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John Collins07/29/2013

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I believe that the Holy Bible is a rulebook.  It is a handbook that we can use through life to lead us and guide us into all Truth. 

But I do not believe that it is the same rulebook that you will find in religion today.  Human tradition has created religion, and that religion is far distant from the Church of the Living God.  So many today have long forgotten the Author.

I use the word "religion," because there is a vast difference between "religion" and Christianity.  The one of the very first things that Christ did when he came was point out this difference to the "holy" Pharisees.

God gave us His Word.  It is a gift.  One that was protected by God, all down through time, through the hands of many scribes and translators, separated through misguided translations but brought back together so that you and I can learn more about Him.  God WANTS us to have His Word, because He IS the Word.

John 1:1 says that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

That same Word that was the creator of the heavens and the earth is the same Word that led the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  That same Word that became flesh and was crucified for our sins is the same Word that promised to return for His Children.  It's the same Word that will one day return to sit on the Throne as our King.

But many times, we look for ways to improve what we read in that Book.  Religion, through tradition, has taken a basic set of rules and principals that God gave us as our guide, and changed them into something else entirely.  What they do not realize is that by doing so, they are greatly hurting themselves without any reward.

When Adam and Eve walked in the Garden, they had one simple rule.  Many have argued about what this rule was, trying to make the "tree" into some sort of sexual innuendo, but the rule was quite simple.  God simply told Adam and Eve, "Here is something I do not want you to do.  Do not do it." 

And it was for their own good.

Eve was deceived into breaking this rule.  Adam knowingly broke this rule.  Satan stood there in the Garden rejoicing, because he had tricked Eve into persuading Adam to disobey God.  This is where our trouble begins.

You see, before this, they knew no sin.  They lived fully under Grace.  Adam and Eve walked through the garden breaking the "rules" of religion today.  They were naked.  But they did not know what "naked" was.

When they both were given knowledge of good and evil, this presented a big problem.  Satan was right there, tempting them just as he did before with Eve.  But now, rather than living fully under Grace, they would have knowledge and understanding of right and wrong.  They had discernment.

This knowledge made them realize that they were naked.  I'm sure it must have felt strange to them, never having worried about showing their flesh before!  There were only two of them — was it wrong to look at each other's flesh? 

They had knowledge of good and evil, but they did not know how to apply this knowledge.  So rather than find out what God wanted them to do, they made a rule:  "Let's cover ourselves with these leaves!"

Notice that this is the very first rule ever made by man and not God.  And notice that this rule, though seemingly correct, did not please God.  God does not care about man's rules, He only cares about one thing:  What He desires for His people.  He had given them one simple rule, they broke it, and now the entire race was destined to fall.

Though it is very difficult to understand after years of tradition, God's rules are there to help us.  They are not there to punish us.  They are not there to set meaningless boundaries.  They are not intended to impose guidelines that do not have any bearing on our daily lives.  God gives us His rules to make our lives better.

Like so many traditions we follow, Cain followed a rule of God — but he twisted it into something else.  After learning about good and evil, a sacrifice was required.  That sacrifice was for their good; the blood of the animal was atonement for sin. 

Having knowledge of good and evil is a heavy weight.  For the "good," it is no problem, but for the "evil," there comes guilt.  And with guilt comes inward pain and internal suffering.  While it may seem silly to us in today's world, mankind needed a way to lift that pain and suffering from their sin.  God decided to let them exchange it for the blood of a lamb, lifting their weights from off of their shoulders.

But over time, those weights became heavier and heavier.  God loved mankind, but mankind did not love him.  God was very faithful to His children, sparing even the smallest number of pure hearts. 

While God was ready to cleanse the world of mankind and start over, Noah found favor in God's sight, having the love and kindness that God wants us to have.

The knowledge of good and evil is a two-sided coin.  While the entire world chose the evil side, Noah chose good.  Noah found Grace, that same Grace that was in the Garden in the very beginning, in the eyes of the Lord.  Because of this Grace, Noah's family was spared.  God is so faithful that the entire world may be stripped away from you, but if you are standing in His Grace, you will find His hand of protection covering you from all danger.

The problem is that even after God spared Noah and his small family, the fact still remained:  They had knowledge of good and evil.  Good brings righteousness, but the evil of curiosity and sinful desire brings destruction.

Mankind knew what was right.  It knew what was wrong.  But it still did not fully understand why the desire to sin continually caused them to fall. 

