Put God First: Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters Most

Too often we place our personal needs over what God is at work doing

Put God First: Don’t Lose Sight of What Matters MostWhen Jesus’s friend Lazarus dies, Jesus goes to were the man is interred and, with a dramatic flair, raises him from the dead. When the people see this miracle of miracles, many believe in Jesus.

Bringing someone back to life is an amazing feat, and surely everyone should be happy. But not everyone is. Do you know who’s upset? The religious leaders, the very people who claim to represent the God who sent Jesus in the first place. But they miss it.

They can’t see God’s hand at work. Or maybe they’re not willing to. All they can think about is themselves. Though under Roman occupation, they still managed to carve out a comfy situation for themselves. And they want to keep it. They enjoy their standing as religious leaders and the admiration of the people. Selfishly, they want to preserve what they have, to maintain the status quo. In their self-centered ambition, they lose sight of the God they portend to serve. They fail to realize that God is present.The religious leaders plot to kill Jesus in order to maintain the status quo. Click To Tweet

These religious leaders fear losing their position, their power, and their prestige. Their solution? Kill Jesus. Yep, they become so focused on protecting their current situation that they plot against their God.

It’s easy to criticize them. Yet this same thing still happens now.

How many religious leaders today have become so focused on preserving their job, maintaining their paycheck, and keeping their followers that they oppose the work of God, things contrary to their faith and what God has called them to do?

It happens too often, and it’s wrong. We must always put God first, even if we might lose something in the process.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 11, and today’s post is on John 11:43-53.]

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Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our Faith

Religious persecution is real for many people, but some people needlessly bring opposition upon themselves

Avoid Suffering Needlessly For Our FaithIn many parts of the world religious oppression is an everyday reality that affects adherents’ ability to move about freely, earn an income, and purchase life’s necessities. A deep religious hatred limits the daily freedom for some people of faith. Their unwavering devotion to what they believe only earns them more revulsion. In some cases this animosity results in physical harm, sometimes fatal.

While horrific, I don’t have the perspective to write about this kind of severe religious persecution with the insight it deserves. Instead I’ll address a lessor form of suffering, the suffering we bring on ourselves: self-inflicted persecution.

I once had an employee who had recently converted to Judaism. She didn’t know much about her faith practices, at least not that she could explain to me, but I did admire her unwavering commitment to follow what she had been taught. (Once, at a company luncheon, she declined a cheeseburger but couldn’t tell her perplexed coworkers why she was prohibited to eat it. I later explained to them the Levitical law behind the practice.)

A few months into her employment I noticed a disturbing trend. She would sometimes leave me a voicemail message—always after 5 p.m.—informing me that she wouldn’t be working the next day because it was a religious holiday for her. And she had lots of them that fall.

From a planning standpoint this frustrated me. Often I had specific things I needed her to do that next day, but she was giving me little time to make adjustments. I explained that I was happy (okay, willing) to accommodate her religious observances, but I needed advanced warning. A list of holidays would be helpful.

She said that wouldn’t be possible because sometimes she didn’t know until the day before. Really? When I pressed her on this, she was steadfast that she couldn’t give me a calendar of her religious holidays. I suggested she ask her Rabbi for a list. She didn’t too much like that.

A week or two later she shoved a sealed envelope into my hands. The stationary bore the name of a Rabbi. Glad to be making progress, I opened the envelope in excitement, but the Rabbi hadn’t given me a list of dates as I requested.

Instead, he had drafted a tersely worded missive to inform me what I already knew, that I needed to provide her time off to observe Jewish holidays. And that a failure to do so discriminated her for her religious preference. He implied I was persecuting her for her faith.

No, I just wanted a list of holidays so that I could provide time off in the best way possible.

I don’t know what she told her Rabbi, but I doubt she asked for a calendar of Jewish holidays so that I could plan better. I doubt she told him I was making the accommodations she sought and merely needed some basic information to do so better.

Based on the tone of his letter, I suspect she presented me as someone who discriminated her for her faith, perhaps even anti-Semitic. (I have great affinity for religious Jews, as their faith history is my faith history.)

I considered contacting her Rabbi directly to explain—since she didn’t understand when I tried, once again, to clarify—but with the press of other work I never got around to it. A month later she quit, likely believing that I had persecuted her for her faith. We can experience negative reactions to our faith, but we need to be sure we aren’t the cause. Click To Tweet

In truth she brought the situation on herself.

