Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, 7/29/07.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:4-5).
Known as the "Shema Yisrael," "Hear, [O] Israel" are the first two words of a section of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) that is used as a centerpiece of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services and closely echoes the monotheistic message of Judaism. It is considered the most important prayer in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation is a mitzvah (religious commandment). Its main content is loving the one God with all one's heart, soul and might, and the rewards that come with this." End Quote. (See link at end for Jewish Virtual Library). Under Law, the Shema served as a bedrock upon which all other commandments rested. When the lawyer came to test Jesus, he asked, "Which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus told him to love the Lord with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, concluding, "On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:35-40). With great reverence and respect, I suggest to you that the effects of trying to keep this commandment in your own strength can result in religious addiction.
Think about it this way. How do you manage to love the Lord your God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength"? Perhaps the verse itself holds the clue, because remember, Jesus said this verse was the foundation of the LAW and the prophets. Under Law, a person had to rely on his own strength, without the Holy Spirit's help. The Spirit only came upon special people for special tasks, like building the Tabernacle, and upon the prophets, who often left their plows in the field to go deliver a message the Lord had put on their heart to say.
Again, with all due respect and reverence, it comes to me that the Law was God's final word about the futility of trying to live by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate the "poisoned fruit," by God's design, they plunged mankind into an endless struggle, fraught with heartache, anxiety, and failure after failure. From Adam to Moses, man lived by his best intentions to avoid the wrath of God. I can imagine how horrible it must have been to live that way, knowing that it all depended upon my efforts, and the reason I can, is because this is what all religions still bind upon their followers.
In the fulness of time, God raised up Moses, the greatest prophet before Jesus, to bring the children of Israel hope. IF they could keep the Law, they would be blessed in every area of their lives; if they could not, they would suffer horribly as would their children and grandchildren. As I've said so many times, the purpose of that was to show them (and us) that no one can keep the Law. Adam only had one Law, "Do not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." His failure to keep even one rule, plunged us all into the death realm! The Law of Moses contains 613 Laws, and failure to keep quite a number of them resulted in death. That didn't stop the law breakers then and the death penalty doesn't stop law breakers today. Law just does NOT work on the fallen human nature. Only Christ dwelling within can bring us through to victory.
John Gavazzoni was the pastor of the congregation where I worshipped in 1978-1980. One Sunday morning, he remarked, "Some of you have come today to get your 'fix,' which you hope will last until next week." The lights went on, and I realized he was talking about an addiction to religion. Since then, I have had opportunity to learn about a great many addictions, and certainly religion qualifies as a powerful one. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, allegedly said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." He was right. Like cocaine and gambling, religion causes the addict to experience a great high, followed by a hugh "low" or depression, followed immediately by guilt, resulting in the addict needing another "fix."
Some addictions are not easily recognized. Codependency is one of these, and in fact, is an addiction sanctioned usually by the church. Because codependency compels one to rescue people, and behave like a "human doing," rather than a human being, it draws praise from people observing it. Here's the litmus test: did the Lord authorize the activity? If so, do it with thanksgiving to him. He will provide the means to do whatever He has called you to do. If it is more of a "knee jerk" compulsion that you just can't stop yourself from doing, step away from it and ask Him if your behavior is just a codependent reaction to a situation where you've been programmed to respond.
Sometimes older children are "trained" to help the younger ones. That can be a helpful exercise in teaching them to be responsible and caring towards others. Carried too far, it can result in a lifetime of thinking that when anyone has a need, you have to meet it. Many people take Jesus' words to mean exactly that. When he was comparing the Law which said "an eye for an eye," to the new life in the Spirit He was bringing them, He said, "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you" (Matt. 5:39-42). From these verses, many think that we must give everything we have to anyone who asks. I suggest that Jesus was raising the bar on what pleases God and showing how shallow the religion of the Pharisees actually was. They gave and did good deeds to be seen of men, not from the abundance of love in their hearts.
To these "whited sepulchers," He advised, "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:1-4). Churches are full of wonderful, giving members, who sacrifice much to help others. I think that's great, IF they are being led of the Lord. If they are doing it because of a religious compulsion, or to be seen of men, then they have had their reward in the praise of others.
