The Heart Of Tradition

When you hear the word “tradition” what comes to mind? For some it reminds them of family activities or customs around holidays or special events. These can be very meaningful and positive experiences that people look forward to. For others tradition reminds them of boring rituals or meaningless routines that were not very meaningful or positive and that they don’t look forward to and would prefer to do without. We are all probably familiar with both kinds of tradition – positive ones and negative ones – and when we look at the Scriptures we find this same distinction as well.

Jesus speaks to this issue of “tradition” and its use or its practice numerous times in the Gospels. In Mark chapter 7, as Jesus confronts the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day about their man-made traditions, and the danger that this type of tradition can pose to our faith. Jesus’ is not against the practice of tradition, but He clearly condemns placing tradition above the commands of God. Jesus reminds us that what is most important to God is not the outward acts of religion, but the inward state of our heart. Tradition can be a blessing or a curse; it can be a stumbling block or an aid to our worship and obedience to God.

We must rely on God and His Word, not the religious traditions of man. As Christians we are not to be “anti-tradition” any more than we are to blindly follow traditions without evaluating their purpose and meaning in the light of God’s Word.

Tradition that reminds us of God’s truth and points us to Biblical principles is to be embraced; but tradition that is simply man-made and goes beyond or against the principles of Scripture should be rejected. One writer said, “Tradition is the living faith of those now dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living.”

The point is that we should not just go through the motions of religious worship or service apart from a heart committed to God. Living faith comes from a heart of humility and dependence upon Jesus Christ. As Christians we need to be careful that we say and do is not just for the sake of appearance or obligation, but that it proceeds from a heart of faith and love for God through Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us in Mark chapter 7 that our greatest priority is to examine what’s inside our hearts, so that our outward religious actions – our worship, our prayers, our service and our obedience – will match our inward spiritual reality: a heart committed to God and to His Word through faith in Christ. (PASTOR DENNIS BONE)

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Where Do You Put Your Trust?

Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
PSALM 146: 3-4

Here is a wise, general principle for life, which will serve every person well who heeds its advice: “Do not put your trust in princes.” The Hebrew word for princes is nedibim, suggesting human power and capability without God. The word carries with it the idea of a gifted or excellent human being but not necessarily a moral or ethically good person. No matter how gifted a person might be they are vulnerable to failure, either physically, mentally, or ethically, whereas God is never subject to any malfunction.

Of course, the main problem with depending on a person is the very limited lifespan of humanity: “they return to the earth.” American evangelist D. L. Moody said it this way:

Trust in yourself, and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in your friends, and they will die and leave you; trust in money, and you may have it taken from you; trust in reputation, and some slanderous tongue may blast it; but trust in God, and you are never to be confounded in time or eternity.

“LORD, we put our trust in You; we rely on and cling to You this day.” (PASTOR ED REA)

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Why Should God Allow You Into Heaven…?

If someone asked you why God should allow you into Heaven, what would you say? When you think of standing in God’s presence, what case would you make that would give you the greatest confidence before Him? What items would you add to your spiritual resume in hopes of standing blameless before him? Baptism? Your prayer life? Giving to the poor? Community service? Faithful attendance at church? Adherence to the Ten Commandments?

In Philippians 3:4b-6, Paul had just rattled off an impressive list of all the things he had accomplished religiously that showed him to be a spiritual stallion in the eyes of any Jew. However, Philippians 3:7 takes an interesting turn and he says that he counts all those things as loss and rubbish (street filth or dung) for the sake of Christ and gaining Him! Why did Paul say this? Because he realized that none of the items on his resume were sufficient to get him right standing before God! Only Christ would do. In his commentary on Philippians, J.A. Motyer says, “Man at his most privileged, his most moral, his most religious, his most zealous and devoted, is yet not thereby made fit and acceptable to God. Paul had no recourse but to add up his advantages and achievements one by one and admit that the total was zero.”

At the end of the day, each of us has two choices as we come before God. First, to come with faith in our efforts, our fickle obedience & good deeds before the living God and be found wanting. Or secondly, to come with faith in Christ’s efforts, His perfect obedience in life and death on a cross & good deeds before the living God and be found accepted. Acceptance before God is ironically not found by more effort on our part, but precisely by giving up our efforts and putting our trust & reliance in Jesus’ efforts and knowing Him. If your answer to the question of why God should allow you into Heaven started with, “Because I…” you have not understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must learn to answer, “Because Christ…”

Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s commands
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone, Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling
Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.

