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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Can Keeping Religious Duties Forgive Sins?


"No religious ritual or tradition of any sort, done as perfectly and consistently as possible, can make you acceptable before God.  Only Jesus can.  His blood, as shed on the cross, has the only power to cleanse and give you peace with God." 
Jesus was constantly at odds with the religious leaders of His day. They regularly tried to entrap Him to disobey their laws and turn the people against Him. Each time though, Jesus masterfully refuted their words, amazing the people with His wisdom.  (Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash)

On one such occasion, they observed His disciples were not following their tradition of hand washing. A form of religious cleansing. And there were other such traditions Jesus and His disciples did not observe, which drew strong criticism from the leaders.

Jesus publicly rebuked them by quoting the Old Testament Scriptures against them, which they probably had memorized, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6-7)

What was Jesus saying? He was pointing out how they put so much effort into following their outward traditions, they neglected the inward condition of their heart. Jesus called this hypocrisy, which means – acting. He accused them of simply being religious actors, focusing on their outward acts, and that of others, but overlooking what is most important.

Are we any different? It is easy for us to do the same and strictly focus on the outward by engaging in various religious activities or good deeds. There have been entire religious systems built on this. They have gathered large followings since they tie-in spiritual rewards like the forgiveness of sins, the assurance of heaven in the after-life, physical healings or financial provision. And conversely, they keep the crowds by declaring curses or disciplines if they do not adhere.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, preached how outward physical washings provided inward spiritual cleansing. Some religions in our day preach similar rewards for followers who minister to the poor, attend religious services, pray several times a day, observe specific moral standards, are baptized or give to the church. Can engaging in outward religious rituals, as good and innocent as they are, forgive sins and make us acceptable to God?

Read what Jesus said to His own followers in clarifying where the religious leaders got it wrong, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk. 7:20-23)

Jesus stated the problem with the human condition is within. It is a problem of the heart. This is what makes you unclean and unacceptable before God. But mistakenly, you engage in outward religious acts believing they can inwardly cleanse. In other words, you believe you can save yourself.

The things in your heart that defile you, is what leaves you condemned before God. No religious ritual or tradition of any sort, done as perfectly and consistently as possible, can cleanse. God has told us what it takes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Justified by faith means you can obtain cleansing and good standing with God by faith in His only Son. You cannot save yourself, only Jesus can. If you will turn from trusting in yourself, your religion, your good works, and trust wholly in Christ, then you can be cleansed and have peace with God. Christ came to suffer, die and rise again for you. Only His blood that was shed on the cross can cleanse you from within.

A prayer for you – “Lord God, I confess my efforts at focusing on the outward, believing that through those efforts, I can cleanse myself. I turn from that belief, and place my trust in Christ alone. I am not good enough, but Jesus is. Only He can save. In His name, Amen."

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Days of Youth

"The season of youth comes only once and should be celebrated to its fullest. Laugh! Enjoy that time of life! Those years are filled with new experiences and opportunities to explore like no other. Learning is at its zenith. The wings of independence get spread and take their first flight. Chances at love are taken that may lead to a partner in marriage and family."
There was once an old wise king who wrote and collected various sayings that reflected his observations of life, from youth to old age. In pondering his younger days, he wrote poetically to the those in his kingdom that were starting out in life, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened. . .” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:2)

The king was Solomon, the wealthiest, wisest, and most sought-after man of his day. Other rulers from throughout the world came to ask questions and learn from him. What was his message to the youth of his kingdom?

Rejoice in your youth. Solomon recognized the season of youth comes only once and should be celebrated to its fullest. Laugh! Enjoy that time of life! Those years are filled with new experiences and opportunities to explore like no other. Learning is at its zenith. The wings of independence get spread and take their first flight. Chances at love are taken that may lead to a partner in marriage and family.

Remove grief from your heart. While enjoying youth to its fullest, sometimes there are days of darkness. There may come tragedy or pain that can overshadow this season. The death of a parent or friend, dad and mom divorce, severe sickness or disease, abuse or depression can all darken this time of life. One’s moral choices can have a great impact on these years as well. Problems with drugs or alcohol. Sexual encounters. Terminating a pregnancy. Bad financial decisions. Whatever it is, the days of darkness can bring grief to the years of one’s youth.

