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James Merritt - Cutting In

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    James Merritt - Cutting In
TOPICS: Seeing Red

So, I want to be transparent today. In one of my former churches had a deacon, and from the time I became the pastor of that church, he disliked me. I knew it the moment I met him. In fact, his wife was on the pastor search committee that called me. And the first time we met, and I won't tell you why, but it was obvious through some things he said, I told Theresa, I said, "This guy don't like me. I don't know why, but he doesn't like me". It was obvious. And became very obvious because from the time I became the pastor of that church, I was there for almost two years, a little over two years, he was critical of every single thing I did and made a point to let me know. It didn't matter what I did, any new idea was a bad idea. Any action I took, we've never done it that way before.

Now, the interesting thing is, in the two years I pastored that church, our congregation had an incredible impact. People were saved every single week. We went through a season of time when people were being saved at Wednesday night prayer meeting. If you remember what a Wednesday prayer was, we had people saved on Wednesday night prayer meeting. We were the fastest growing church in town. We broke the record for the most baptisms in the state of Mississippi, two years in a row. I think, God was moving in an unbelievable way, but it didn't matter what happened. It didn't matter how much we celebrated every changed life. Nothing seemed to please this guy.

So, it all came to a head on a deacons meeting. We were having Sunday afternoon, it was actually the Sunday before Christmas. And everybody's in a festive mood. And we were going out to the shut-ins at our church that couldn't come to church and we were gonna serve the Lord's Supper. Where we were sitting in a room, there were about, I guess, about 25 deacons in the room. We're sitting in this square room and he's sitting across the room from me. And just out of the blue, I don't even remember what the issue was about, but he was just kind of minor nitpicking things. And I mean, he lit into me. I mean, he lit into me. He let me have it with everything that he had for probably four minutes. Man, I can't remember all of it, but I'm telling you, he had had enough of me.

Well, I grew angry with every word he said. I'm just being very transparent. And when he got through, you could tell every other deacon in the room was looking for the door. They just wanted to get out of the room. And so, there was an awkward silence and everybody's kind of looking forward. Nobody knew what to say. And I got up and I walked over to him, and I got right in front of him. And with all the love I could muster, which wasn't a lot, I said, "Jim, I've had it with you". I said, "All you've done since I've been here is gripe, criticize and complain. It doesn't matter to you that people were being saved. It doesn't matter to you that the word of God is being preached. It doesn't matter to you that God is moving in a tremendous way". I said, "All you care about is your own agenda. All you care about is gripe and nitpick and complain and moan and groan and you pick apart everything we try to do".

So I said, "Let me just say this to you". And I said, "If you don't ever believe another word I say, I want you to leave what I'm about to tell you". And I bent down and I said, "If you ever say another word, another negative word to me while I'm pastor of this church, one of us is gonna be leaving this church and it's not going to be me. And there are plenty of other churches in town and I'll help you find one". We got along great after that, it kinda went, you know, everything kind of changed.

Now, you can say I was wrong in what I did. And I'm not sitting here and tell you it was the best moment I've ever had in ministry. But can we just be honest, you ever had a moment like that? Something like that ever happened to you? Can you ever remember a time when a person mistreated you or they mistreated a loved one and their behavior, finally you just had all you could take and there's something they said or something they did sparked anger in you It was like striking flint on kindling? So yeah, I've been there. Well, let me give you some good news. Something similar like that happened to Jesus, believe it or not. Yeah, Jesus. Something similar just like that. If you're joining us today, we're in a series called Seeing Red. What we're doing is studying those times in Jesus's life when yes, even Jesus got angry, when even Jesus got in somebody's face, when even Jesus got upset.

And there were several times. And today we're gonna look in the third chapter of the gospel of Mark. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the four gospels. In the third gospel, second gospel, the third chapter. We're gonna look at one of those things that, I mean, this what happened gave Jesus heartburn. I mean, it lit his fuse. It caused him to give his arch enemies, the Pharisees, a big stink eye. I'm just telling you, he was hot. And I particularly want those of us who, and this is some of us in the room, most of us, we're religious. We're are church going, you're here. We try to dot the religious I's. We try to cost the religious T's.

