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.

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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!