It's important to make sure what we practice does not deviate from what God wants us to do. Are we complacent? On autopilot? Or, do we justify what we do? A variation from what God expects is not the real thing. Scripture tells us, "Blessed are those who do My (God's) Commandments." It also tells us that we are a temple of God and that we are to be separate from the world and its standards.
These are the notes taken live during services as captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing. This is not a word for word transcript. For the exact wording, please consult the audio recording.
I’m very excited about the topic today. I have a question for you. It may seem simple. You may think you can answer it in a blink of an eye. Maybe it is time waster. Maybe it is already on your daily check list. Thank the trash man. Read a Proverb. The answer however is a very serious matter to God. The answer you provide is not one that God takes lightly. It could determine whether you receive an adoption certificate in the family of God. There are roughly….. Christianity – 2.1 Billion Islam – 1.5 Billion Secular/Non-religious/Agnostic/Atheist – 1.1 Billion Hinduism – 900 Million Chinese Traditional – 394 Million Those are the top five; others include… Buddhism – 376 Million Judaism – 19 Million Shinto – 4 Million (Japanese religion accounting for roughly 75 to 90% of the Japanese population). Rastafarianism – 800 Thousand (Bob Marley). Scientology – 500 Thousand. There are many variations of religion.
Religion “Christianity” has roughly 2.1 billion Christians, or approx 1/3 of the world population. There are many variations of Christianity which include: African Independent Churches (AICs), Amish, Anglicans, Assemblies of God; Baptists, Calvary Chapel, Catholics, Christian Science, the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), Coptic Christians, Eastern Orthodox churches, Ethiopian Orthodox, Evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, the Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventists, Shakers, Disciples of Christ; Churches of Christ; the International Church of Christ; the Unity Church, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Vineyard churches and others. These are some variations of what society has lumped under the Religion of “Christianity”. James 1:27 James 1:27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
American King James Version×There are indeed a lot of variations on just Christianity. The others have variations as well. Three things that are true religion to God – what it means to be truly religious: To serve others.
The Matthew 22 verses about the two great commandments. But it also includes fighting off the pulls of the world and the things going on in society. The big question for today is, “Is your religion God’s religion?” Is the religion we profess to live by the same as God’s religion? Or are we like the 2.1 billion “Christians” that practice some variations? It is important to follow God’s commands the way He wants us to follow them. Let’s be sure our religion is godly and not a variation. What is a variation? A variation is an activity that deviates from a norm or standard. So what is God’s norm or standard? If we know that, we can tell if we have deviated somewhere along the line. Let’s read some examples of people that did things a bit different than what God said to do. 2 Samuel 6:1-7 2 Samuel 6:1-7  Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
 And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwells between the cherubim.
 And they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.
 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark.
 And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on tambourines, and on cornets, and on cymbals.
 And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.
American King James Version×Vs. 2 – The Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Israelites. They have secured it, and are transporting it back to Jerusalem. Vs. 5 – This was a gigantic, beautiful, orchestrated procession. 30,000 men were praising God for allowing them to take the ark back to Jerusalem. Vs. 7 – What do you think about that? Uzzah was trying to do something good. The oxen stumbled; the ark could have been damaged. If you walk beside something that starts to fall, what do you do? Try to stabilize it. Why did God kill him? He was just trying to keep the ark from falling. We justify his actions. Let’s read how God said the ark should be transported.
Exodus 25:10-15 Exodus 25:10-15  And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.
 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and shall make on it a crown of gold round about.
 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it.
 And you shall make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
 And you shall put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them.
 The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.
American King James Version×Oh. Now we get a bit more of the picture. Now how do you feel about Uzzah’s death? David failed to remember this, or tried to improve on it. God gave specific instructions about how to carry the ark. But it is easy to make justifications. We imagine being there and thinking if we could put this on wheels, that is that many more guys that could praise God. If we don’t have to carry this heavy monstrosity that is overlaid with gold, more guys could praise God. They thought they could do it differently. Disobedience to God’s law brings death – eternal death. A very serious penalty. Let’s read another one. This is when the priestly ministry began. Leviticus 9:6-14 Leviticus 9:6-14  And Moses said, This is the thing which the LORD commanded that you should do: and the glory of the LORD shall appear to you.  And Moses said to Aaron, Go to the altar, and offer your sin offering, and your burnt offering, and make an atonement for yourself, and for the people: and offer the offering of the people, and make an atonement for them; as the LORD commanded.  Aaron therefore went to the altar, and slew the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.  And the sons of Aaron brought the blood to him: and he dipped his finger in the blood, and put it on the horns of the altar, and poured out the blood at the bottom of the altar:  But the fat, and the kidneys, and the lobe above the liver of the sin offering, he burnt on the altar; as the LORD commanded Moses.  And the flesh and the hide he burnt with fire without the camp.  And he slew the burnt offering; and Aaron's sons presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled round about on the altar.  And they presented the burnt offering to him, with the pieces thereof, and the head: and he burnt them on the altar.  And he did wash the inwards and the legs, and burnt them on the burnt offering on the altar.