I want you to listen very carefully to this story, because what you're going to see today is a group of religious people who thought they were close to God. They thought they and God were just like that. But they weren't even in the same zip code. I read a story, I don't know if it's true or not. But I read a story about a member of a skydiving club. And he volunteered to videotape a jump. Well, he was the first one in the club to jump. And he turned the camera on everybody else and they were all floating together. And they finally, they joined hands to complete their free falling circle. And then he taped them one by one as they began to pull their ripcords, they began to float in the air. Well, suddenly the image blurs and the camera begins to swing wildly about because it was at that exact moment that the camera man realized he had forgotten his parachute.

So intent was he on preparing the camera and planning the filming. He had neglected the most important thing. In other words, on the outside, it looked like he was a member of the same club that everybody else was a member of, but he didn't have what they had, and it cost him his life. And that's kind of where these Pharisees were. And you don't wanna wind up like these Pharisees, and you don't wanna wind up thinking you're on the inside looking out when you're on the outside looking in. We're gonna learn today that there are three mistakes you better avoid if you're going to know God in the way you ought to know God. In which, some of us have been guilty of some of these time, including me.

So, get ready. Number one, don't ever prioritize religion over God. Don't ever prioritize religion over God. Now it's important to notice when and where this story took place. We're in Mark 3:1. Another time Jesus went into the synagogue and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Now, let me just set this story up. I love this story because I've been to Capernaum. This is in Capernaum, this was kind of Jesus' home away from home, kind of his headquarters in his ministry. We go there every year. Every time I go to Israel, we go there. And so, this is the synagogue that's in Capernaum. If you ever get to go to Israel, by the way, we actually go to a fourth century, the ruins of a fourth century synagogue that was built over the exact place where this synagogue stood. So, it's one of those unique places you get to go.

Well, here's Jesus in the synagogue. The reason why he's in the synagogue is because it was a Sabbath Day. And that's when observant Jews went to their church and attended ridge of services. So in other words, get the picture. Jesus is in the right place, he's there at the right time and he's there for the right reason, because it was God's day. So on God's day, he's in God's house to hear God's word and to worship God with God's people. And that's the way it ought to be, because God's day has to be a time of restoration, God's house is to be a place of rejuvenation, God's word is to be a message of regeneration. And that's exactly why the man with the withered hand was there. He was looking for hope, he was looking for help, he was looking for healing. Well, where else should you go when you need hope, where should you go when you need help? Where should you go when you need healing?

You ought to be in God's house on God's day with God's people believing you will find God. I pray that's why you're here today. I hope you didn't just come in out of guilt or just kind of checking off your religious box. I'm gonna assume the best of you. Hey, I did come to God's house on God's day to worship with God's people and to hear God's word. That's great, but some of the Pharisees, that's not why they came to church that day. Here's why they came. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, just like my deacon, buddy, Jim, always looking for a reason to criticize. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. So, they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

So, get the picture. They weren't there to find God. They were there to find fault. They were there to catch Jesus doing something they didn't like. They couldn't see God with a telescope, but they had Jesus under a microscope. By the way, in the Greek word, the word for watching indicates this is what they did all the time. Every time they got around Jesus, they didn't care what truth he was speaking. They didn't care for what he said could change their life. All they wanted to do is say, let's catch you doing something wrong. They were always looking for Jesus to mess up, to foul up, to make a mistake. And by the way, that's what modern day Pharisees do even now.

