Is Religion Your Idol?

Idols are anything that replace God on the throne of our life.  And believe it or not, a common idol in the Christian community is elevating doctrinal truth over God Himself.  This occurs when people rely on the “rightness” of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God Himself and His grace.

The sign that you have made religion an idol is when you show contempt and disdain for those of other denominations or religions rather than graciousness.  Trusting in the rightness of our views can make us feel superior if the fruit of the spirit is not growing in ourselves.

Holiday Blues

Every year I get this way for a day to a week where I just don’t have the Christmas spirit.  It takes me a day or more to figure out my problem.  It’s source is my grief from those who are no longer here to celebrate.

So I was reading and found Exodus 15:26.  In English it says, “…for I am the Lord, who heals you.”  The Hebrew there is Jehovah-Rapha.

That was my mom’s favorite title for God while she was sick.  She liked to think of God this way during her illness.  He played a big part in her during that time, but she still died.  Then again, in Heaven she’s been totally restored, healed.  He still is Jehovah-Rapha.  I like to think about that, that she’s not sick AND she’ll have a new body.

Do you ever get “down” during the holidays?  How do you “snap out of it?”  Or don’t you?  How can I pray for you?

Two Common Dangers in Pastoral Leadership

There are two common dangers in pastoral leadership and Paul is alert to both of them.

1. Over-pastoring: when a leader exercises too much control in the life of a church. They are quick to suppress dissent and end up bullying people. They make issues personal. Their aim is personal control rather than the maturity of their congregation. This is why Paul says an elder must not be “over-bearing, not quick-tempered” (Titus 1:7).

2. Under-pastoring: when a leader fails to exercise leadership within a congregation. They avoid confrontation so they fail to correct false teaching or challenge ungodly living. They may be encouraging people but refusing to rebuke people in error. If the aim of those who over-pastor is control, the aim of leaders who under-pastor is comfort. They want a quiet life. See Titus 1:9-10.

Three Criteria of Church Leaders

When looking for a leader we often want a great skill set. But Paul is much more interested in the type of person they are. Titus 1:5-9. “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

3 Criteria of Church leaders:

1. Blameless in their home (vs. 6). “Blameless” does not mean without fault. No leader is perfect. The key issue is that potential church leaders must already be leading well in their home. The way they lead their family will tell you how they will lead God’s family, the Church.

2. Blameless in character (vs. 7). Paul lists five negative qualities to avoid in a potential leader. “Not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.” Then in verse 8, he lists six positive qualities to look for: “hospitable, one who loves what is good, one who is self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.”

3. Blameless in doctrine (vs. 9). It’s not so much the ability to teach as a passion for the truth. They have two tasks: 1) encourage others by sound doctrine; 2) refute those who oppose it.

How to Ruin Your Life Without Even Trying

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes how a human life spirals into ruin.  So here are the 6 steps to ruin:

  1. The turn away: I want to be God.  Refuse to let God be God.  Refuse to give honor and reverence to God.  “Though they knew God , they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (1:21).
  2. The mind darkens.  Refusing to honor and give thanks to the perfect and powerful Being is to step away from reality.  It goes against the truth of the universe.  Therefore, our minds become dimmed.  “They became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (1:21-22).
  3. Idolatry: we must have a god.  If we reject God, then something must take His place.  We would like a god who would do a lot of good for us and ask very little in return.  The solution: create an idol.  “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (1:23).  Idols are anything we invest our lives in, in order to gain pleasure, happiness and a false sense of purpose.  Here is the key: the idol serves us by giving us our desires, and we serve it by sacrificing our energy to do it.
  4. God leaves us alone: Wrath.  Unless we discover the futility of this existence and turn back to God, we are forced to push forward in our idolatry.  Being rejected, God has no other choice. “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24).  God simply lets us be.
  5. Pleasure is pursued at all costs.  Disconnected from reality and on our own, we must find a way to find fulfillment.  The easiest route is through our bodies. Lust and gluttony are short cuts to happiness.  But the “highs” that come from our bodies have a constantly diminishing effect.  “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions” (1:26).  The initial “lusts of the hearts” has now turned into “degrading passions.”
  6. Sin reigns.  The final step is the worst and is a natural conclusion to the previous 5 steps.  Sin becomes normative, automatic behavior.  See Romans 1:28-31.

How to Avoid Bitterness

The only way to avoid bitterness is to practice forgiveness.

How can we do this?

First, we have to realize WHAT forgiveness is. Forgiveness is granted before it is felt. Luke 17:3-6. Forgiveness is primarily a promise to…not bring the wrong up with the person; not to bring it up with others; and not bring it up in your own thoughts. It is a promise not to dwell on the hurt or wish ill on the other. These are under the control of your will. You are not able to keep thought from occurring to you, but you don’t have to entertain it.

Second, we have to realize HOW forgiveness is possible: only because you see and feel the reality of God’s massive and costly forgiveness of us through Christ. (See Matthew 18:21-35). Only the knowledge of our debt to God can put into perspective someone else’s debt to us. The forgiveness of Christ gives us the emotional humility to forgive (who am I to withhold forgiveness when I am such a sinner?) and emotional resources to forgive (what has this person really robbed me of when I have so much in Christ?).

Access to God or Giving God Access to You?

The purpose of most religious efforts is to get access to God so that we get God to do what we want.

The goal of true faith is to give God access to your heart so that he can get you to do what He wants.

Religion’s true purpose is to get God to serve you; biblical faith’s purpose is to get your heart to serve Him.

When we have biblical faith, we know the real God, who out of His great power and love sent His own Son to die in our place and give us His righteousness, and sent His Spirit into our hearts to change us into people He wants us to be, enjoying His blessing.

If we know THAT God, why would we NOT want to serve Him? The tragedy of man-made religion is that it always reduces God to someone to be controlled, rather than seeing God as the One who is in control and worthy of genuine worship.

You as Christmas Tree

If you’ve ever had a “live” Christmas tree decorating your house for Christmas, you know that a tree will hold its needles for only so long.  You can water the base of the tree, but it will only keep it flourishing for so long.  Eventually, the needles turn brown and fall off.  The sap begins to run, and the tree will finally die.  Then we take it to the curb for disposal.

But what about that time in between the tree being cut down and finally dying?  We take it into our living room, stick it in a stand, and decorate it with ornaments and tinsel and lights.  We make it look as rich and beautiful as we can, only to throw it away a month later.  Cutting a tree from its source of life and making it look good for a season, in the end, accomplishes little else than seasonal beauty.

It might seem silly to think of yourself as a Christmas tree, but is it far off?  Away from God, we can survive only for a time before we perish in the dry air of consumerism.  The things that make a Christmas tree beautiful are the color of its needles, the way the branches fall, its fragrance, and the texture of its bark.  Cut the tree down and all that eventually goes away.  The underground water supply livens the tree’s roots.  The root system gives the tree its strength, the rich soil that holds the roots all together, nourishing and securing the trunk and limbs.  The tree needs the underground source to make it beautiful to the world.  Its beauty emerges because of the inner work.

It’s the same for us.  The very essence of our being comes from within.  But when something other than God defines us, we reduce ourselves to Christmas trees, beautiful on the outside, perched on our stands, while dying inside.  For some of us, our root systems scare us.  Our insides are mangled by past mistakes and feelings of insecurity.  These emotions confuse us, making it difficult to find our true selves.  It’s easier to put on our tinsel and lights and walk around looking good.

Our culture has tried to define us by what we see on the outside.  But it can’t erase the moments of self-doubt.  We need to feel loved and known for who we are on the inside.  Ultimately only God can do that.