American King James Version×Vs. 14 – It is a very specific process. You don’t just offer a sacrifice to God any way you wanted. There were very specific ways of doing it. We must do what God says, not what we think feels right. Let’s read about two sons of Aaron.
Leviticus 10:1-3 Leviticus 10:1-3  And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
 Then Moses said to Aaron, This is it that the LORD spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
American King James Version×We must be careful how we do things. God has laid out very specific instructions. There were instructions for how to do this. They offered their own fire. They offered strange fire and there was a punishment – the end of their lives. For diabetics, there is a proven method to maintain their bodies. You don’t vary. If you do, the outcome is something no one wants. A couple of years ago, we hiked into the Grand Canyon. We spent the first night on the Colorado. It was beautiful. It made the muscles sore. There was a deacon with us that was diabetic. He is on a strict regimen. Some exercise is supposed to be good. Nine miles of hiking on the first day; 12 on days 2 and 3. At the end of day 1, he was in bad shape. He needed to be anointed. It was too much exercise. God intervened and we were able to hike out over the next two days. Diabetics don’t deviate. We must not deviate from what God said, lest we not receive the reward. What about the New Testament? Let’s read about the parable of the ten virgins. Matthew 25:1-9 Matthew 25:1-9  Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.  And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:  But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.  Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.  But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
American King James Version×Vs. 4 – This is the clue that tells us the difference between the wise and foolish. Vs. 9 – Here five were practicing a variation. They were coming to church. They carried their Bibles. They read and studied. But they got locked out of the wedding supper. They died. That is fifty percent. That is huge. Practicing a variation of God’s religion is a very serious matter to God. Is your religion God’s religion? Are we complacent? We get into a rhythm. We get on autopilot. That shows a lack of true love. That is not loving God with all we have.
When Clyde Kilough was chairman, he wrote this: “We should scrutinize everything we do in light of the Kingdom of God, and if our plans do not ultimately align with our goal of being in God’s Kingdom, or the principles that will govern that Kingdom, why should we waste our time on these things?” That puts things in perspective. I like “scrutinize”. Really examine our lives. Is it 100% in accordance with the Bible? Or is it a variation. We must scrutinize all our actions and thoughts and make sure they perfectly align with the Kingdom and the principles of God. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. We are taking the easy road. That is hard; let’s go around. By definition, a variation is not the real thing. Spiritual forgeries are not the real thing. That Van Gough painting fooled a lot of people, but it was not the real thing. We must be sure we are not practicing a variation of God’s pure religion. Before I was hired by the Church, I worked for a company. I transferred from Cincinnati to Phoenix. A coworker had this quote: These are my principles, but if you don’t like them, I have others. In other words, it is okay to deviate. When times get tough, I can change. I hope none of us can say that about God’s word and God’s law. Hopefully, we are not compromising His principles. Let’s look at another NT example.
Luke 6:46-49 Luke 6:46-49  And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
 Whoever comes to me, and hears my sayings, and does them, I will show you to whom he is like:
 He is like a man which built an house, and dig deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently on that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded on a rock.