So, what do you mean, you ever heard the word legalism? I want you to understand something, there are legalist in churches today. It's one of the things that turned non-religious people off. Legalism is when you turn your personal preferences into divine principles. Or to put it another way, you judge people by whether or not they live up to your standards. Not God's, yours. You've got certain standards, you've got certain priorities, you've got certain things you think people ought to do, ought to say, the way they ought to dress, the way ought to look. So, that's the way we kind of judge people. So in other words, another way of putting it is, legalists put preferences above truth. They equate what they think with what God says. And what a legalist is, is this its when we put what we think people ought to do above and ahead what God says they ought to do or not do. I'm gonna give you a classic example.

The Bible clearly forbids drunkenness. Everybody agrees with that, right? Wrong to get drunk. The Bible clearly forbids drunkenness. However, the Bible does not require abstinence. It condemns drunkenness, it doesn't require abstinence. Now to be clear, those of you know me know this, I don't drink. I've never had a drink. I'm never gonna have a drink. And I believe I could build, if you want me to, a biblical case, a good case where I think it's probably better for Christians not to drink. However, let me make this very, very plain. I don't condemn people who drink. I don't judge people who drink. It doesn't bother me when people drink. I've got my best friends have wine cellars in their house and they drink.

Some of the best people we have in this church drink. I don't judge them, I don't condemn them. Some of my closest friends do it. And here's what I've learned. If I ever transform my personal individual preference into a divine principle, then I start trying to force others to live by my convictions. And this is what I become, I become a Pharisee. I become a legalist. I was raised by a dad, some of you may know, my dad was almost basically an alcoholic till he got saved when was 28 years old. So I grew up being taught the evils of alcohol and even alcohol can be a dangerous thing. No question about that. But I'll be honest, I used to call, you know, I was so Pharisaical that I'd walk in, if I saw somebody drinking a beer, I'd say, well, that guy needs to be saved.

If I saw a guy drinking a glass of wine, well, he must not be right with God. And God convicted me of that because I realize, wait a minute, James, you're condemning things the Bible doesn't condemn. You're going beyond what God says. So once you find, sure fire sign you're a legalist, listen, once you find your legalist is when you're always looking for what's wrong in someone else's life so you can judge them instead of looking for what's right in their life so you can encourage them. And I just made up my mind, I'm not going to be the kind of person in part A, I want to be the person in part B because if you do that, if you don't do that, then your hobby becomes nitpicking, your hobby becomes judging, your hobby becomes criticizing. And by the way, there's a flip top flip side to this.

Let me tell you something else. The way you can know if you're a legalist or the way you can know somebody else is a legalist, when you become a legalist, you always see the fault in others but you rarely see the fault in yourself. Your greatest spotting to stick in somebody's eye, but not the log in your own. So it doesn't matter whether you look down on people who drink or they don't wear a coat and a tie to church, or they have tattoos and nose rings, or they come to church in shorts and flip flops. Whenever you start judging people say, that's not right. That's wrong, it shouldn't be that way, you're wrong, you're not right with God. You just fell into a legalism trap just like those Pharisees.

Now here's the point I want you to understand, the problem the Pharisees had was not that Jesus was healing anybody, they'd have a problem with that. Their problem was, but you're doing it on the Sabbath. Well, why was that a problem? Now, listen, I've shared this before, I'll share it with you again. The Old Testament Sabbath law was very simple, The Bible's very plain, six days set aside for work on the seventh day, you rest. We all know that, but here's the problem. When you study the Old Testament, the Old Testament doesn't say a lot about what work is. So for example, is it okay to cut your grass on Sunday? Bible doesn't say. Is okay when you get home to church, you've been meaning to paint that kitchen walls, I it okay to paint your kitchen wall on Sunday? Bible doesn't say. Does it again, just says, you know, rest and work, rest at work.

So you work six days, you rest on the seventh day. Well, these religious leaders said, you know what? We're going to do what God didn't do. So they took it upon themselves to add an appendix to God's word. You might say they amended God's law. They said, okay, we're going to define what work is. So over the years they identified 39 different expressions of what they called work. So they managed to make what God intended to be a day of rest into a day of stress. And they placed so many rules and so many regulations and so many restrictions on this one, simple commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy". It actually became harder to rest on the Sabbath than it did the other days of the week. Because you were so afraid, am I doing something wrong? Am I doing something that I shouldn't be?

