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Religion on the Attack

In my last post, we looked at how Jesus confronted the attack of religion against His ministry.  Today we’ll see another aspect of that battle.

Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Mark 3:1-2

I always read this account with amazement.  I can’t fathom the thinking process of the Pharisees.

I understand that they were starting to be annoyed by Jesus’ ministry.  I even understand how they were looking for a way to discredit Him.  But to use healing as the vehicle, doesn’t make sense to me.

In my last post, I talked about the traditions that the Pharisees had to bring more detail to the definition of work.  They had a lot of man-made rules concerning healing.  It’s the work of a doctor to heal so no work of healing could be performed on the Sabbath.

For instance, it was illegal to drink wine on the Sabbath, if you had a toothache.  That’s because if the alcohol in the wine deadened the pain in your tooth, it would be considered healing.

That’s all well and good for a doctor.  But there’s a huge flaw in their argument when they apply it to the Messiah.

Jesus didn’t work to bring about a cure in the natural sense.  He was able to flow in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ ministry, it was God who healed the sick.

Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:3-6

It’s obvious from the above details that the healing was supernatural.  Jesus did absolutely no work to accomplish it.

That tells me that religion is blind to everything but its own ends.  It claims that it’s trying to serve God.  The actual truth is that religion is bent on proving its own superiority over anyone else.

They claim that by keeping the Sabbath pure from work, they’re following God’s will.  God, on the other hand, healed this man; proving that He had no problem with healing on the Sabbath.  Religion actually has the audacity to say that they’re more holy than God!

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking even creeps into the church.  Paul describes it this way…

…having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.
2 Timothy 3:5

Religion couldn’t care less about the power of God in operation.  It’s the form that’s more important.  How you look and what others think about you.  Powerlessness is okay, as long as people think that we have a more superior walk of “righteousness”.

Unfortunately, it’s merely a form of self-righteousness.  It doesn’t impress God, and it doesn’t help those around us.

Our goal should be a spiritual walk.  Spending time in the spirit, listening for the voice of the Father, then, obeying what we hear.  That’s the example that Jesus leaves us with.

Question: Why do so many choose form over power?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Posted by on January 3, 2018 in Healing, Legalism, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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Religion – Keeping Up Appearances

I’ve come to the conclusion that God hates religion.  What do I mean by that?  To most people, when they think about the word religion, they mean a set of rules by which you live your spiritual life.

Christianity was never meant to be a religion.  God wants a personal relationship with His people through Jesus Christ.  We see a great example of this in the life of Christ as recorded by Mark.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Mark 2:23-24

In order to understand what’s happening in this verse, I first have to explain some Old Testament facts.  The Law of Moses provided for the needs of travelers as they were going from place to place.  It allowed them to pick grain from any nearby field and eat it as they walked along.

So Jesus and the disciples weren’t stealing anybody’s grain.  God’s Word made it clear that the edges of a field were for the travelers, widows, and orphans.  It was a part of God’s provision for those in need.

Then why did the Pharisees have such a problem with what they were doing?  It all revolved around their religious interpretation of the Law.  According to the Ten Commandments, no work was to be done on the Sabbath Day.  It was to be a day of rest and worship.

Here’s where religion becomes an evil tyrant.  The Law of Moses said to not work on the Sabbath, but it never defined what exactly constituted work.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law took it upon themselves to help God out.  Since the Lord obviously forgot to explain it, they went ahead and detailed out what exactly was forbidden on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees had lists of “illegal activities” for the Sabbath.  For instance: you could pick up a chair and move it across the room.  But you couldn’t drag it because that would make a line in the dirt (furrowing) which was work.

The fact that the disciples were picking grain – harvesting – was not allowed on the Sabbath.  That wasn’t God’s law, but man’s religious interpretation of it.

It’s interesting that the word they use, unlawful, is a word that means not right.  However, this word implies that what they were doing was not right by appearance.  It didn’t look right.  With religion, it’s all about appearance.  It’s how you look on the outside.

Jesus had an answer for them.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.  And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:25-28

The Lord uses the example of David.  The Law said that the bread in the Holy Place belonged to the priest.  He could do what he wanted with it.  It just didn’t look right for David and his men to eat it.  But the priest was ministering to someone in need.

The underlying principle is that the Sabbath was created for us to enjoy.  It was to give us a time of rest and refreshment in the presence of God.  It wasn’t made so that we could have one more religious rule.

Our God is a God of relationship.  A good relationship can never be based on a list of do’s and don’ts.  Religion is a form of slavery.  A relationship with Jesus Christ brings freedom and abundant life.

Question: How have you experienced the tyranny of religion?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2018 in Encouragement, Legalism, The Gospel

 

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Religion is Slavery

Slavery is evil.  But when someone chooses to be a slave to an unworthy master, that’s just plain foolish.  It’s so unfortunate that this is the position many Christians find themselves in.

As we continue our look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he begins to talk about this problem.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
Galatians 4:8

Paul tells us here that before we experienced the true God, we were under the yoke of slavery.  Now, having come to Christ, we’ve learned the freedom that’s only available in Him.  Paul is perplexed about why anyone would ever want to go back to the old ways.

