Lost My Religion Manuscript

TEXT:  Acts 10:24-48

 

With the onset of summer and all the re-runs, we have in a good way stopped watching TV much at all. Oh, the occasional sporting event or newscast, but for the most part nothing else.  But in the last week, I have been smitten by a couple of shows on the Discovery Channel.  One is the show “man versus wild”.  I thought at first it was a take-off of “The Nanny”, that show about parenting.  I just imagined a dad sitting in the living room that was burned down, or a kitchen full of food, on the floor.  Do you get the image?  I was scared that it might be  a Michael Moore documentary of my home life…”man versus wild.

 

The other show is called “Myth Busters” where  Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage who combine science, special effects and technology to determine if the myth is actually true or an old wives tale handed down for years without merit.  This past Wednesday evening, Jamie and Adam helped me out quite a bit.  My wife Susan and I had a rather pleasant discussion about cell-phone use while pumping gas.  She was under the impression that it was against the law, or at least a bad idea because cell-phones could cause a spark which might ignite the station.  I, of course, have never seen a cell-phone on fire, nor a gas station explode.  Have you?  I didn’t think so.

 

These urban legends, or myths, or old wives tales (ever wonder why there not called old husbands tales, or high school boys tales, or…you get the point?) are fascinating to me.  We order our lives around them in many ways.  Take the cell-phone one I just mentioned.  Or what about these:

 

  1. Chewing gum takes 7 years to pass through your body.
  2. Those who go swimming less than 1 hour after eating will cramp up and drown.
  3. Hair grows back darker and/or thicker after it has been shaved.
  4. A good way to remove an embedded tick is to swab it with liquid soap.
  5. Gender of a child can in-utero can be detected by heart rate, or the Mother’s indigestion, or the

 

Us religious types are not immune to this.  Do you know what the most quoted scripture is?  “God helps those who help themselves?”  Do you know where it is in the Bible?  Good.  But it is a quote from Ben Franklin and not in the Bible.  My Mother, for years, tried to tell my brother and I that, “cleanliness is next to godliness.”  I learned in seminary that this is not in the Bible.  Years of guilt just melted away!

 

Religion, in its simplest sense is a set of common beliefs and practices, both corporate and personal, generally held by a group of people.  It is those things we hold out as truths that we center our words, deeds, and very lives around.  And it is these beliefs that dictate who we are and what we as a people and individuals are becoming.  Everyone, even athiests are religious.  We all have a set of beliefs that we hold as truth.  Some are very helpful  to our lives, some are holding us back from God.

 

There are many I struggle with and am sure you do to?  I grew up in a highly segregated town.  My words, actions and thoughts were not what they needed to be in terms of racial issues.  It wasn’t until after college that God showed me the err of my ways and I have been working toward righting many wrongs ever since.  Upon coming  to the United Methodist Church, I did not think that women should be in a pastoral role of ministry. It is through God’s grace that I have come to understand how wrong I was.  Maybe it is not a major social issue for you, perhaps it is not wanting to look silly in public.  Or your belief that success is defined by education, wealth, and prestige.  Or the belief that your past wrongs will never be let go of and that they invalidate any good you can do in the future.  Those are just a few of my “beliefs” that I have am constantly working on.

 

Both of the figures in our passage this morning carried with them “expectations”  and a set of beliefs that could have impacted their actions.  Remember Peter, the first thing he does upon entering Cornelius’ house is to proclaim, “I shouldn’t be here.”  That is what I call some serious baggage.

 

Peter had a religion, a set of beliefs, that were central to his life and more importantly his salvation.  The purity standards for the nation of Israel were not just good things to do, they were imperative.  And it is in this context that Peter 

 

Cornelius, a roman soldier in the Italian regiment, also was part of a culture that dictated much of his actions and thinking. His co-horts in the roman military were not inclined to be nice to Jews, give to the poor, much less pray to God.  He was definitely part of a society hostile toward the God of Jacob and Jesus his son.

 

Both of these men were willing to set aside what their religion, set of beliefs,  and move toward what God wanted from them.  Peter had so much to lose by becoming “unclean” as he met with the Gentiles of this story.  And Cornelius was breaking from his culture as well when he was kind to the Jews and gave to the poor and prayed to God.

