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How do you define religion? It’s not really easy to define, because each person alive has a different definition of it. Even different people of the same exact denomination has a different definition.
Everyone sees God a bit differently. If you were to look at the outside world from the windows in this room, you would verbalize what you are seeing at the moment as definitely what the outside world is. The outside world is what you see. And yet, people looking out the windows to the North and those looking out the windows to the South would see different things.
A minister once told a story about a man that he knew named Rudy. He respected this man a great deal because this man could quote the Bible better than anyone he had ever known. The man never needed to open the Bible; he knew the Bible. As a matter of fact, he had a photographic mind. You could ask, for instance, where did it talk about eagles in the Bible, and he could not only recite the verse but tell you every word on that page. It would be correct if you were to look it up.
As the minister spent more time with this gentleman, even though he knew every word on the pages of the Bible, he found he did not discover what religion really was, just like we could not discover what the outside was if we only looked out the window. We could describe it in detail, but we would not be an expert on the outside until we went out there and felt it on our cheeks, felt the sun in summer and maybe shivered a little in winter.
To be true, religion is something you have to immerse yourself in. You might say Rudy did it because he could quote from the Bible so very accurately. One time the minister took a long ride with Rudy from north to south Florida. His children were in the car with them. He started to notice that there was not really a good relationship between Rudy and his children. As a matter of fact, if they did anything wrong they would get the back side of his hand. The car became a violent place of something that was the opposite of love. He would also make negative comments about other drivers. If you were to talk with him long enough, he would justify everything from the Holy Book.
“What is religion?” If this person was doing these things that are unloving, and justifying them with passages from the Holy Bible, what is religion? How does it really count in our lives? What is it all about?
If we are really to follow the teachings of Jesus, and this whole society has freedom of religion, and there are so many different ways to believe and so many different churches, what does the believer really believe? Do they really practice the religion of Jesus Christ? Or, if they are practicing another religion, do they practice it and does it make a change for them?
A survey was conducted of 1,500 different Americans as to what they believe. 1,500 people were selected at random and asked questions. Here are some questions asked:
Does America believe in the power of positive thought? More than 90% of those surveyed agree, either strongly or somewhat strongly, that what they think has an effect on their physical well being. A full 96% of those surveyed believe that what they think has an effect on their health. And 92% believe that what they think can change the outcome of events in their lives. Of those surveyed, 92% believe that a positive mental attitude can be very effective in helping to deal with life challenges.
Americans tend to rely on themselves rather than just luck, the survey shows. A large percentage of those surveyed (84%) believe people create most of their own problems. When faced with life challenges, most respondents indicate that they tend to rely on themselves for solutions. Nearly 90% agree either strongly (47%) or somewhat strongly (42%) that a strength comes from within.
Interestingly, 42% of those surveyed go to church, and yet a vast majority say they believe in God; they believe in a power higher than themselves. Everyone has a slightly different view on what that higher power is.
Today, just for the brief moment of this service, I would like to take a look at what Jesus said about religion. You’ll find that even though He was talking about religion of that day, it is still very true for today.
The first thing Jesus did, (I read from Matthew 23) was to denounce formalism in religion. Do you know people are surprised when they come to church today? They are surprised that we can laugh in church; that we can have joy. I ask you, what better place to laugh, what better place to find joy than right here?
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” If we are to follow Jesus Christ, we need to practice what we teach. We shouldn’t just come to church and memorize the words; we should strive to practice it in our daily lives. If you’re going home from this service, how do you go about practicing the teachings in your daily life? You do it moment-by-moment as things face you. Like it said in the 23rd Psalm, if something is facing you that seems overwhelming, that is when you practice the presence of God. You practice it by knowing that you are not alone, by knowing that there is a power working with you that can help you get to the other side.
“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” You would not like it if I were a preacher who stood up here and said, “You negative people, you will never be able to redeem yourselves; you will never be able to come in contact with God.” You would not like that at all, and I would not like to do that.
An assuredness of faith.
I am here to tell you of your possibilities. I am here to tell you that you are more than human, more than flesh and blood. I am here to tell you that no matter what you have faced in your life, you can overcome. You are not locked into the past. The past does not put you in jail. Today is a new day. Because God is with you, working in your human mind, you can walk beside the still waters. That means you have calmness and serenity inside of you. You can have an assuredness of faith that you can walk forward. You can succeed in ways you have not succeeded before.
Jesus goes on to say, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their [robes] broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.”
This is teaching humbleness. It is teaching that the human is not the important part. The important part is the shining glory of the Christ you can have as you surrender to that. What Jesus is saying here is that they are teaching people to surrender, not to God but to them. That is the wrong way to surrender.