Like so many today, they felt like the blood of the sacrifice was not enough.  They wanted to take things into their own hands.  Man desires to be more like God, and therefore has a strong desire to save himself.

And they were no longer under Grace, as Adam and Eve were in the beginning.  Man was born into sin, given the choice between right and wrong, and continually bound by the weight of sin.  The blood was the only way to atone for that sin, and still they wanted to find a better way! 

They wanted rules.

Many pastors today won't tell you this, but when Moses returned from the mountain with the Law, there were only ten rules.  They were God's rules, and they were intended for the good of the people. 

They were broad in scope.  God wanted the people to interpret these rules for themselves — not imposed by authoritative pastors.  And Jesus tells us that all ten of these rules are summed up into two simple rules:

Love the Lord thy God with all of your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

It's very simple.  You don't need scribes and Pharisees pouring over the scripture, trying to determine how strictly or loosely we enforce those rules.  We don't need interpreters to gleam understanding through ancient text and try to see if a period or comma is possibly misplaced, leading to a completely different rule.  We don't need ancient archaeology to study the ancient culture and tell us how those words apply to Paul's day, or scholars to study ancient dialects to tell us how the grammatical rules apply.

You can make these choices for yourselves!  That is the way that God wants it to be!

The children of Israel were not satisfied with the Ten Commandments.  They were ten simple rules, all bound in Love, and open for their own interpretation.

If you love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, you will not put any other gods before Him.  You will not make a graven image of another god to bow down and serve it.  You will not take His name in vain.  He is your GOD.

If you love your neighbor, you will not make him work until he is bone-weary.  You will not make YOURSELF work until you are bone-weary.  You will take a day and rest from your labor.

You will love your mother and your father.  You will respect them if you love them as you love yourself.  You will not dishonor them.

You will not murder your brother if you love him.  He is your brother.

You will not sleep with another woman if you love your wife.  She is your wife.

You won't steal, or lie.  You would not want someone doing this to you.

If you love your neighbor, you won't make him feel guilty over the blessings God has given him.  You will not covet his possessions — they are his.

After God explained these Ten Commandments to Moses, the Covenant was confirmed.  Not the Covenant that would later be known as the Old Covenant or the Mosaic Law, but the very first covenant between God and man that was given to Moses.  Exodus 24 describes Moses confirming the Covenant with blood.

But when Moses returned up the Mountain to receive the stone tables, the people began forming religion.  The men and women melted their earrings and other jewelry, and broke the first two Commandments before Moses even descended from the Mountain!  They made a graven image and started bowing down to it!  Immediately after agreeing to the Covenant of God, they breached it!

The Mosaic Law was not the Ten Commandments written on stone and carried by Moses.  When Moses descended and saw the evil in the people, he smashed those stones into a thousand pieces!  They had broken the Law before the Law was even presented to them!

Exodus 34, along with the entire rest of the Old Testament, is a good example for us.  Sometimes when I read the Old Testament, I am amazed that God would use an entire generation of people as an example for us today.  It is awe-inspiring that God loves us SO much that He will write his Love Letter over centuries and centuries of time, giving us such a huge example of why we need Love instead of religion.

The Children of Israel had broken the first Covenant that God gave Moses.  So God gave them another.  And this one had exactly what they wanted:  rule after rule after rule.  So many rules that it filled an entire two more books!

Then, as an example of why we need God instead of religion, the entire race of Jews spent the next several hundred years breaking those rules! 

They were very harsh rules, far from the simple Law of Love that was in the first covenant.  Children were stoned for disobeying.  If you touched the wrong animal, you were abandoned and left in the wilderness.  If your genitals were injured, you could not enter the congregation. 

The original rules were simple.  Easy to follow.  Love God.  Love your brothers and sisters.  Live peacefully, and you will be blessed.

Jesus tried to explain this to the Scribes and Pharisees, but they were so bound by religion that they had forgotten about Love.  They had forgotten the reason for the Law. 

While they stood pointing fingers at those who broke the rules of their religion, Jesus showed them how they were breaking the original Ten Commandments — the very reason for those rules.

In Matthew 5, Jesus gave them example after example of how the people were breaking the Law of Love.  If you are angry, you are guilty of murder.  If you looked at a woman with a lustful eye, you were committing adultery in your heart.

But like today, the Pharisees could not understand what Christ was telling them.  They listened to his words, and searched their minds for the rules associated with these examples, and found none.  There was no rule against being angry.  There was no rule against lusting after a woman. 

They are examples of how we can justify ourselves by our "rules," while still being filled with evil of the heart.