And by the way, that's what every other religion in the world does. Do you realize that? Jesus said this, you remember what Jesus said? He said, "come to me all you are here who are weary and burdened, and I will give you," say that word real loud, "rest". He said, if you will come to me, I'll give you rest. He did not say, if you come to me, I'll give you more rules. I'll give you more regulations. I'll give you more restrictions. I'll give you more religion. He said, no, no, no, no. If you come to me, I'll give you rest. Here's the difference between religion and Jesus. If you come to religion, here's what you'll get, do's and don'ts. Do this, don't do that. Do this, don't do that. You come to Jesus, he says, "I will give you rest". a great revivalist named Leonard Reverend Hill said this, this is so good. He said, "I'd rather have 10 people that want God then 10,000 people who want to play church".

I have to tell you as a pastor, I have to be honest. I'm not accusing anybody of anything. I'm just asking a question. Did you come this morning to find God or play church? Just I have to ask myself the same question. Legitimate question. You're watching online right now. Is it just, okay, you feel guilty if you don't, or you're really wanting to find God? Are you prioritizing religion over God? That's the first mistake. Here's the second mistake. Don't prioritize rules over goodness. Don't prioritize religion over God. Don't prioritize rules over goodness. Now Jesus knows the Pharisees are watching me, he's not dumb. They're watching every move.

So here's what he does, I love Jesus, Jesus is my man. I love the way he approaches things. He doesn't pussy foot around. He doesn't, you know, go around the mountain. He gets right to the point. Listen to what he does. So Jesus said to the man with a shriveled hand, stand up in front of everyone. Why did Jesus say that? He knew the disciples were watching and since he knew they were going to get onto him anyway, he says, okay, let me just make sure you don't miss what I'm about to do. I just, he was sticking it to them, I love Jesus. Stand up in front of everyone. Then Jesus asked them, brilliant move, he asked them, "which is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill".

But they remained silent. Jesus knows exactly what he's doing. You know what he's doing? He's actually going to the umpire before the game even starts, he says, okay, tell me what the rules are. I mean he's just brilliant. Hadn't played yet, before the first pitch is even thrown he asked the umpire for a ruling. And why did he do that? Because these umpires had a bunch of made up rules. The gospel actually records. You know how many times that Jesus healed on the Sabbath day? You know how many times he did it? Seven times, seven different Sabbath, Jesus healed. But evidently the reason why they got upset and the reason why they thought he was breaking the rules is because he did it on the Sabbath.

But here's the problem, Jesus was more interested in doing good that he was in following rules. And that's really what caused the problem between Jesus and these religious leaders, because that's exactly what they had done. They had taken the Old Testament. Here's what they did, they'd taken the Old Testament and they calculated, the Old Testament has 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions. If you go through the Old, and they're right. So in other words, you've got, they said, okay, if you're going to really be close to God, you got to perfectly keep every one of the 1,613 rules. Well, that's, that's hard enough, but they weren't satisfied. So to make sure they didn't break the rules, what do you think they did? They made up rules about the rules. Sound like good politicians, right? They made up rules about the rules.

So they came up with more than 1500 additions to these rules. And all of this oral tradition was gathered into what is known as called the Mishnah. If you've heard of the Mishnah, that's the book that is the rules about the rules. So you've got all these commandments in the Old Testament. This is the 1500 additions they gave, this is the appendix, this is the indent that they gave to the law. But that wasn't enough, they said, you know what? We want to make sure that we keep the rules about the rules. So then they made more rules about the rules to make sure you kept the rules. And they put that in a book called the Gemara because they want to make sure they didn't break any rules. So they put the Mishnah and the Gemara together and that's where they came up with a book called the Talmud.