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” The third part is we all have equal access to God. This is exactly what he’s saying here. He is saying that we are students of a great creative activity of God. It is a soul school where we are all enrolled, whether we want to be or not. Even if we resist it, we are enrolled in it. The more we surrender, the more we can accept its blessings.
So, in Jesus’ teachings we have to:
1. Practice the presence.
2. Be willing to practice and do the work.
An assuredness of faith
3. We all have equal access to God.
4. We’re all students of Christianity with one teacher – God.
This says that each one of us has direct access and communication with this God.
You, sitting here this morning, have as much access as I have. I am not special. The only thing that makes us different is that I am here standing on this stage giving the lesson. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what happens later on this week with you in your life. Will you be loving on Monday? Will you be at peace on Tuesday when you have to face whatever it may be? That’s the key – to know that you are not stripped defenseless as a human being. You have a love and a power that is directly with you, and that will never leave you alone.
“Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” This is talking about the grand instructor. Do not look to any man or woman to be your final authority in life. Whatever you hear, take the things you can accept, and then go and test them for yourself. Go to God directly and ask, “Is this right for me?” Then you’ll have the flood of information that comes to you directly and you will know without a doubt what is right or wrong for you. You’ll know, and it will become very real to you.
Be a Servant.
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” The greatest among you will not be exalted, but will be on his or her knees to serve you, to give to you. The ultimate service to humankind is not to wait on you hand and foot with material things and doing things like bringing you glasses of water. It is to be your servant in love. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to love you, even if you don’t love me. That is the ultimate way to serve humankind.
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” This does not necessarily mean that if you exalt YOURSELF that the hand of God is going to come and strike you down and leave you lying on the floor of the sanctuary. It doesn’t mean that at all. It means as you go by your own way of your own mind, you will cut yourself off from the awareness of God.
You will find, in time, that your own ways are not really the ways that bring you happiness, and you’ll question: “Isn’t there more to life? Is there something here I’m missing?” At that point, if you let the Mind of God in, you’ll find the flood of realization. God will not say to you, “Tsk, tsk, tsk … you were so bad, you went the wrong way you miserable person.” If you hear that, that is your own mind. God mind will say, “I love you without question. I so adore you for who you are and the possibility of what you’re going to become.” It’s going to cuddle you and hold you tight, and begin to flood you with the way you, personally, need to go. It won’t be a generic message, but a very personal spiritual message for you, working in you.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
The word “hell” as in most places in our Bible means Gehenna which literally was the trash dump outside of Jerusalem. There were fires burning there for over 800 years. This is where the reference to hell as the eternal hell fires comes from in the teaching of Christianity today across the whole world.
What it’s saying is that I am not to stand here as someone who is giving you the message of your unimportance and tell you about the trash dump of life. I’m not here to tell you about the pits of life; I’m here to tell you about the goodness of life, the goodness of God and the potential of every one of you. And you are to tell yourselves the same thing.
What is a scribe? A scribe is a person who takes down every word with exactness with his or her quill pen. It is the person who gets all his or her wisdom from the page, but doesn’t necessarily live it, even for a moment; doesn’t even necessarily understand it for a moment. This could also be a scribe thought inside of you.
There are more Pharisees today than in the time of Jesus, the crystallization in the realm of forms is found on every side. A Pharisee observes the forms but neglects the spirit of religion.”
A wonderful story is about the people who were going down the Nile River. One day there was one man who said, “Oh, I don’t need to go down the Nile. All I really have to do is study the maps.” He became a great scholar. Do you know he knew every rock that was on the bottom of the river? The depth and width of the river at given areas? He was an expert like no one had ever been. As a matter of fact, he spoke all around the world as the premiere expert on the Nile. Yet, he had never been there. Crowds would come to hear him talk about the maps of the river Nile, and yet he had never felt its water on his face. He had never fallen out of the boat to feel the temperature of the water.
Religion is not a Sunday morning experience. It is an every day, every moment experience. Religion is not something that tears you down, but something that builds you up. Religion is not something that lacks love, but fills you with love every moment of your life. It helps you to know that you have a power within you that loves you so deeply and so specially.
In Matthew 12:16 it says, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.” This is talking about things like when you have to sign a card of commitment to a certain religion to give a certain amount of your income. They have this today and they had it back then.
The word “religion” literally means “way of life.” Religion is not a Sunday morning experience for one hour, it is a lifelong spiritual journey lived one moment, one day at a time.
Jesus says to the scribes and the Pharisees, “You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
Jesus believed in giving to the church, it is something we should all do, but not in place of living the spiritual teachings. Many gave offerings in the history of religion to buy their way into grace and heaven.
The way to grace and heaven is found through living the spiritual teachings in our daily lives.
