Truth will be proven to be a person of character and integrity. A godly reputation requires Truth.

2. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES LOVE

John wrote a lot about love in his three letters. He was certainly an expert, or as close to an expert as a human can be, for he was, after all, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John experienced God’s love in and through Jesus Christ, and he embraced Jesus’ command that we love God and love others. John knew love was essential for genuine Christian faith and likewise essential for a godly reputation.

Specifically in 3 John, there is an emphasis on the commitment to the mission of the church that demonstrates sincere love for God and others. If you truly love God, you will be committed to His mission. And, if you are committed to His mission, you will love and serve others; you will love and serve His church; you will long for others to experience the love of God through Christ Jesus.

Gaius and Demetrius are great examples of this in 3 John. Gaius, for example, was showing his faith by supporting Christian missionaries, including those he did not even know (verse 5). In other words, Gaius’s love for God was proven in his commitment to God’s mission, and his commitment to God’s mission was proven in his love for others in God’s church.

What was the result? A godly reputation. Have you ever heard of someone known to not be loving and yet known for a godly reputation? Of course not. A godly reputation requires love.

3. A GODLY REPUTATION REQUIRES GOODNESS

Are you known for your kindness and goodness toward others? This goes along with the love John mentioned earlier in the letter but is more about the visibility of love. Whereas the love is ultimately an issue of the heart, the goodness is about your actions, particularly those actions seen by others.

John shared a few contrasting examples in the letter, and in all three examples, it was each individual’s reputation that was proof of his goodness. Furthermore, goodness is proof of faith.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).

While people can “fake it” for a while and sadly deceive others, the truth eventually comes to light. And, most importantly, God knows the truth. He knows our real reputations because He knows our hearts. He knows if we are doing what is good or doing what is evil. Others will know and see this, too, though, which is why there is ultimately proof from reputation of genuine Christian faith.

If you were to sincerely examine your own heart and life right now, can you see faithfulness to the Truth of God’s Word, a love for God’s mission, and a desire for good, not evil? If not (if any of those three proofs are missing, would you humbly ask God for His help? Would you willingly surrender everything to Him? Only a new life can bring about such radical change.

The amazing volunteers of Richland Baptist Church exemplified godly character and sacrificial service this week, and I praise God for them! They are the reason so many parents and grandparents gladly dropped off so many kids each night and why those kids wanted to keep coming back. Thank you, Richland Baptist Family!

These are most of the kindergartners Marsha and my mom had the pleasure of teaching and leading this week in VBS.

Either Obsession or Rejection

Imagine if my son Noah (pictured above shooting a free throw) decided that he wanted to play basketball but that he also wanted to play video games on his Kindle during basketball practice and/or games. No coach in his right mind would be okay with that. You cannot give your best on the court if your mind (not to mention your eyes and your hands) are elsewhere. You have to focus. You have to be committed. You have to do your best.

My dad, who was my high school basketball coach, used to say something like, “You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.” In fact, if you were not “all in,” you literally would not “be in” (in the game, that is).

While I found myself obsessed with basketball (and sports in general) when I was a teenager, I was eventually sorely disappointed when basketball did not take me (or I did not take basketball) as far as I wanted to go. I am thankful, though, for the life-lessons of teamwork, commitment, loyalty, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and priorities that are learned through sports.

Still, sports are just a part of life. They are not, despite what I believed as a student athlete, life itself.

Following Jesus, however, is different. Yes, there are sports-related lessons we can apply to a life of faith, but sports, like everything else in life, pale in comparison to knowing the Lord. Walking in a genuine relationship with Him is what we were created to do. This relationship is life.

Thankfully, I learned this as a sophomore in college, when God opened my eyes to the truth of the gospel, and I placed my faith in His Son for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

To follow Jesus, according to the Bible, means being 100% sold-out for Him. In other words, you are either obsessed with Him, or you are rejecting Him. Too many people seem content to find a middle ground, but there is no middle ground with the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You either give Him your all, or you are worshiping something or someone else. You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.

Tomorrow, I will be preaching through Mark 14:1-31 during our church‘s morning worship service. In verses 3-9 is the amazing story of a woman who gave up something of incredible value in order to worship Jesus. As a result, Jesus said, “I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).

This woman was obsessed with Jesus. Are you? Or, are you rejecting Him? Do not settle for the lie of an acceptable middle ground. Surrender your life to Jesus, ask for His help, and be all in. Unlike sports, He will never leave you disappointed.

Religion won’t save you.

Photo by Fischer Twins on UnsplashWhy do you do the religious things you do? Unfortunately, religious action has become primarily about us and what we can get from God, rather than experiencing a closer relationship with Him.

During our worship service this morning, I preached from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 on the “Futility of Religion.” My point (and Solomon’s point) is not that we shouldn’t do religious things. Rather, we can’t trust in our religion to save us from our sins and make us right with God. Going through the religious motions can create a very dangerous false sense of assurance, while leading one straight to hell.

By all means, respond to God in faith and obedience, and do religious things (daily time in God’s Word, continual prayer, active church involvement, gospel witnessing, etc.), but please realize that the Good News is not about what you do but rather about who you are because of what Christ has done.