Remember your Creator. It is easy to forget God in the younger years. The sense of adventure, a desire to question, being at the peak of energy and strength, and living for the moment, can all lead there. But God has a way of helping us to remember. Solomon points out three ways God does this. One, Solomon shares that in the time of youth, when one reaches their peak of life in so many ways, they slowly start to decline as the body ages. Aging is God’s way of humbling us. Second, the wise king reveals how death is certain for us all. Some, as they age, will live long before stepping through death’s door. For others, their youth may be cut short, before entering through that same door. Third, Solomon states that following death everyone will give an account before God for their life, a day of reckoning, where all those moral choices in our youth, will have to be answered for.

Knowing all this, how shall we live from the sunrise to the sunset of life? Hear Solomon, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) From the beginning of life, to the end, if we live according to God’s ways there will be no regret. Peace will abound in our hearts and it will be well with our eternal soul. God sent His only Son to die and rise again so that our disobedience might be forgiven. No one can redo the past. All we have is today. If we turn from our ways, then God promises that all things will be made new. Believe this truth. Tomorrow can be different!

A prayer for you – “Creator God, help the young to fully enjoy their youth. Pull back their days of darkness. Help them to remember and live their life, from beginning to end, all for you. In Jesus name. Amen."

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Restoring The Value and Priority of Motherhood

"If a woman is blessed to become a mother, God call’s her to make that her chief mission in life, raising those precious little children. Unfortunately, we live in a day where the role of motherhood is diminished and the women who embrace it, face great challenges." 
Hannah deeply loved her husband, but was childless. This weighed so terribly upon her, that she could not eat and was visibly distraught. So much so her husband said, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). Eventually she went to her place of worship where “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. (1 Sam. 1:10) In her desperate prayer for a baby boy she cried out to God and made a promise to Him, if He would provide a child saying, “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” (1 Sam. 1:11). God did grant her request and nine months later little Samuel was born, who grew up to become a great leader in the history of Israel.  (Photo from Unsplash)

I love this story because it communicates the natural, maternal instinct of a woman to have a child, which she was amazingly created by God to do. This is a normal God-given desire for a woman, and when she is blessed to have children, there is tremendous joy and fulfillment. Conversely, when a woman is unable to get pregnant or when her baby dies in the womb or after birth, there is deep sorrow.

It is written, “. . . children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man (or woman) who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3-5) Motherhood is a wonderful blessing and gift from God. Whether it is one child or 12. Whether biological, step, adoptive or foster care children. Whether in good health or with a disability. No matter the ups and downs, bliss or heartache, children are a blessing.

Like Hannah, if a woman is blessed to become a mother, God call’s her to make that her chief mission in life, raising those precious little children. Unfortunately, we live in a day where the role of motherhood is diminished and the women who embrace it, face great challenges. The world we live in does not encourage the pursuit or priority of marriage and family. Instead, it encourages selfish individualism, plunging into entertainment and recreation, a quest for personal pleasure and putting career above raising a family. Today married couples are delaying the start of their family unlike any time in the past, and are having fewer children than ever before. When asking a child what they want to be, we might hear things like being a professional athlete, a doctor, or amassing followers on social media. Where is the discussion about aspiring to get married and become a father or mother and have children?

God has created us and laid out how we are to live, but we have fallen short, sinned against Him and hurt ourselves. To some degree maybe you feel like you have failed as a mom or find it difficult to embrace the idea of motherhood. Maybe you had a child outside of marriage, entered into a bad relationship that ended in divorce, put your interests above your kids or been terribly harsh with them. Whatever it is, stop and consider God’s plan for you.

If you feel have fallen short, come to Him with a humble spirit and call out for forgiveness. He will hear and forgive. When God sent His only Son to die on a cross and rise again from the dead, He showed us that restoration is possible. Through turning from our sin and placing our faith in Christ, all things can be made new, which includes you. 

A prayer for you – “Father in heaven I pray you will hear the cry of the barren woman to have a child. Hear the cry of the mom who has fallen short of your standards and give her new life in Christ. Hear the questions of the young woman who doubts if motherhood is for her. Show her how beautifully she is made and the purpose for which she was created. In Jesus name. Amen."