But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Galatians 4:9

Paul makes it clear that this slavery is not to a person.  We choose to be enslaved by certain principles.  And his description of these principles – this way of ordering our lives – makes it sound like it’s not worth serving under them.

He says that they’re weak, without any power.  I want my life to change, but trying to serve a set of rules doesn’t bring about that change.  I’m the same person I always was, but now I’m struggling to act differently than my natural desires.

He also calls these principles miserable.  The word he uses means a fearful, beggarly existence.  In other words, you want God’s blessing, but you’re so afraid that at any step you’ll do something wrong and lose it all.  You’re hoping that by your good works you’ll convince God that you’re worthy of His blessings.

I can tell you from experience that this is a miserable way to live.  And yet there are many who only serve God in this way.  They’re in constant fear of making God mad at them.  They’re in slavery to a no-win lifestyle.

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Galatians 4:10-11

The bottom line is that God isn’t pleased with us because of our rituals and observances.  He loves us because we’re in Christ.  He sees us under the blood – washed clean and delivered from our past.  It’s not about ritual but relationship that brings us closer to the Lord.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11

Please understand what Paul is saying here.  It’s not that he wants to know about, read about, or learn about Christ.  He wants to know Christ deeper and deeper on a personal level.  The more he knows Christ, the more like Him Paul will become.

Instead of fearing that we’ll get God mad at us, we should be drawing on our relationship with Him.  Spend time in His presence.  Let the Holy Spirit work in you as He wills.  Don’t waste time by putting yourself back under a yoke of slavery.

Question: Why is relationship better than slavery?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2017 in Encouragement, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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Religion – An Easy Trap to Fall Into

Why do you serve God the way you do?  Because people are watching you; or because you’re trying to please God?  Religion wants you to look at what people think.  It can make you do some strange things under the pretense of serving God.

I’m glad that when the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, He didn’t whitewash the lives of the apostles.  We see them as they were – with all their faults and challenges.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he recounts a confrontation between the Apostle Peter and himself.  It all had to do with religious observances and trying to please men.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.  The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Galatians 2:11-13

According to ancient Jewish customs, it was not proper for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile or to eat with them.  But now that we’re in Christ, these outward appearances should hold no sway over who we fellowship with.

There were those in Jerusalem, however, who felt that these customs needed to be carried over into Christianity.  These were the Judaizers that I talked about in a previous post.

At this point in his life, Peter had already understood that he was free to fellowship with Gentiles.  The Lord revealed it to him and then sent him to a Gentile home to preach the Gospel of Christ.  (Acts chapter 10)

When he first arrived at Antioch, the site of the first largely Gentile church, Peter had no problem fellowshipping with the believers in their homes.  But when those of the Judaizers arrived, he wanted to stay on their good side and stopped eating with Gentiles.

What’s important to see is that even though Peter didn’t believe that it was necessary to separate himself from Gentiles, he was sucked into a religious observance.  Religion places customs above faith.  When that happens, we alienate people.

Paul understood that it needed to be stopped before any permanent damage was done to relationships.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew.  How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
Galatians 2:14

The truth of the Gospel is that we’re all one in Christ Jesus.  Who’s house I enter, or who I eat with doesn’t make me any more or less holy.  The outside observances only serve to impress people (or push them away).

We need to be able to take a step back and question our own motives.  Why do we do what we’re doing?

Please understand that I realize there are many different styles of worship.  Some services are highly formal and ritualistic while others seem to have no structure at all.  It doesn’t matter what style you’re comfortable with, as long as you don’t invalidate those you’re not comfortable with.

Don’t let religion control who you fellowship with.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do something to make God love you more.  In Christ, you’re already loved more than you could ever imagine.

Question: How have you seen religion alienate people?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Freedom or Slavery

I’ve been posting through the book of Galatians and talking about legalism vs. our freedom in Christ.  We’re looking at the Apostle Paul’s personal battle against legalism as he ministered to the Gentiles.

[This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:4-5

Here, Paul gives the reasons for the struggle.  The words that he uses are very scary.  They should cause us to be wary of our motivations.

He’s specifically talking about a group known as the Judaizers.  They were people who felt that in order to be saved, you had to trust Jesus and follow the rules contained in the Law of Moses.  This was particularly hard for Gentiles to conform to.  In essence, these Judaizers wanted us to become Jews first, before we could become Christians.

What concerns me is the fact that Paul calls these people false brothers.  I think that puts legalistic people on dangerous ground.  Can you truly trust Christ to save you if you think that your works play a major role in God accepting you?

Paul says that their goal was to spy on or watch with malicious intent, the freedom Christ bought for us.  They want to see our freedom and then convince us that slavery is the better option.

“You have to obey the rules if you want to be a good Christian.  After all, you can’t just live however you want and please God.”

That statement does have a grain of truth in it.  But it will bring you into bondage that will keep you from growing in Christ.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit had a reason why He inspired both James and 1 Thessalonians before Galatians.  They stress the truth that a believer must spend quality time in the Lord’s presence.  It’s in this way that our lives will constantly be transformed into the Lord’s image.

