Tag Archives: grace

It’s Ok To Be Religious

A friend of mine recently shared an article on Facebook. The article gave reasons why the author hated religion. The author of the article was a Christian, so it wasn’t an argument against Christianity. Rather, it was an argument against religion that chokes out faith. I’ve heard these statements many times over the years. In fact, I can remember saying, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian.”

I understand the heart behind the statement, but I find the statement itself at fault. The believer who says this is usually reacting to the world’s understanding of what religion is. To the world, religion, and especially organized religion or church, is just a list of rules that you have to keep or things you have to do in order to be a good person and get to go to heaven or paradise and receive whatever reward is coming to you. That’s why there are so many memes out on the internet about how a person can be a good person without ever going to a church. I read one recently that said, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, you lack empathy, not religion.” If we allow the world’s definition of religion, then we are constantly on the defensive or may even find ourselves embarrassed to admit that we are a Christian.

Christians who make the statement that they’re not religious are usually trying to say that they’re not legalistic. The bible speaks clearly in both the Old Testament and the New Testament about how a believer is supposed to live. There are clearly things that believers should do and things that they should avoid. That is not legalism. Legalism is when the rules become the object of our zeal and worship rather than the God who authored those rules.

Christians, can we say that we’re religious without being embarrassed or afraid that we’ll offend someone? Yes! We can!  Jesus challenged the prevailing thought on religion by describing what a life defined by religion really is. Instead of telling people that they had to eat certain foods, worship on certain days, wear clothing that looked a certain way and was made from a certain material, Jesus defined true religion by the outward living of the inward change that takes place in a man or woman who truly believes. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus was born Jewish. He went to temple. He honored the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus lived the rules laid out in scripture. But, he didn’t do them out of worship for the rules. He lived the rules to the glory of his father.

So, what does religion look like in the Bible? James tells us, “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 1:27)” Paul tells us, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21) In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught a sermon that would forever change the world. In it, he shows what a life changed by grace received through faith in Him looks like. This is true religion.

So, let’s not think about religion or being religious as the world does. It is not a set of rules that teach a moral standard or make a person good. It is not a set of rules that you follow to earn your way to heaven or into God’s good graces. Instead, it is a lifestyle marked by faith and lived in thankfulness to the God whose grace saved us while we were yet sinners, set us free from slavery to sin, and gives us new life, new hope, and a new record.

Thoughts on Naomi

Two weeks ago, I started preaching through the book of Ruth. It is one of my favorite books in the bible. I love this story of love, devotion, and redemption. Several times a week, I’ve read through this wonderful little book and enjoyed the story of this family. Many times over the last couple of weeks, I have pondered Naomi and her feelings at the beginning of the story.

To give you some background, there was a terrible famine that struck during the time of the Judges. During this famine, food was scarce in Bethlehem in Judah. So, Elimelech packs up his wife and two sons and moves to Moab where there is food. After they’ve been there a while, he dies. His two sons grow and marry and then, after ten years, they two pass away. This leaves Naomi alone with her daughters-in-law.

We know something of the character of Naomi in the reaction of her daughters-in-law to her after their husbands die. They love her deeply. This isn’t a Hollywood in-law situation in which the kids don’t get along with their in-laws. Instead, these girls have found a second mother in Naomi.

Hearing that the famine in Israel has passed, Naomi decides to go back home. Other than Orpah and Ruth, she has no family in Moab and the loss she has suffered is bitter. As she prepares to leave, her Orpah and Ruth pack up to go with her. When they reach the road that will lead back to Bethlehem, Naomi tells the girls to return to their families. It is a painful moment, because the girls really love her. There are tears shed and they cling to each other desperately. Both girls want to go back with her, but she prevails upon them to go back home and find new husbands who will love and care for them. In a moment of tearful farewell, Orpah turns and returns to her family. Ruth, on the other hand, dearly loves Naomi. More, she has come to know Naomi’s God (YHWH) as her own. Resolved to stay with Naomi, she convinces her to let her go to Bethlehem with her.

When Naomi and Ruth reach Bethlehem, Naomi is greeted by her family and friends. They are excited to see her, but home has given her no more peace than Moab. In Moab, she left behind her husband and sons, but here at home, she is confronted with all the memories of her youth. She remembers her wedding to the man she loved, the two sweet little boys she held in her arms, and the joyful times they had. Her heart is filled with bitterness.

When she is greeted, she responds, “ “Don’t call me Naomi. Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

I’ve thought a lot about this passage. Naomi is so bitter. In the Hebrew, she actually says, “The Lord has testified against me.” She feels like she’s being judged for something she did. I’ve pondered her thoughts. Perhaps she felt like she should have spoken up when Elimelech decided to move out of Israel and to Moab. She may have thought that, if she’d warned him about staying in the promised land, she may not have lost her family. Or, perhaps she was the one who urged Elimelech to leave. In her worry over seeing her children fed, she may have urged him to pick up and leave their land only to lose her family in another one. Perhaps she felt guilty that her sons married girls who believed in different gods. Maybe she just didn’t know what to think. She only knew that she’d lost those she loved the most and couldn’t understand why.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever wondered why you’re going through a situation that you don’t understand? You may ask, “What did I do?” “Why is this happening?” “Does God really care?” You may think to yourself that God has set himself against you as Naomi did. You may even be bitter toward God as she was.

What Naomi couldn’t see was the story about to unfold. She was caught up in God’s redemptive plan for our world. God planned for Ruth to play an important part in the history of both Israel and for the world. It is through her that the bloodline of David comes and it is through his bloodline that Mary’s is established. And, through her, passes the bloodline to Jesus. God uses Ruth, a Moabite girl who loved Him and who loved her mother-in-law, as a step to His own Son. But, that’s not all. In the very story of Ruth’s life and Naomi’s, we see God’s love and devotion for those who love Him. We see in Him our Redeemer. We see in Him the Groom who is coming to claim His bride. In the same way that Boaz acts to restore Ruth and her family, our God acts to restore us to Himself. It is a beautiful story.

The pain that Naomi felt was very real. The loss of her husbands and sons was something that she could not understand in the moment. But, later, as she looked down into the eyes of her grandson as she cuddled him, she could see the beginning of a new life. God restored joy to her. He renewed her heart, her spirit, and her life. She saw a new hope.

Naomi wondered what she did to deserve judgment. I believe that the answer would be the same we see in John 9:3. This happened so that the works of God may be shown in her and in Ruth. We don’t always understand why God allows things to happen. But, we can rest assured that God has a plan in action for those who love Him. Like Naomi and Ruth, in God’s timing and through God’s plan, we will find restored hope, heart, and life.