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Learning From The Prophet’s Prayer

LORD, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2

Habakkuk’s prayer is motivated by his knowledge of God’s past fame (“I have heard of Your fame”) and his reverence for God’s past works (“I stand in awe of your deeds”) – but all the while he has his eye on the present situation. He looks backward in reverence; he leans forward in faith. Habakkuk looks back on what God has done in history and says, “Lord, do it again. These things have I have merely heard about with my ears: let me see them with my eyes. These things I have only read about in books: let me experience them in my own life. Your great acts of yesterday – do them again today.

What would it look like for us to pray like Habakkuk prays in 3:2? How can this prayer be a model for our prayers today? Two thoughts.

1) First, our prayers will be enriched by the reading of history. Learning what God has done in the past can be a powerful encouragement and helpful paradigm to teach us how to pray. For example, learning about the incredible things God did during the Great Awakenings in America can give us hope in praying for revival in our nation today. Secularization and moral decline are not inevitable; God can intervene. How do we know this? Because He did once already.

2) Second, Habakkuk’s prayer should lead us to pray boldly. So often we read about the things God did in the pages of the Bible, or even in church history, and it seems like another world. We think, “if only we were alive back then, we could have seen God really work.” We forget that “He is not the God of the dead but the living.” The whole point of a passage like James 5:17-18 is that the people through whom God worked greatly in the past – like Elijah – were just ordinary people like us. What made their lives great was God. As God answered their prayers and worked in their situations, so He will answer our prayers and work in our situations. As we look back on the great things God has done in the past, we are invited to pray for God to do such great things again.

Lord, I have heard about when You poured out Your Spirit on the church and gave true spiritual power. Do it again today. Lord, I have heard about when You brought about mass repentance and turned an entire nation around. Do it again in our nation today. Lord, I have heard about when You gave Your church bold witness and caused the Gospel to penetrate vast new areas. Do it again today. Lord, I have read about when You comforted David with an overwhelming sense of Your presence. Do it again to me right now. Lord, I have heard about when You humbled and destroyed evil oppressors and intervened to save the poor. Do it again today.

May our prayers for the future be as grand as God’s deeds in the past.

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Grace Stewardship Is More Than Money

There is more than money involved in the story of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44). It is a principle of life. It is the very heart of stewardship based on grace. All I am is His. As a redeemed person God owns it all. There is nothing in my life that does not first belong to Him. “For God has bought you with a great price. So use every part of your body to give glory back to God because He owns it.” (1 Corinthians 6:20). If you are owned by Christ, that means your body, your mind, your time, your will, your talent and your material assets all belong to Christ. You belong to another and you own nothing. God owns it all.

The rich had given much, but it really cost them nothing for it was merely the “overflow” of their lavish accounts. The widow’s gift cost her everything––”her whole livelihood”. This lesson of Christ is vitally significant for us. God measures our giving not by how much we give, but by how much we have left over after we give! Grace giving is sacrificial giving. It is giving until it hurts.

Sacrificial giving has a kind of recklessness about it. It holds nothing back. It has learned to give as God gave to us. The greatest example is His Son (Philippians 2:5-8).

This attitude toward grace giving is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It bids us come and surrender to Christ and trust Him with every need, every care, and every provision in life. It is total absolute trust in Him. “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Our day is no different than in Jesus’ day. Jesus warned against the craving to be somebody. The religious leaders wanted to be prominent, honored and wealthy. They lived for appearance, performance and status in life. Jesus rebuked their sham. He condemned religion for profit and gain. He was opposed to what-You-can-do-for-me, and what-can-I-get-out-of-it religion.

It has never entered most of our minds what God can do with us if we choose to surrender ourselves unreservedly to Him. Are you willing to abandon yourself to Him?

Robert Arthington of Leeds, a Cambridge graduate, lived in a single room, cooked his own meals and gave to foreign missions over approximately 2.5 million dollars. He wrote this, “Gladly would I make the floor my bed, a box my chair, and another box my table, rather than that men should perish for want of the knowledge of Christ.”

The man or woman who deeply desires to please the Lord will evidence this true spirituality by sacrificial giving, for their attitude will be the same as David’s in 2 Samuel 24:24: “. . . nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing” (WIL POUNDS)

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On Being Sent

Jesus and His disciples come to Nazareth after a series of amazing healing miracles. The disciples of Jesus must have been in a state of euphoria. What an amazing tour this was! There was the calming of the sea when they were stunned and exclaimed, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” Then the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, the woman with the haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. They must surely have felt that the kingdom would come swiftly. How wonderful it was to be on the winning team.

Then came Nazareth. The townspeople of Nazareth were surprised that this “local lad” was teaching and doing all that He was. “Why – isn’t this Mary’s Son? Doesn’t He work with His hands just as we do? He’s nobody special.”