She told me that her new employer would provide her the time off that she sought, something I had done every time she asked, even though she failed to provide a simple list of holidays.

While we can experience varying degrees of negative reactions to our faith practices, we need to be careful that we aren’t the reason for the animosity. Maybe it’s not our beliefs that cause the problem but the unwarranted way we conduct ourselves.

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What Did Jesus Do?

Move from asking “What Would Jesus Do?” to asking “What Did Jesus Do?”

What did Jesus do?The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized in the 1990s. Often epitomized by colorful bracelets that bore the acronym WWJD, the concept was intended to serve as a constant reminder for followers of Jesus to act as he would act. Therefore, in any given circumstance the goal of WWJD is for us to ask ourselves, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Then we should act accordingly.

I like WWJD as an ongoing nudge to always strive to behave in a manner consistent with Jesus. However, this requires that we presume to know how Jesus would act today. This necessitates interpreting his actions from two thousand years ago and projecting them into our modern culture, which we invariably do through the lens of our personal experience. Some call this contextualizing. The problem in doing so is that we make assumptions and might be in error.

Instead of presuming to know what Jesus would do, it might be better to look at the Bible to see what he actually did.

In reading the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the biographies of Jesus—here are some of the things that Jesus consistently does:

Jesus Loves Everyone: The Bible shows Jesus loving everyone, especially those on the fringes of society, the people who “good” folks avoid. Jesus does the opposite, going out of his way to love those who few people love.

Jesus Questions Spiritual Conventions: A paraphrase of a reoccurring teaching of Jesus is “You have heard it said ____, but I say ____.” It seems Jesus consistently challenges the beliefs people have and the way they act. His teaching delights the common people and frustrates the people who think they have everything figured out about God and what he expects.

Jesus Heals People: Jesus goes around healing people of their physical infirmities, from removing fevers to raising people from the dead. In this spectrum of need are people with odd afflictions that the Bible calls evil spirits. It matters not if these people are really possessed by demons or if their struggle is actually mental illness. The reality is that Jesus heals them; he solves their problems.

And for those who claim that miraculous healing doesn’t apply today, check out Jesus’s future-focused statement in John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.Jesus healed people and said that his followers would do the same—and more! Click To Tweet

Jesus Feeds People: On two occasions Jesus feeds hungry people, miraculously multiplying a measly amount of food to feed a multitude. Before you assume you can’t do that, go back to read the above verse in John. Of course we don’t always need a miracle to feed people. We can just do it the normal way and feed hungry people from the resources we have.

Jesus Opposes Religiosity: Jesus opposes the religious status quo. Though Jesus clearly loves everyone, one group consistently earns his criticism: the spiritual leaders who follow regimented religious rules. They adhere to a spirit of religiosity. Though they are devote in their righteousness and adherence to their traditions and interpretations of the Bible, Jesus consistently has to correct their errant thinking.

These are the things that Jesus does. May we go out and do the same, to do what Jesus did.

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Why Do We Do What We Do in Our Faith Practices?

I have a compulsion that irritates people, especially in religious circles. I ask, “Why?” I need to know why we do the things we do. What reason is behind them? Is there a biblical justification? Or is it a manmade tradition that has become meaningless ritual?

For example, in 52 Churches, I witnessed many services that began by lighting two candles. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Why do they light candles in the first place? Is there biblical support for it? And why two? Three would represent the Trinity, but two? If there’s a symbolic reason for two – or even lighting candles for that matter – then we need to know what it is so we can celebrate it. Else we should eliminate it as a practice without purpose.

Candles and the number two, however, are minor considerations. Whether or not we light two candles is of little consequence – as long as we don’t attach spiritual significance to it. However, there are bigger issues, much bigger issues, that have permeated our faith practices. Let me be bold and assert we’ve messed up most of what we do, elevating tradition over biblical command.

Consider the process of becoming a Christian. This is rife with manmade ideas that aren’t in the Bible. Yet many have elevated these processes as nonnegotiable faith requirements, superseding what Jesus taught. I think that makes them heresy. Yes, I said many churches practice heresy. I talk about this in A Faith Manifesto.