Religion today will amplify these statements, gleaning new rules from the letters of text.  Like the Pharisees, they are focused on the rules more than they are focused on the reason those rules were given.  Sometimes, to the point of establishing rules that cause us to break the Law of Love.  They think that Christ was giving us more "rules," simply because they refuse to read that chapter in context of the chapters before and after.

Since the Pentecostal movement began in the United States, many new rules were added to religion.  Some rules were nothing more than custom, older custom, made by men who were unwilling to allow change.  Other rules were misinterpretations that the rest of the world was already starting to realize to be false.

We came into this world naked, without anything to show.  We die in much the same way, after our clothing rots from our decayed bodies.  God does not care about the things of the flesh, the things that we value and respect.  God does not care how we look, the outward appearance that is so bound by culture and custom.

Men in the Bible wore robes, what we would call dresses.  Woman wore breeches.  Men "girded up their loins," turning their robes into what we would call shorts.  Togas, kilts, and more were customs for days gone by, and we do not find a single instance in scripture where the Lord told Moses, "Thou shalt not let thine men wear kilts and expose their nether regions." 

When God was describing to Moses the correct way to build an altar, He told Moses that he absolutely HATED the flesh.  They were not to touch their tools to the stone.  If man-made tools touched the stones of the altar, God considered that alter to be profane.  And God considered those "dresses" that the men wore to be no more than nakedness.  Exodus 20:22 says, "And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it."

But we have become so focused on these rules, that we have trained ourselves to think that our God has the same mind of a human.  We think that the things we detest, God must also detest.  We think that the things we love, God must also love.  This is exactly BACKWARDS from the way it should be! 

The Things that God detests, we should detest!  The things that God loves, we should also love!

God detests false prophets.  Yet we have a large number of false prophets associated with the Pentecostal movement that are revered and respected.  God detests sorcery.  Yet we have Christians today — in religion — who live their lives by the numbers, the Zodiac, the Horoscopes, and more.  The very sorcery that men and women in the Bible were stoned for is completely overlooked by so many Christians today!

But while the Pentecostal movement ignored the things that broke the first two Commandments, they added several rules that had absolutely NOTHING to do with the rest of the Commandments.

Wearing a long dress does not make you love your neighbor.  Your neighbor will not love you because you wear a long dress — unless he is a little creepy and into that sort of thing. 

But it will make you look down on others who do not enjoy your choice in wardrobe.  You will fall into the sin of pride simply by the man-made rule that was based entirely upon custom.  And not custom of other nations, based entirely upon custom in the United States during the late 1800's and early 1900's.

If you love your sister in Northern Ukraine, you won't be giving her dresses.  It's too cold.  You'll be giving her the thickest, warmest pair of pants that you can possibly find for her.  She isn't from the United States.  She doesn't care about the custom of the United States.  She isn't concerned with the custom of women wearing breeches in the ancient world, how the men wore togas or robes in ancient Corinth, or even what the Children of Israel wore as they journeyed to the Promised Land.  All she cares about is surviving, and she won't be doing it by exposing her legs to the cold!

The length of your hair does not show love to your brother or sister.  I recently saw a group of women shave their heads for a poor little girl who was suffering with cancer.  She was crying because her hair was falling out due to the radiation, and was ashamed of how she looked.

Women banded together to show their support, and shaved their heads to show her that you CAN shave your head and still be beautiful.  They showed more of the Love of Christ than an entire church of women with hair to their bottoms that speak evil of those "other women" who cut their hair.

The problem is that when you start adding man-made-rules, those rules that have absolutely nothing to do with the Love of God or the Love of your fellow man, there is really no place to stop.  As rules are added, new rules must be added to support those rules.  It becomes a never-ending cycle, each rule placing a weight upon the shoulders of the person trapped into "religion."

Some have rules on facial hair.  Some have rules on musical instruments.  Some have rules on how much toe can be exposed through the ends of your shoes.  We laugh at some of these rules, but while laughing at our brothers and sisters who have invented their own man-made rules, we are bound by our own. 

At some point, now that these rules have gotten out of hand, we must ask ourselves:  Which rule is greater? 

The Bible DOES tell us to be modest.  So is the law about not showing the other brothers your "sexy toes" greater than the law that permits the "sexy knees"?  Is that law greater because it is more modest?

Until you realize that modesty has more to do with pride than with exposure of flesh, you will never understand these words of Jesus Christ:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'   All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

--Matthew 22