What does that mean, to strain out a gnat but swallow a camel? It means you look outside of yourself for something wrong. It is like a gnat. But we swallow the camel of thinking inside of us of all the bad, usually about ourselves.
We can follow all the ways of Jesus’ religion, follow the way He walked, but how are we thinking this moment? Or on Tuesday evening, how are we thinking about ourselves? Are we thinking about ourselves as God would be thinking about us? Are we believing in our possibilities? Do we know, with our faith and with God, that everything is going to work out okay? Do we know we are going to be healed? Do we know that if we speak the word in acceptance of faith, that God will work inside of us, no ifs ands or buts? It’s our God, and God is one with us.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.”
Imagine you’re a cup. Where is the outside of your cup? Well, this morning we took showers, brushed our teeth, put on our clothes and combed our hair, but it is more important to clean the inside of us first. It is more important to think aright, to cleanse ourselves of all the self-condemnation, anger, and hate; to forgive, and to have God infill us again.
He goes on and becomes tougher. He says to the scribes and Pharisees, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.
So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Inside of each one of us is where the church is. That is where the cathedral is. Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning, Thursday afternoon are the times of worship. We are to live our Christianity and make it fully alive, not in a show to others, but to reveal what is in our soul.
You have trillions of cells in your physical body temple listening to your thoughts right now. You have a career ahead of you where you can produce spiritually for yourself and for others. You have relationships where you can shine love like you never believed you could. All you have to do is humble yourself and let God shine through, realize you have that connection and connect yourself, and plug yourself in to make it all alive.
Jesus’ own religion was a system of true spiritual thought inside of Himself. It was not to exalt himself. Over and over again He said, “Don’t look to me; look to God.” We know it is not to exalt any preacher. It is to exalt those holy moments, those quiet moments beside the still stream when we again find the mystery connection, the secret voice, the magic of God in us. And I know you will.
Let us pray …
This morning I ask for the beginning of a new connection. I ask for a beginning of a whole new spiritual awareness that is higher than anything I have ever experienced. I pray that our minds and our lives open up in a way that we can be infilled so we totally and completely clean the inside of the cup.
Dear God, we surrender ourselves to you. God, infill us.
Dear God, move through every action we take. Dear God, speak through
every word we speak. God, think through every thought we have
inside us. We give ourselves totally and completely to the activity of the
Holy Spirit in and through us.
In Jesus Christ’s nature we pray … Amen.
PRAYER / MEDITATION__________________________________
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”[Psalm 23:1-6]
The Lord is the one who leads me at all times. Like a shepherd, dear God, You lead me away from harm. As I think Your thoughts, I am led away from all harm I might do to myself. I am constantly in Your protection. I am surrounded with Your all good. I am infilled with Your love. Dear God, I do not want for anything, for You give it freely to me now in this moment.
Rest in the silence in prayer …
You take me away from the pressures of my own life, and you make me lie down in green pastures. You take me away from the nervousness to the calm. You take me away from that which is turbulent inside of me and You lead me beside the still waters where I relax at the core of my being.
You restore my soul. You restore me to full vitality and energy, full capability with creativity, and full, wonderful rejuvenation in my body temple.
Rest in the silence in prayer …
You lead me in the right paths. So many times of myself I have made my ways a tangled mess. But, dear God, once again I turn to You and once again I feel the power and the majesty of going in the right direction.
I do everything for Your name’s sake. In Your nature I live my life. I live my life to be an example of what it is to have God flowing through me. I am an example to myself first, for the way I think ministers to my entire body. All the cells of my body are my congregation, and my mind a great minister who gives the lesson of truth. No matter what I face with my senses – my eyes, my hearing – even if I walk through the darkest valley I’ve faced in life; I fear no evil because, dear God, You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, all the power of Your mightiness, all the wonderful power of Your wisdom, You are with me to comfort me.
Rest in the silence in prayer …
Even in the darkness moments, God you are within me to prepare a table for me, a feast of correct, wonderful, soothing thoughts and new life to flow inside of my body. Even in the presence of my enemies of sickness or thoughts that would destroy my life, my career, my relationships, I turn to You and I am infilled, once again, with that love, that power, and that mercy.
You anoint my head and everything that is in my head – my mind and my thoughts – with the wonderful oil of a spiritual feeling of tranquility and warmth. The cup of my own spiritual awareness overflows to touch others.
Rest in the silence in prayer …
Surely goodness follows me wherever I go because You are only good and You are with me at all moments. Mercy is part of You, and because You are part of me; it is part of me. It follows me all the days of my life.
How grateful I am during this prayer that I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord every moment of my life – my whole life long.
In Jesus Christ’s name … Amen
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GOD BLESS YOU, HAPPY EASTER!
Christopher Ian Chenoweth