 But he that hears, and does not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house on the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
American King James Version×Vs. 46 – Why this variation? (It makes me think of Matthew 25 where it talks about the sheep and goats. When did we see you hungry? I would have given you the shirt off my back.) Your religion or God’s religion? Vs. 48 – God’s religion or vs. 49 your own variation. I’m talking to me today. If you can get something out of this, fine. To exist, we must be founded on the Rock. We cannot have any variations. The Alabama Chief Justice decided to put the Ten Commandments outside his court. It was controversial. Alabama Chief Justice – Darris McNeely said this: “The resulting furor not only highlighted the cultural divide, but also brought up the fact that many pay only lip service to the idea of the law rather than looking deeply into its precepts in critical self-examination.” Many look at the law and say, “I can do that”. The feast is fun. I can do that. But in reality, they are skirting it a bit. I want to tweak the law a bit. I think I can do it better. Are we paying lip service to God’s law? Matthew 15:7-9 Matthew 15:7-9  You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,  This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×Remember last week we talked about the Pharisees building fences around the law. You could only walk so many feet on the Sabbath. Those were variations on God’s law. That was why Christ was so upset with them. We must be careful of having variations and judging ourselves by those variations. Even one or two tweaks make it our law, not God’s.
1 Kings 18:21 1 Kings 18:21And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long halt you between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
American King James Version×Are you practicing your religion or God’s religion? Are you paying lip service and worshiping God in vain? Are you coming to church but watching Friday night movies? What are you teaching your kids? By practicing variations we worship God in vain. Hybrid cars have become popular. They can switch between gasoline engines and electric motors. You can run a long time on the battery alone. They have better gas mileage. Do we have a hybrid religion? Do we have a religion that at a certain speed, we live this way, but at others, we live exceptions we have created? Do we have some of Gods, but a little tinge of ours? I’m quite partial to desserts. I have used the analogy of two brownies. Both look delicious. You should have milk and eat them. But what if one has a small tinge of laxatives in it? They both look so good. Would you be okay eating either or both? I would stay away from them both, just in case they were switched. If you have a brownie with a bit of laxative in it, it is not pure. It is not supposed to be there.
David Treybig wrote this in 2006 in Vertical Thought: “[God] alone makes the rules and determines truth. We only get to decide whether we will accept His authority and live by His instructions or not. We don't get to reshape His rules for life and then judge ourselves as to whether we've been good or not. That is playing God. Regrettably, many today do play God. But that isn't going to get us very far when we each have to look the real God in the eye and give an account for our conduct.” That is a very interesting quote. A lot of times we make those justifications. Yes, it is the Sabbath, but the movie, or the family reunion, or whatever, I’ll do it. But God says we should be focused on Him all day long. We look back on ourselves and judge ourselves. Way to go! But God sees where you broke this and this and this. No variations. God wants us to live within the boundaries and constraints He has set up. (Can I have a glass of water?) Here, the Israelites have gone back to Jerusalem to put the walls and gates back up. They were reading the law.
Nehemiah 8:1-6 Nehemiah 8:1-6  And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spoke to Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.
 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.
 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
 And Ezra the scribe stood on a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up:
 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
American King James Version×Vs. 6 – There was reverence and respect for God. There was no variation in how they worshipped God. I’m not suggesting that we stand up in services. But inside, do we say this is my religion and I won’t vary from it? Do we stand up for what God says? They took the teachings from Ezra seriously. God’s law is black and white. Except for the red letters in some Bibles. (Laughter.) It is a black and white kind of law. I challenge you to find any law where God leaves a gray area, where it is okay if you are kind of in the ballpark. God’s law is very black and white. We talked about the bow and arrow and hitting the mark. I challenge all of us to study and see if there is any area where we are living in the gray area. God’s law is not gray. We can’t take the Ark and put it on wheels. We can’t offer sacrifices any way we want. We can’t prepare ourselves any way we want. We can’t build our house on any foundation we want. Last week I gave homework to study the Ten Commandments and the laws of God.
Exodus 20:7 Exodus 20:7You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.
American King James Version×Are we varying from the Third Commandment? The third commandment focuses on our attitude and behavior. Our conduct should be above reproach. We are ambassadors for Christ. This encompasses all the euphemisms. Golly. Gee whiz. Or when someone sneezes and they say, “Oh, bless you.” They thought that when you sneeze you were vulnerable to evil spirits. We shouldn’t say, “Bless you.” What about “Heaven forbid you ever have to go through that.” Or “heaven forbid your operation doesn’t go well”. It is putting things in common area. What about “I have faith you will improve”? Or “God willing you will sell your house?” Some can be okay. Like: “God willing, I will see you at the feast.” But be careful you aren’t practicing a variation like, “Heavens forbid that anything happens to you.” Don’t take something special and put it in a common context. We must not be okay with variations. You may think as long as I don’t say, “Oh, my g-o-d”, you are okay. It is not okay. All of this can be boiled down to self examination. Determine what our level of commitment is. What is the most important commitment that you have made? Marriage? Family? Kids? Exercise program? Teens: School? Grades? What is the most important commitment you have made or can make? The UCG booklet Transforming Your Life says this: “Baptism represents the most important commitment we can make. It signifies our willingness to surrender our lives fully and completely to our Creator, putting to death our old self and rising from a watery grave to live a new and transformed life.” The commitment we have is at the heart of the question today. We must examine our commitment and be sure it is exactly what God says it should be. Let’s read a scripture that is read during baptism counseling. This is called counting the cost.
