WHAT MATTERS?
The other day I mentioned how believers have a habit of getting caught up in certain ‘religious’ views [tithing was the example I gave] and over time these views develop to a point where they take precedence over the things Jesus actually placed real value on.
In the 1st century when Jesus showed up on the scene- the religious practices of Gods people were centered around religious meetings [holy days] prayer, fasting and tithing- mainly to be seen of men- that is religion digressed to a point where what seemed to be the most important thing- was actually not important.
So how did Jesus respond? He spends the 3 very public years of ministry- healing the sick, telling the poor they are the blessed ones who will inherit Gods kingdom- and blasting the rich- and those in power- by telling them that their day was coming too.
In essence Jesus was the ultimate prophet- he followed the long line of Jewish prophets who took these same positions. The prophet Isaiah told the people ‘God is tired of all your religious activities- your church meetings- your special ‘sacrificial’ offerings- these things are a stench in his nose!’ then he would go on and say that God wanted justice for the poor and widow.
Amos also rebuked the rich and defended the poor- Ezekiel said the shepherds [religious leaders] were fleecing the sheep- they were leaders who were making a financial killing off of the people.
All of these things- in today’s world of ‘ministry’ are making a comeback- it’s just we don’t see it because they are dressed in a different way. But at the end of the day- for the most part- American style Christianity is usually measured by how much money you give [or take in] how faithful your are to attend religious meetings- and how famous your ministry is- are you a really gifted speaker? Or do you give a great ‘stage’ performance.
And in the mind of the average Christian- if you ask them ‘when was the last time you gave of your goods to your neighbor- reached out to the poor- showed your Christianity thru charity’? Often times they will answer that that is not ‘their ministry’ or that their giving to some Christian organization/church is their role- and it’s up to ‘the church’ to actually help the poor.
But these responses miss the main point- Jesus [and the prophets] were saying that’s the mistake- thinking that ‘religion’ consists in these outward religious acts- which are really for show- while the true acts of mercy and love are all too often neglected. People today have made the same mistake as the religious observers of Jesus day.
The letter of James- written by the brother [half] of Jesus- tells us that Pure religion- is to keep yourself unspotted form the world- and to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. That’s it. No mention of religious holy days? No. No mention of special tithes/offerings? No. But what does he have to say about the modern religious view of the accumulation of wealth? Let’s not even go there [believe me- it’s pretty bad- go read the letter- its short].
This week in Somalia the estimates are 11 million people are on the verge of starvation- 2 to 3 million are kids. The world at large has had a hard time getting the food/resources in- because the country [like many other African nations] is in a sort of civil war.
The militant Islamic group fighting the govt. [Al Shabbab- I think that’s the name?] are made up of children. Yes- the kids have taken up an armed resistance against the leaders- and they are killing each other. I saw a news report on Mosaic world news- and the kids were in the streets- sort of like any kids on a block- but they had guns.
One young kid [10?] was pulling on the rifle of an older boy [15?] and the older boy got mad- like some school yard thing. The older boy just pulled away- and pointed the gun at the ‘opposing kids’- at the same time- they were playing in the street- throwing rocks and waving sticks- and pointing loaded guns at each other- it was like it was a game- they were used to shooting each other if they had to.
There are many things happening in our world today- things that matter to God. Many Christians- though they mean well- seem to leave these other things up to others. They feel that if they can just make it through another week- attend religious meeting on Sunday- put in the tithe- that if they live up to these outward religious standards- that they have done well.
Jesus taught a different way- the apostles tried to follow in his way. The apostle John said ‘if you see your fellow man in need- and don’t actually help him- do what needs to be done to defend them- then how can you say Gods love is in you’ [my paraphrase].
The apostle Paul wrote the Colossians- he said ‘I’m worried about you- you are observing days and times and other outward religious rites- I’m afraid you are falling away from the true faith’.
There was always a danger that Christians would fall into this rut- this thing where they unconsciously make the least important things- the most important. When the religious leaders of Jesus day were conspiring to kill Jesus- they had a problem- if they killed him on the wrong day- it would mess up their religious festival going on at the time. If they had to deal with the dead body- on the wrong day- they would be technically unclean according to Jewish law- and it would throw off their game.
So they worked it out where they would kill Jesus- and leave the body alone on the Sabbath- and they had it all worked out. One problem- they were violating the most important commandment of all- given to them by their most important law giver [Moses] that said ‘thou shalt not kill’ but somehow- over a period of time- they saw these things as the most important- their special observances of holy days- keeping themselves ceremonially clean- not ‘unspotted from the world’ as James said- but religiously clean- so they could put on a good public show.
I just finished praying for a bunch of stuff- of course I prayed for the kids in Somalia- those dying and those killing. Yes- I also send money every month to the starving kids- but these things are not enough. I [we] need to also engage those around us- those hurting and dying and struggling in real ways. We need to make the most important things- important again.