So if you want to know what the Talmud is, that is a Jewish book that says, okay, you got all of these rules in the Old Testament. Here are the rules to make sure you're keeping those rules. And here are the rules are to make sure that you're keeping the rules about the rules that you cannot break. Well, 39 of those rules had to do with what you could do and you could not do on the Sabbath.

So let me give you some examples. You cannot walk in a straight line on the Sabbath day, more than 5.98 miles in any direction, if you are outside the city limit. But they didn't have GPS back in that day so how do you know when you walked 5.98 miles? And, but now, if you were within the city limit, you could walk all you wanted to in the city limit, but you go outside the city limit, can't walk more than 5.98 miles. Here's another rule, they said to properly follow the command to rest on the Sabbath and not work they decided we need to figure out how many steps you can take on the Sabbath before it becomes work.

So listen to this, they calculated that if you took more than 50 steps on the Sabbath that was work and it violated the law. Here's another one, you could eat on the Sabbath, but you couldn't cook. Here's another one, you could bandage a wounded person, but you couldn't apply medicine. Here's another one, if you are a woman, listen to this ladies, you could not look in the mirror. Why you might see a gray hair. If you saw a gray hair, you might be tempted to pluck it out and you just worked. I may not, listen this isn't, can I tell you my favorite one? This is my favorite one. You couldn't carry a load heavier than a dried fig.

Now think about a dried fig. They said you can't pick up anything heavier than a dried fig or you're working. But if it weighed half the amount of a dried fig, you could carry it twice. I'm not making this up. Now Jesus knew, here's a man with a withered hand. Okay, let's understand what's going on. Jesus knew that this man's life was not in danger. I mean his withered hand could have waited another day to be healed. So why did Jesus say I'm going to stick it right to you guys, I don't care what you think, I don't care what you say. stand up son, I'm about to change your life because Jesus said I don't care about rules. I just care about doing good. Because for Jesus, you never put rules over goodness. If you're a parent or a grandparent, that's a great lesson to teach your kids. That's a great lesson to teach your grandkids.

Let me put it in a legal way today in a more up-to-date way. You better teach your kids just because it's legal doesn't mean it's moral. So let me just make this plain abortion may be legal, it doesn't make it right. Period, end of discussion. No discussion. No, no, I get it, I'm not talking about the health of the mother and all that. I've told you before that the doctor almost had to abort me because my mother was about to die. And my doc, my father told him if it came down to me or my mom saved the mom, he was exactly right. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about in a general way. Just because it's legal, doesn't make it moral. Don't put rules over goodness. And I'll be honest with you, this is a principle I wish people follow more everyday.

Listen, there is never a wrong time to do the right thing no matter what rule might be broken. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing no matter what rule might be broken. Let me give you an example. Our church by necessity because of who we are, we're in, you know, we are incorporated. We have policies and we have procedures. But I want to just say something for the record. We never put policies above people. We never put procedures above people unless it's best for the people. It angers Jesus when you put rules over goodness. It angers Jesus when you've prioritized religion over God. And then here's the last thing don't make this mistake. Don't put rituals over grace. Don't put rituals over grace.

Now, Jesus is asking him a question. So is it lawful to do good or evil? Is it lawful to kill a man or give a man life? Which is lawful. He asked a good question and they either couldn't answer or they wouldn't answer. I think they wouldn't answer because they knew they couldn't answer. Because he knew deep down they already knew what the answer was. So I want you to notice his response, watch this. "He looked around at them in", what's that word? Say it real loud. Did Jesus get angry? He got angry, not a sin necessarily to get angry. Let's make that plain. He looked around them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts. That word distressed, by the way means indignant. Deeply distressed he said to the man, stretch out your hand. He stretched it out. I'd love to see that, would not have been cool. And the hand was completely restored.

So why did Jesus become angry with these religious leaders? Why? It all goes back to God's house and God's day and God's word and what God himself is all about. Let me do what God's about you and tell you in one word what God's all about, grace. That's what God's all about. He's all about grace. He's all about restoring those who have fallen, repairing that which is broken, refilling that which is empty. And what is so sad and what is so tragic is these religious leaders, listen, these religious leaders didn't care about this withered hand because they had such withered hearts. They didn't give any, they didn't care about that guy, all they could about was our rules, our laws, our amendments, our regulations.

