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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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This commercial was rejected by Fox. It will not appear as a Super Bowl LIV ad. I honestly wonder why. How could this ad be rejected when so many others (remember Godaddy’s tasteless, highly suggestive Super Bowl ads?) have been allowed for years.

Pro-Lifers acknowledge the need to provide women’s health services. Pro-lifers acknowledge the need to honor women’s desires to control their own bodies.

This ad expresses the heart of the Pro-Life movement. Those who support abortion refuse to deal with the central issue in the debate: personhood. Actually, there is no debate because one side will not acknowledge the truth claims of the other side.

If you consider yourself to be “Pro-Choice”, I’m very interested in hearing your comments.

Note: I moderate all comments on this website. Whether or not we agree on the content of your comments, I will post them, so long as you refrain from namecalling and profanity.

Image source GNPI

I’m sure they meant well, but Jesus has some choice words for His Disciples in today’s Bible reading. Parents bring their children to Jesus and the Disciples try to turn them away. Jesus responds in a way we wouldn’t expect — at least those who see Jesus as only a mild-mannered only-loving Savior.

Mark says that Jesus was indignant, a “strong word of deep emotion”. (Mark 10:14) AT Robertson adds, “Surely it ought to be a joy to parents to bring their children to Jesus, certainly to allow them to come, but to hinder their coming is a crime. There are parents who will have to give answer to God for keeping their children away from Jesus.”[1]

In fact, Jesus said that if someone does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child, they will not enter it. The word Mark uses for child means a child under school-age. There is an innocence in that age group. An innocence that is so trusting, so vulnerable and there’s no pretention.

Children are a big deal to God. In the Bible, children are seen as blessings from God. (Psalm 127:3) The concept of Gentiles as being adopted children of God is central to the Gospel Message. (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) Yes, as Robertson points out, parents will give an answer to God for keeping their children away from Jesus.

In contrast, in Western Civilization in the Twenty-First Century, children are merely commodities. Look at the way children are abused and trafficked. Look no further than Hollywood’s Michelle Williams. Last week as she clutched her “Best Actress” Golden Globe trophy, she said “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose. To choose when to have my children and with whom. … I know my choices might look different but thank God or whomever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principle that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours.”

Application

Yes, children are a big deal to God. We will give an answer to God for keeping children from coming to Jesus. We will give an answer to God for putting up obstacles in our own lives that would prevent our own children from coming to Him. And we will give an answer to God for the way we have treated children as pawns in our lives.

Everyone who comes into a relationship with Jesus Christ has to do so by laying aside agendas. Laying aside pretentions. Laying aside themselves. Coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ requires that we come on His terms, not ours. (Mark 8:34-36)

Yes, the Gospel Message is about forgiveness. The Gospel Message is about grace. The Gospel Message is about mercy. But forgiveness, grace, and mercy are only available as we come to terms with our guilt as sinners. As sinners, we deserve punishment. We deserve death. We owe a debt we cannot pay. But Jesus has paid a debt He didn’t owe.

Have you laid aside your pretentions? Have you come to God, simply trusting Him at His Word?

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

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humble repentance

In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)

And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.

If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.

That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.

In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)

How incredibly sad.

Application

Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.

As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.

The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.

Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.

This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.

Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!

Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.

The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.

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I’ve said many times that when you see a word or idea repeated several times in a few Bible verses, it’s a pretty good sign that the word or idea are important. Well, in today’s Bible reading the word “comfort” appears nine times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. That’s nine times in five verses! It’s safe to say that the theme of the first paragraph is “comfort”

The word translated “comfort” is the word we get one of the titles of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter. When the Bible calls the Holy Spirit The Comforter, it isn’t referring to something you throw on your bed to curl up with when it’s cold in the house.

The verb form of the word means to be called to come alongside, to encourage. The noun form of the word means encouragement, comfort, consulation.

Application

Paul says that God intends to use those areas where we have experienced comfort and encouragement to comfort and encourage other people. In other words, the places where you have received the deepest wounds and experienced the deepest healing are the very places where God wants to use you to minister to other people who are going through what you went through. God wants to use our scars as tools for healing in the lives of other people. Those things the enemy used to beat you down can be used to beat him down in other people’s lives.

In what areas have you experienced your deepest emotional wounds? Your deepest spiritual wounds? Have you ever considered that God wants to use you to bring to others who have experienced a similar blow?

For example, if you experienced a miscarriage, God wants to use the comfort you received to pour comfort and encouragement into the lives of others who have lost children, perhaps through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or abortion.

Perhaps you aren’t ready. Perhaps you don’t feel that you have the strength to bring comfort to someone else yet. Ask God to bring other people into your life who can encourage and comfort you so that your comfort can flow over into the lives of those around you.

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