(So you know I’m not making this up, the origins of our religious ways are researched in the mind-blowing book, Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. So many of our practices are not rooted in scripture and several emanate from secular culture; that is, their origin is pagan.)

I encourage you to boldly examine your faith practices. Eliminate all that lack biblical support. What remains will be a purer, more God-honoring spirituality.

Join me in asking, “Why?”

Don’t Drive God Away

In the eighth chapter of Ezekiel, God takes the prophet to Jerusalem to see the area around the temple. Each place God takes him, Ezekiel looks and sees the people doing things God abhors. God says he’ll drive them from his sanctuary.

After several reoccurrences, the chapter ends with God’s response to the people’s vile actions. He says:

  • I will deal with them in anger
  • I will not look on them with pity
  • I will not spare them.
  • I will not listen to them, even though they shout.

The people did what God detested; their actions drove him from the sanctuary. They would get what they deserved.

I wonder if we do the same thing with some of our religious practices at church today? Do we do things God detests? Do we drive him away? I hope it isn’t so, but fear it is.

[Ezekiel 8:6 and Ezekiel 8:18]

[Discover more about the Bible at A Bible A Day.com: Bible FAQs, Bible Dictionary, Books of the Bible Overview, and Bible Reading Plans.]

Are You Spiritual But Not Religious?

An increasing number of people say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” For some this is merely a trendy thing to say, but beyond making them sound hip and appear insightful, it is an empty platitude.

For others, claiming to be “spiritual but not religious” is an attempt to abdicate responsibility for their behavior and their soul. It is nothing more than a highfalutin way of saying, “leave me alone, and let me do my own thing.”

However, for most, a desire to be “spiritual but not religious” is a sincere yearning for more, while simultaneously dismissing the institutions spawned by earlier practitioners of their faith and acknowledging that the actions and attitudes of many “religious” people are indeed wanting. Formal religion is out; a personal, relevant faith is what they seek.

For Christians, this sentiment can be summarized by “We like Jesus, but not the church.” It is true that many people admire Jesus, but the institutions that his followers created leave them cold. They inherently sense that there is a better way — and they desperately want to find it.

Do You Struggle With Church Attendance?

Much of my life I have struggled with going to church. It’s not that I’ve been in a crisis of faith, but more a crisis of religion — or, as some would call it, religiosity.

Church attendance has not been faith confirming for me as much as faith confounding. My spiritual journey and growth happen largely in the 167 hours each week that I am not attending church, while the one hour that I am there is more of an anomaly to pursuing a holistic life with God at the center.

If I approach church attendance as a consumer — which is what largely happens in the United States today — I would look for the one with the best music and messages. However, given that even better music and messages can be found online and consumed at any time, there is little reason to hop in my car in search of them on Sunday morning.

Next, there is the idea of community. The Bible tells us to meet together. I have met many people at church and have numerous acquaintances who I enjoy seeing each week. But for the vast majority of them, our relationship is limited to one hour on Sunday, so my friendships there are mostly shallow.

As I have shared my consternation with a few trusted friends, they have offered some ideas of why I should attend church each week. Their sage suggestions boil down to focusing on others: to help, encourage, serve, and be an example. I am happy to do so — which is why I continue to attend.

I am pleased to give to others, but am also aware that I, too, need encouragement and support — it’s just that I will need to find it somewhere other than at a Sunday church service.

Welcome to Pursuing Biblical God

Welcome to “Pursuing Biblical God,” a conversation about spirituality from a biblical perspective. Here’s some thoughts to get our party started:

  • I’m spiritual, but not religious. That’s a trendy thing to say, but I mean it. The Pharisees were very religious; I am not.
  • All things are spiritual. I reject the modern separation of reality into spiritual and secular realms.
  • Not all things that are spiritual are good. At best, some spiritual ideas serve as distraction; at worse, destruction.
  • I don’t have all the answers; I have mostly questions. I shun formal theology because it’s boring and impractical. I embrace paradox – and the Bible is full of wonderful, delightful paradoxes.
  • I avoid the of label Christian; I am a follower of Jesus. Nothing else matters.

What makes me qualified to embark upon such a grandiose endeavor? Only that I am on a journey in pursuit of the God who is revealed in the Bible, the God who created time and space, the God who yearns to be in relationship with me – and I with him. I’m in love with creator of the universe and savior of the world and invite that you join me on this greatest of life’s adventures.