See, they had certain rituals that you had to follow if you're going to be right with God. That you know, it didn't matter if you are right with God or not. You know, now in the 21st century, you say, well, we don't have rituals. Well, yeah, we do, we just changed the name. You know what we call it, we call it tradition. So we have tradition. Churches have tradition. Now, before I say what I'm about to say, I want to make something very plain. There is nothing wrong with tradition. I think some traditions are good. I think some traditions should never be broken. I think just as long as the tradition advances the gospel and doesn't hinder it, and as long as the tradition doesn't keep people from Jesus and as long as the tradition doesn't contradict the word of God, I think is great. But I'll tell you, I've learned the hard way in churches I've pastored, I've learned it.

I pastored some country churches and rural churches and I pastored smaller churches and I want to tell you something. I learned early on, I'm going to say this in a crude way. I got my rear end handed to me a couple of times. You know why? Cause I messed with a tradition and I didn't realize it was such a sacred tradition. And what I found out about people who are all enamored with tradition is when you talk to them and you ask them, do you even know why you have this tradition? They can't even tell you. I love the story of a lady who always cut the ends of her ham off before she cooked it. She'd go buy a ham and she could she'd cut both ends off and then she'd cook it.

Well, when someone would ask her, why do you always cut the ham, the ends of the ham off before you cook it? She would always say, well, that's what mom always did, was just what mom always did. So she got to thinking about it one day, she called her mom. And she's, mom, I want to ask you a question. She says, why don't you cut the ends off of your ham before you cook it? And she said, well, that's just what my mom did. Well, they said, well, why don't we call grandma and see why she did it. So they got on the phone with grandma. They said, grandma, just want to ask you a question. Why do you always cut the ends off your ham? She said cause that's the only way I can get it to fit in my pan.

Now let me give you a great example. Let me give you a great example. We worship, our later worship service is at 11 o'clock. Ever since I've gone to church. You know, you go to 11 o'clock service. That's the later service. I've heard of churches that just had civil war because the church went from 11 o'clock to 10:30. Or some have gone from 11 o'clock to 10:50. And people just get all upset about it. Some of you may know this, I bet most of you don't. Do you know why churches have services at 11 o'clock? How many of you know the answer to that question? Okay, very few. Do you know why churches have services 11 o'clock, I'm not making this up, you can go and study it for yourself. Because back in the days, farmers had to have time to milk their cows. So they couldn't go to church too early. So church has started a service at 11 o'clock.

So what am I saying? If you don't own a cow, you shouldn't worry about if it's 11 o'clock or not, what do you care? Doesn't matter. But I mean, there are some churches that think 11 o'clock is set in the United States constitution. So you've got this man withered hand needs to be healed. There's nothing in the text that says Jesus was obligated to heal the man. There's nothing in the text that says the man deserves to be healed. There was nothing in the text that Jesus was offered to pay, offered money to heal the man. This man just needed grace. And even though Jesus literally did not lift a hand to heal the hand, let's think about that. All the man did was stretch his head out. Jesus never did a thing, he just looked at him. But even though he did not heal, he didn't lift a hand to heal the hand because of their religion and because of their rules and because of their rituals and because of their restrictions and because of their sacred traditions, they didn't want grace to take place. So now we're going to get down to the brass text and finish.

Now you see the difference between, if you don't know this, those are you're watching right now, if you don't understand the difference between religion and Christianity, I'm about to give it to you. Religion is about what others want from you. Christianity is about what God wants for you. You can believe this or not. My primary goal for you is not what I can get out of you. It's what God can give to you. And you say, I know what I'm doing, because if God gives you what he needs to give you, we'll get from you what we need from you. But too many churches and pastor flip it. We're going to see this in a couple of weeks, because religion is all about rules and requirements and regulations and rituals and restrictions. Christianity is simply about a relationship with Jesus who's all about goodness and all about grace.