Luke 14:26-33 Luke 14:26-33  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?
 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace.
 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×Vs. 26 – “Hate” should be “love less”. Vs. 28 – We go out and build a house, build a garage, build a career. Which of us would do that without counting the cost? What if there are roadblocks along the way? Will we be able to complete it? Vs. 29 – This man made excuses for variations and trying to break God’s law. Vs. 31 – Can my army beat his army? He sends out spies. He looks over the territory. Vs. 32 – Whoa! I didn’t know you had guns like that. Or that many soldiers. Let’s call it off and meet for tea next Monday. He will do the analysis and make sure he can continue the battle to the end. Vs. 33 – God doesn’t want us to live a variation. If we do, we build a foundation and can’t complete it. Or we are like this king. This is not just before baptism. We should reexamine our commitment throughout our lives. If not, fast and pray and ask how to be more committed. Regardless of what comes up in life, can I always follow what God wrote? Baptism represents our commitment to put God first regardless of the outcome or the blocks that come along or what happens at work or in the family. That is the commitment we must keep every day of our lives. If not, we are practicing our religion. There was a great car commercial on recently from Hyundai. "Instant gratification has us in a stranglehold. So much so, that we don't want to fix things anymore... just replace them. Don't like your nose; get a new one. Don't like your job? Get a new one. Don't like your spouse, ah, get a new one. Whatever happened to commitment? Whatever happened to standing by our decisions?" What did happen to commitment? Commitment is of no consequence in today’s society.
My dad was committed to GM for 43 years. It was his first job after the Air Force. Back then, GM had commitments to their employees. But now, they are not. Schools are not committed to teachers or students. Are we practicing our own variation we call God’s religion, or are we following what God says? We can’t have our own variations. We can’t follow God two out of three steps. We either follow God or not. More questions: Do we fit our religion to our lives? I have this party on Friday night; this one time, I’ll go. It is okay I’m sure. What comes first, God? Do we pull scriptures out of context to justify our actions? Do we cheat at work? I used to work for a big company. I can guarantee we processed your card transactions. It was easy to cheat at work. You are expected at 7:00 and you came in at 7:15. That is cheating. Or you leave early, and have someone punch your time card. What about swiping office supplies? My wife needs some. We make justifications. We don’t keep Christmas, but what about exchanging gifts at work? There is no tree in the break room. If it is just exchanging gifts, do it in July. What about training our kids? What does Proverbs say? Are we practicing a variation where they will get all they need at Sabbath School? Or do we teach them at home? Are we practicing a variation or doing what God says to do? Let’s read about a group that practices no variation in their religion.
Revelation 22:12-14 Revelation 22:12-14  And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
American King James Version×Vs. 14 – He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those that halfway do My commandments”. “Blessed” is like an exclamation point in Greek. Oh how supremely blessed are they! No Arks on wheels. Their house is built on the rock. They're the ones that train their kids exactly the way He says. Do you want to be in the Kingdom of God? I think we all do. In that case, we must keep God’s law without variation. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 2 Corinthians 6:16-18  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.  And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×At baptism, God moves in. We become temples of God. His holy spirit lives in us and resides in us. Vs. 17 – “Therefore” – “because of this”. Be separate. Don’t be friendly at work when they cause you to make variations. Vs. 18 – We will slip. God realizes that. Christ’s sacrifice is there so we can be forgiven. The Council of Elders has asked us to fast a day in January. Join me. Make sure we are living up to what God expects from us. Make sure we are living His religion and not any other form. God wants to see positive movement and growth. Is your religion God’s religion? Let’s recommit to God and answer with a resounding, “Yes!”