Jesus balanced all this giving and doing for others with the admonition, "Love your neighbor as yourself," which He said was the second great commandment, after loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength (Mark 12:29-31). In their rush for righteousness by the strength of their own right arm, many have forgotten that the basis, the foundation of loving your neighbor is loving yourself. If you don't love yourself and take care of yourself, you have nothing to give anyone else. Jesus Himself, took time out to go to the mountain top and pray. He was NOT taking His "prayer list" up there to try to persuade God to do something. Rather, He was going to fill Himself up with His Father's unconditional love, which flowed out to all He encountered.
I know people who exhaust themselves in taking care of everyone they think needs help. What's wrong with that? Well, for starters, God sends everything to us that happens in our lives. Lenny and I have had many instances when we've been in the "divine combine," and the result of that was sometimes a course correction, and seeing His glory revealed in the situation. Had we been rescued before the suffering did it's work, we wouldn't have reaped the benefit.
Think of our trials as childbirth. Most women experience great pain getting a child birthed into this world. In the context of telling His disciples that His impending departure would result in the Spirit coming to lead them into all truth (John 16:5-7), Jesus reassured them that their mourning over His death would turn to dancing, and their sorrow into great joy: "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:20-24). It is imperative to ask the Lord before helping anyone. Only He knows if the person needs a witness of grace, OR if he needs to walk through the fire to get the blessing God has for him on the other side of it.
Regarding the need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor, the Spirit put a Psalm in my path today. David said, "I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells" (Ps. 26:8). He was no doubt referring to the Tabernacle, the place where God's altar was located, but it hit me forcefully that since God no longer dwells in buildings made with hands, but in the hearts of His children, the "house" where we love the Lord is within ourselves. This does not mean that we are to be conceited and glorify ourselves, but to realize that we are "living stones... built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 2:25).
What kind of spiritual sacrifices would God require, do you think? About that, Jesus quoted Hosea: "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13). Hosea was a "minor prophet" who brought God's warnings against Israel shortly before the Northern Kingdom fell into Assyrian captivity. I found this passage very telling: "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence" (Hos. 6:1-2). Notice that even though Hosea identified Assyria as Israel's conqueror (Hos. 10:6), like all the other prophets, he revealed that the Lord was the one doing the wounding, and also the one who would bind up their wounds.
Jesus' statement about what God desires is fleshed out by another minor prophet, Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah. Speaking through Micah, the Lord asked the people what kind of offering they should bring Him: "With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6-8). Paul added, "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (I Cor. 13:3). Paul, Hosea, Micah and Jesus have effectively poked a hole in the religious addict's rationale: "I have to do something for the Lord." It's the compulsive doing, even though the deeds be good, that stands in the way of hearing what God has to say to us. Lenny told me of the time when he had many jobs in the church he attended. One day, God spoke to him and said, "You are so busy doing things for me, that you have no time for me. I want you to quit all the jobs and come into my presence." He did that, but you can imagine how he was ridiculed and criticized by the members of that congregation who thought for sure he was backslidden.
This is another problem that characterizes religious addiction: "What will the church think if I stop doing my good deeds?" Many of us walking through the kingdom today have had the experience of being judged and condemned because we no longer live by the rules of the organization. Part of growing up into "fathers of the faith" is the very difficult lesson of learning to listen to the voice of the Spirit, not the voice of man. God is patient and merciful, but He will not be denied the right to totally control the process of our maturation in Spirit.
To sum this up, there were two trees in the garden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (self effort) and the tree of Life (God Himself). There are still two trees available to us, and our admonition is the same as Adam's. Trying to live on the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brings death. And by the way, not only Christianity, but Buddhism, Hinduism and all New Age practitioners are feeding off the fruit of this tree to the degree that they promote self effort. If any of us could be what we are supposed to be, Christ would not have had to come and die. We could have thought our way, visualized our way, dreamed our way, confessed our way, or chanted our way to nirvana.
Paul told the Corinthians "But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged" (I Cor. 11:31). How do we judge ourselves? By following the Spirit's leading. Did He call us to do or say or write something? If so, we do it with all our might, knowing that He will clear the path and provide what we need to finish whatever He assigned us. If not, it is self effort, rather than Spirit inspired.
Father, we seek to do Your will in all things. Thank You that whatever we are called upon to do or to give, You will do through us. Help us to say what we hear You saying and do what we see You doing. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be Continued......
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
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This page was uploaded to the web on 06/19/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 09/6/07.