 

Jesus understood the temptation we would have to conform to our personal belief system.  He also knew that it would drag  us away from God.  In Mark chapter 8 verse 34 Jesus says,

 

NLT Mark 8:34 Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. 36 And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul(1 )in the process? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

 

We sit here this morning with God wanting to use us.  That is a given based on Scripture.  Many times it is our belief system, our religion, that prevents us from being used.  I wonder if Jesus’ words were ringing in Peter’s ear about losing one’s life in order to gain God’s kingdom?  For both Peter and Cornelius had much to lose.  Peter, a way of life and  a people.  For Cornelius, a livelihood, power, and prestige.  We know that they made the right decision by losing their religion, but what about us?

 

So, how do we know what to let go of?  How do we tell the difference between what is our “set of beliefs” and what is “God’s ordained will to follow?” How can we get to the place where our religion is made up of truth from God and not self-delusional facts that we hold in order to satisfy ourselves and those around us?  I am not sure I fully know.  How is that for an answer!  Let’s wrestle with this question for a minute.

 

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God  says to King Solomon upon completion of the Temple that,

 

 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

 

Remember Peter and Cornelius?  The place they started “losing their religion” is through their humility.    Both were not too proud as to not understand how empty their former belief system was compared to what God was offering.  They were willing to be teachable, and open to what God might be doing in their lives.  It is through our humility that we are able to see our true lives and ascertain what we may be carrying around with us that is carrying us away from God.

 

Jan Johnson, a noted author and lecturer on prayer, says that as we sit down and pray we should acknowledge all the hats we are wearing to our time with God.  There’s that “pleaser” hat, and perfectionist hat, and materialistic hat, and lack of self-esteem hat.  Identify them so that we can begin to discern if the voice is God we are hearing or if it is our own. 

 

Humility  allows us to see ourselves as incomplete and therefore opens the door for God to work.  It is humility that softens our hearts  so that we can hear from God.  And it is hearing from God that changes us, not our will.

 

Think about Peter and Cornelius for a moment.  Where did they first come to realize that God was calling them to do something?  How did they do their waiting?  It was in prayer.  We cannot expect to hear a word from God.  We cannot expect to be able to discern what in our life is holding us back from God’s pleasure unless we listen.  Peter did, and God spoke to him and led him to understand th
at because of what Christ had done on the Cross, the Jewish system of salvation via purity laws were null and void.  Major change.  Major message.  Major hearing.  Same way with Cornelius, he was in a time of prayer and God sent an angel to give instructions to send for Peter who would bring the Gospel Message.

 

I have to be honest with you this morning.  I am in a bit of a dry and dusty land in terms of prayer.  I sit down to pray and my mind wanders, the phone rings, I get email.  It just seems that I am way off track.  Now, I know that God knows my needs, he understands my hurts, and is there for me.  I don’t worry about that.  But what I do get concerned about is MY MISSING God’s instruction for me.  He may know what I need, but I don’t know what He wants.  I don’t want to go off on some tangent that I think is God’s will when God really has something very different in mind if I will just listen.

 

Along with prayer, Scripture is another important way God speaks to us.  The Bible is not so much an instruction book as it is a love story.  But it does in place hold great themes of instruction.  Take James 3:17 for instance.  You want to know what God’s wisdom looks like?  Ever need to discern if the answer you receive came from your wants or from God’s heart.  Hear these words,

 

” But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere.”

 

James gives us almost a check-list to work from.  Think about the list in context with Peter and Cornelius.  Was it pure?  Was it full of good works?  Was it peaceable?  Was it willing to yield to others?  Yes, Yes and Yes.  I believe that Scripture is God’s primary vehicle of speaking to us.  As 2 Timothy 3:17 says,

 

NLT 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17 It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

 

We cannot hope to understand God’s will for our lives without studying God’s word for our lives.  If we want to discern what in our life is false beliefs, I know no better way to start than to become immersed in Scripture.

 

Peter and Cornelius lost their religion alright.  And in its place, gained God’s favor.  I’d say that is a pretty good trade-off.  The same can be said for you and me today.  What things are you wrestling with in your life?  What is holding control over you?  Expectations of others?  Need for control?  A past failure that you think invalidates any future good?  Or maybe a life choice in terms of job or school or family matters?  Are we attempting to gain the whole world, and in the end losing our life?  I echo Jesus’ words by saying, what benefit is that?

 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

 

 

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