If you would like to hear more, you can listen to this morning’s message and other messages from our Finding Meaning series by clicking HERE.

Religion and the most meaningful gift

God's Grace
DrakeCity tends to be more of a family Website than a blog where I share my thoughts, opinions and convictions. Tonight, though, I’m shifting the pattern and sharing, of all things, an essay I was asked to write this weekend. A local university student working on a project with English speakers asked me to answer the two questions below, and I decided to share my answers with the world…or the few people who follow DrakeCity.

1. During a Turkish religious holiday, what procedures are done? What did you feel during this time?

The religious holiday that stands out most to me in Turkey is the Kurban Bayram? (Sacrifice Holiday). During this holiday, Muslim people sacrifice an animal, such as a sheep, goat or cow, and they keep a portion of the meat for themselves, give a portion to their friends and neighbors, and then give a portion to the poor. Remembering when God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son, the sacrifice holiday is a very special holiday for Muslim people.

Having lived in Turkey more than five years now, I’ve experienced five of these holidays and learned many things about religion and culture as a result of them. What I first understood to be a “sacrifice” for right-standing before God and forgiveness of sins, I later learned from most of my Muslim friends is really more of an offering to others. In other words, the word “sacrifice” means something different in this context than what I first thought. Whereas the ram God provided Abraham was a replacement sacrifice to take the place of Abraham’s son on the mountain, the “sacrifices” done during the Sacrifice Holiday for Muslims is a way for people to show their devotion to God and to help others.

In fact, I was surprised to learn that many of my friends don’t even really consider the religious implications behind the holiday. Rather, they do it more as a cultural tradition. Many of my friends even said that although they used to do it, they don’t purchase a sacrifice anymore because they just don’t have the time, the money and/or the desire to participate.

Yes, the first sacrifice holiday I experienced while living in Adana, Turkey, was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. For a few weeks leading up to the holiday, we saw sheep being gathered in a parking lot across the street from our apartment building. My sons enjoyed watching the sheep out the window and talking about them. On the first day of the holiday, though, the sheep were led out to the street where a butcher slit their throats and prepared the bodies for edible meat and delicacies. This was definitely a new cultural experience for us WesternersJ!

I also had the opportunity to go along with my neighbors to another field a few blocks away, where the sheep they had purchased was sacrificed and butchered. Walking through the bloody field with sheep and goat legs scattered everywhere and doing my best to avoid stepping in piles of sheep dung and guts, I will admit I struggled to understand the reality of all of this.

Honestly, though, my biggest struggle was that the people around me didn’t accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who freely gave Himself to die on the cross for our sins, so that if we call on and trust in His name, we could be saved. This continues to be what I feel every year during the Sacrifice Holiday and every day when I talk about my faith with Muslim people. Do I look down on them for what they believe or do? Absolutely not! I do hope and pray, though, that they will one day believe in the most amazing and gracious sacrifice ever given. I am no better than them or anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s sacrificial love.

2. What is a meaningful gift you have given or received?

The most meaningful gift that comes to mind is what I believe to be the most meaningful gift ever given in all of history – the gift of salvation. Of course, only God can give this gift, and it will not be fully realized and understood until Jesus Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

I am beyond grateful to share, though, that I have received this gift. During my sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old, I came to the realization that I had been living my life only for myself. Although I claimed to love God, I really only cared about girls and sports and becoming successful in life. Frankly, I was on the path to hell and did not to that point realize it.

Thankfully, though, God opened my eyes and my heart to understand His Truth. I began studying the Bible like never before, began asking many questions to my friends and others, and was continually praying for God to reveal the Truth to me. Well, He did just that when through reading His Word and talking to a Christian pastor, I realized that I was a sinner in need of a savior. There was no hope for me, even though I had lived a “good life.” No, I didn’t do drugs; I didn’t drink alcohol; I didn’t smoke; I didn’t sleep around; I didn’t steal; I didn’t kill anyone; I went to church; I tried to be nice to others; I believed in God; etc.

BUT, none of that erased the fact that I was still a sinner. I was (and still am) a sinner, and God is perfect and holy. There is no way for a wretched sinner like myself to spend eternity with a holy God in heaven. Well, there is no human way possible. God, though, made a way for us. He sent his One and only Son to live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins and rise from the dead, so that anyone who believes in Him as Savior and Lord will not spend eternity in hell but will instead spend eternity in heaven.

When I came to that realization in November 4, 1998, it was the best day of my life. I had been given the greatest gift any person could ever possibly receive – the removal of all my sin debt and eternal life with Christ Jesus my Lord. Wow!

Sometimes when we receive gifts, we say things like, “Thanks! This is perfect!” In reality, though, nothing is perfect. Nothing, of course, except for the love of God given through His Son Jesus Christ. This perfect gift of endless love is said so well in Paul’s letter to the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinner, Christ died for us.”

Do we deserve this perfect gift of love and sacrifice? No, we deserve wrath and damnation. Can we earn this amazing gift? No, it’s a gift that cannot be earned. The only thing we have earned is eternal death and separation from our holy God. Can we buy this precious gift? No, a gift this amazing cannot be purchased with money. It was already purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ. It was sealed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, it will one day be fully realized by those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God for this perfect gift!