Jesus is amazed at the response. Interesting statement for Mark to make. Jesus taught frequently about His ultimate rejection and crucifixion which would come at the hands of His opposition – so how is He “amazed”? This provides wonderful insight into Jesus’ humanity and His identification with us. There is a sense in which we can know something is going to take place, but when it happens, we are still amazed. It is not so much that Jesus did not expect the rejection – but it is startling when people who had been a part of His upbringing suddenly take this great offense at Him.

One of the barriers we will face when we enter our world as sent persons is the unbelief of the world. Even Jesus is amazed at the unbelief of the people in His hometown. There is more than unbelief in our world. We will also encounter resistance to the whole message of Christ. Jesus’ hometown folk not only did not believe, “…they took offense at Him.”

There has been a progression in the Western world particularly with respect to the Christian faith. We’ve moved from a culture that was friendly to Christianity, to one that is neutral to Christianity, to a time when much of the culture is unfriendly to Christianity. Have you ever noticed that it is okay to refer to God in our society, or even to Buddha or Mohammed – but often, people take offence if the name of Jesus is mentioned. If you take seriously the fact that you are one of the sent ones of Christ, you will encounter resistance.

But Jesus’ teaching mission goes on, and in some ways this event in Nazareth is a “reality check” for the disciples. Not everyone is going to be thrilled with the ministry of Christ, and ultimately with the ministry of Christ’s followers. They are commissioned and sent out into the real world where they must bring the ministry and message of Jesus Christ to everyone. Some will receive and some will not receive – but all must hear and witness the call of God to repent and believe the Good News. (JOHN JEWELL)

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Wait To See What God Will Say

“I will climb my watchtower and wait to see what the Lord will …say…”

The short book of Habakkuk opens with the prophet pouring out his complaint to the Lord about wickedness and injustice in the land. He sees the godly getting ripped off and violence everywhere. God answers Habakkuk, but the answer troubles the prophet even more, for God says that He is raising up the cruel Babylonians to bring judgment on His people, who have strayed far away from Him, and that the Babylonian hordes will swoop in to devour without mercy. This sets off the prophet, as he pours out his second complaint to God, saying, “How can you, a holy God, send an unholy people to bring punishment on your people?” He doesn’t understand what God is doing; nevertheless, he ends his lament with the following words: “I will climb my watchtower and wait to see what the Lord will say.”

When we don’t know what’s happening around us, when we’re pouring out our hearts to God but nothing is making sense, we’ve got to get up in a watchtower and wait to see what God tells us. Because life many times does not make sense! It overruns every little formula and verse we think we’ve learned. One of the things God says in answer to Habakkuk is, “But the righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). What Habakkuk learns and teaches us is that we have to trust God even when everything around us doesn’t make sense—even when we don’t understand what God is doing! Faith comes into its full bloom and is most pleasing to God when we don’t know why whatever is happening is happening, but we say, like Job, “Though God slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

If this is a confusing time in your life though you have prayed and asked God to speak to you through His Word, do as Habakkuk did: get alone and wait for God; watch for Him and see what He will say to you. He will honor your faith and your trust in Him. (JIM CYMBALA)

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We shower daily, while others bathe in dirty rivers occasionally.

We eat three meals a day, plus unneeded snacks, while others starve.

We sleep warm and soundly while others can never rest.

We have closets filled with unworn clothing, while others wear all they have each day.

We have extended families, while others live alone.

We own homes, sometimes more than one, while others are homeless.

We enjoy safety, while others live with death, war, and violence daily.

We work or change jobs, while others beg for minimal survival.

We travel extensively and freely, while others live their whole lives where they were born.

We attend schools and continuing education, while others suffer illiteracy.

We make and protect retirement plans, while others die far too early in poverty.

We have extensive medical systems, while others have no health care and die early.

Unlike millions around the world, we are inordinately blessed, tempted to assume our rights to these gifts, even to fighting for them, and frequently misusing these privileges which are on loan from God. (PETE HAMMOND)

In Matthew 25:31-46, the righteous weren’t even aware they’d been compassionate and that they were serving Jesus, because it was a natural outflow of their faith. They weren’t trying to earn their way to heaven; they were just doing what Christians do. That’s because people saved by God and changed by God start loving what God loves and doing what God does. A big part of that is responding to those in need—not to gain heaven because we have heaven; not to get saved because we are saved. The point of Matthew 25:31-46 is not to scare people into serving the poor, but that serving the poor is a significant part of what it means to love God and love others. (EAGLE BROOK CHURCH)

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

• Who are the least of these in your community?

• How do you serve the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned?

• Is it duty-bound, or is it a natural outflow of your faith?

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