That has to be in place first, before you can truly walk in God’s freedom.  This is not a license to live by whatever your flesh wants to do.  It’s a freedom to walk according to the Spirit’s desire with no need for a set of rules to “keep us on the straight and narrow.”

When I look at the life of Jesus, I see the same thing.  He is the Messiah. Yet, He was always being accused of breaking the rules.

Paul understood this and wanted those under his spiritual care to be free from the bondage of religion.  The Christian walk is not about conforming yourself to a set of traditional, religious rules of performance.  It’s a personal relationship with Christ that’s constantly transforming us by God’s power.

The Apostle is writing to us from his personal experience.  The lifestyle of following rules and traditions is hard to break free from.  We see in Paul, the key to this release.

That’s why he says that he will never give in to them.  That phrase means to yield in submission.  Let me jump ahead for a moment so that you can see where Paul is bringing us to in this letter.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

Between here and there, he gives a detailed look at how this freedom should work in us.  That’s where we’re going over the next few weeks of these posts.

Question: How do rules hinder your spiritual growth?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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Are You Religious?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word religious? Do you think about someone who goes to church, reads the Bible, and prays a lot? The Bible has a very different definition of what religious should be.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:26-27

The word religious in this passage comes from a Greek word that means ceremonial observances. That means that you do things out of tradition. So to understand it, we need to realize that this doesn’t apply to our spiritual walk with Christ.

Being spiritual is all about relationship, not religion. I come to Christ in prayer, in the church, and in the Scripture, not because it’s tradition or ceremony. I come to Him because I want to know Him better as a person.

The better I relate to Christ, the more growth I experience in my Christian walk. I do know that there are many Christians who treat their walk with God in a religious way. However, in my opinion, it’s much better to cultivate a relationship with Christ, then to simply follow religious observances.

What, then, does this Scripture want us to be religious about? I can see three things that we need to observe as a tradition in our lives.

First of all, we need to religiously control our tongues. James goes so far as to say that if you don’t control your tongue, you’re deceiving yourself as to your maturity. It doesn’t matter what else you do, it’s all worthless without bringing the tongue under control.

That’s because our mouth doesn’t speak on its own.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45

Control of the tongue is about controlling what you put into your heart. So if you’re not constantly filling your heart with the Word, your tongue will declare it publically.

The next part of good religion is to help those in distress. We don’t just live for ourselves. There’s a world of hurting people around us. Orphans, widows, single parents, and those in prison all need encouragement and help. There are many more than just those groups.

If we truly want to start a tradition, it should be one of helping others in their need. More than any other group, Christians should be the ones that help those no one else cares about. After all, that’s what Jesus did in His ministry.

The final part is to keep yourself from being polluted by the world. That’s a tough assignment. The Scripture literally says to keep from becoming spotted or stained by the world.

Every day, as we work and interact with those around us, the dirt from society is coming at us. If we’re not careful, we can start picking up some of the same attitudes. This will greatly hinder our walk with God.

We need to be in the pattern, the tradition, of going to God daily for repentance. As the Holy Spirit prompts us that we need to be cleaned of something, we need to be quick to respond. In that way we’ll be free of the stains of the world.

If you want to be religious about something, these are the things you should major on; and keep your walk with Christ as a growing relationship.

Question: What are the religious traditions in your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Ministry, Prayer, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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Christ – The Foundation of a Counter-Culture

SONY DSCOur culture is our way of life.  Why, then, is modern Christianity so much like the culture of America?

It doesn’t matter what you talk about, the statistics are very close.  Divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and a host of other issues seem very much a part of church life.  I have known Christian girls who couldn’t wait to turn 18 so that they could lose their virginity legally.

Why are we so much like the world?

We would rather talk about religion than Jesus.  We try to be so careful not to offend anyone by what we believe.

I think an important word to use is counter.  Think about how we use it in society.  We have groups in counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism.  To be counter means that you are going opposite that group.

More than any other people, Christianity should be counter-culture.  We should have our own cultural lifestyle.  If you remember from my last post, that means our own way of doing things.  It should be different than how our society operates.

We need to see the Scriptural pattern.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22

This verse tells us that it’s God’s job to make us stand firm in Christ.  How does He do that?  The Lord accomplishes it by anointing us.

Anointing – now there’s a rich word.  The very word Christ means the Anointed One.  His anointing came from the Holy Spirit that was upon Him.  Now we are standing firm in the Anointed One.  That’s where we have the power to fulfill what we’re called to do.

This passage states that the anointing upon us is one of the things that are guaranteeing what is to come.  That tells me that I have a future in Christ.  This anointing is taking us somewhere.

In the same way, this culture we live in is headed somewhere.  It leads to addiction, divorce, depression, guilt, and, worst of all, hell.  Personally, I don’t want to go where the American culture is leading us to.

As the church of Jesus Christ, our future – our direction – should be vastly different.  Actually, the world should want what our culture leads to.  The differences should be that obvious.  We need to get back to the basics of what Christ wants to do in us.  Then we must follow it through to the end.

Question: What are some differences that should be obvious to the world?

© Nick Zaccardi 2012

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Revival, The Church

 

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