So Mark records this remarkable sentence that almost takes your breath away. Watch this, I mean this is unbelievable. Listen to this. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Are you ripping kidding me. That's the best you got? Jesus heals a withered hand and now you want to kill Jesus. Remember it's not what Jesus did that got them upset. It is when he did it. As a matter of fact, John, in his gospel records it this way. Listen to this, some of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God because he doesn't keep the Sabbath. You're not a man of God, you're up there preaching, you don't even have a tie on. You can't be a Christian, get that nose ring out of your nose. What are you coming to here with that purple hair and those flip flops, what do you even mean? This man is not from God, he doesn't keep the Sabbath. But others ask, how can a sinner perform such signs? So they were divided.

Let me ask you a question. Doesn't that just, doesn't that just make you fall in love with religion and rules and rituals and regulations and restrictions? I mean, here's what's so ironic. Let me get this straight, I'm talking to you, Mr. Pharisee. You can't heal on the Sabbath, but it's okay on the Sabbath to go out and hire a hitman. Is that the way it works? I mean, it's against the rules to heal a withered hand, but it's not against the rules to plot how to kill the man who healed the withered hand. You know what's amazing, when you put Jesus in his proper place, when you see Jesus with a proper perspective, here's what, I guarantee, you'll never do this. When you put Jesus where Jesus belongs and you see Jesus, the way you ought to see him, you will never let a major become a minor. And you'll never let a minor become a major. You always keep things in order.

So I want to close with this, I love this, true story. There was a British minister and he recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her Roman neighbor, her next door Roman neighbor, who was a pagan. Here's the conversation. The pagan neighbors said, "I hear you are religious. Religion is a good thing, where is your temple"? The Christian replied, "We don't have a temple. Jesus is our temple". The Roman said, "No temple? Where do your priests work and where do they do their rituals"? The Christian replied, "We don't have priest. Jesus is our priest".

The Roman said, "No priest? Then where do you offer your sacrifices so that your God will favor you"? The Christian replied, "We don't need a sacrifice. Jesus is our sacrifice. And it's because of what he's done for us, not what we do for him that we already have God's favor". The pagan neighbor finally sputtered, "What kind of religion is this"? To which the neighbor, the Christian said, "It is not a religion at all". So I want to say this to a lost world out there. I don't mean to be offensive, I don't mean to be unkind, I don't mean to sound arrogant. You keep your religion, you keep your rules, you keep your regulations, you keep your restrictions, you keep your rituals, just give me Jesus.

Would you pray with me right now with heads bowed, with eyes closed? I want to say just a quick word to those who are watching and those in this room right now. Let me ask you a question. I wonder how many of you listening to me right now have made that big mistake. You've got religion, but you don't have God. You keep the rules, but not a lot of goodness. You got all the restrictions and regulations now but no grace. I just want to share with you again, religion is not the way to Jesus. You'll never get to Jesus, you will never get to God by religion, by your rules, by your, you will never get there. The only bridge to God is Jesus and is paved with grace and goodness. And if today you would like to drop your religion and pick up a relationship.

If today you would like to get out of that legalistic mode you've been in and quit being the judge of the universe and realize that you too need a savior who died for your sins, who came back from the grave to deliver you from your rules and regulations and restrictions and religion and all of that stuff that means nothing. Then would you just tell him this right now? Would you just say something like this, dear God, I now realize my rule keeping, my religion, all my goodness means nothing. I need your grace. I don't have a withered hand, I do have a withered heart. Lord Jesus, believing you died for me and believing that you came back from the grave right now I want you to come into my heart, I want you to restore me, I want you to heal me spiritually, I want you to save me, forgive me of my sins. I receive your gift of eternal life. I'll repent and turn away from everything I've ever tried, except you Lord Jesus. And today I give you my life.
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