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Sunday, 9 February 2014


Rev. Brent Russett
By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:   

PODCAST LINK to CFRA broadcast - Sunday, February 9th, 2014:

The Perils of Religion’

           Good morning. And welcome to good news in the morning. My name is Brent Russett. I am the Senior Pastor at Sunnyside Wesleyan Church. It is my pleasure to look at some of life’s challenges, and then bring you some good news in the morning.

            This program is sponsored by Good News Christian Ministries. If you want to look us up on the internet, or to re-listen to this program you can find us at

            This morning I want to look at the Perils of Religion.

            If you are in university or if you are related to someone in university you will know that this in mid term exam period. If you know someone in high school, you will know that they have just come through exams. 

             I have done my fair share of exams. I don’t know if you have ever done this before, but you study and you study and you study for an exam, only to get into the exam to find that you have studied all the wrong stuff. 

            If you have ever had that feeling then you will get where the apostle Paul is coming form in our scripture passage today. We are going to look at Philippians chapter 3

            Paul had started the church in Philippi around 50 AD. A decade has now passed. Paul is sitting in a Roman Prison and he decides to write one of his favourite churches.

            In most of the other letters Paul writes to churches, he calls for some corrective action. Paul doesn’t do that to the Philippi church. He just constantly affirms them and teaches them. He also shares a little of his spiritual journey with them. Today we get to peek in on his journey.

            Paul essentially says, I spent a lot of my life preparing for the wrong exam. What you need to know about Paul is that he grew up in a religious home he went to a religious school and he was always a religious person.

            Paul say the most important thing to me has always been, what does God think of me. How do I get to approve of me? How do I get a thumbs up from God?

            The reality is that Paul was asking the questions that that most religions have asked from the beginning of time. Greeks and Romans would honor their God by sacrificing to them, to ensure that the gods were pleased and they got good crops, or if not pleased, at least appeased so the gods wouldn’t be angry with them.

            Muslims have their five pillars including declaring that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, and praying 5 times a day and fasting during Ramadan.  By doing this they hope to please God and get a thumbs up.

            Paul said, as I Jew I was trying to get God’s approval by following the law. He studied the law. He followed the law. He interpreted the law. He lived the law. He put his confidence in how he followed the rules set out in the first 5 books of the bible. But now he says

Philippians 3:3–6 (NLT)
b We rely on what Jesus has done for us.  We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

            Paul says, I was as good as anyone and better than most at keeping the law of God. That is where I put my confidence. No one could fault me for my effort. I was the right kind of person, who did everything right. I was ready for my spiritual exam – I was good. I was confident I was ready for the exam.

            There is a Christian equivalent to this. We don’t have formal Pharisees anymore but we do have the 21st century Christian equivalent. An equivalent where we could say, “If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more.

            The twenty-first century Paul would say  grew up in the church, I was dedicated, I was baptized, I went to Sunday School every Sunday and earned a badge for perfect attendance. I memorized the books of the Bible and always showed up at vacation Bible School and youth. I read the bible every day and I prayed every day, and went through my prayer list of everyone I knew who had a need. I went to church on Sundays, and I listened to the sermon and I took notes, and I was even on the leadership team, I have taken my turn in the Nursery and teaching Sunday School, and I attend a small group. I even help out at a drop in center from time to time. Twenty first century Paul would have said I was ready for the exam. I was pretty confident in what I had done. I had a good track record.

            Religious human effort. It has been around forever. Paul tried it in the 1st century, and a lot of people try it in the 21st century.

            But then Verse 7 notes the change.

Philippians 3:7 (NLT)
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.

            I often feel sorry for people who are really religious. I will pick on the Christian expression of religion – instead of all world religions, because it is a little closer to home.

            But it amazes me what people do in the name of religion. I am not just talking about the bad things, like the crusades, where soldiers were promised that they would go straight to heaven if they were killed in the wars, because they were fighting for the church. I am talking about the good things.

            I was read a book about a journalist who came out of a war zone and in order to try to get his head together he decided to do a pilgrimage of monasteries in Greece. I found his description fascinating. He encountered some real followers of Christ – but then he encountered monks, living in monasteries, who were bitter, and petty, and didn’t really display anything of the life of Christ.

            These monasteries were difficult to live in. The food wasn’t all that good. The work was hard. The schedule was grueling. The discipline was harsh. Some of these brothers went through this for their religion, but it looked like it didn’t bring them any closer to God.

            Here is the thing about religion. It is our attempt to get to God. But the good news that Jesus brought us is that God came to us. Our attempts to somehow get to God or somehow appease God or earn God’s favour are as Paul says – worthless.

            The good news about Jesus is that we can know God – but it is not through our religious observance. It is through what Jesus has done for us.

            Jesus, the man who is God, came and he lived a perfect, sinless life. He was crucified. On that cross, he took all the sin of the world, including your sin and my sin upon himself. And then he died, and our sin was buried with him. On the third day he rose from the dead to new life, and he offers this new life to anyone who will receive it.

            To receive this new life, you have to renounce all self - efforts to earn God’s favour. It is not your goodness, or your works of righteousness, or your religious acts that earn God’s favour. Instead, all the work has been done by Jesus. He took all that stood between you and God. If you renounce trusting in your own goodness and put your full trust in what Jesus has done he has promised to give you his life. Every lasting life.

            The way that many people do this, is that they express this belief in Jesus in the words of a prayer. The prayer or the words aren’t magic, it is faith belief in what God has done that matters. That faith puts God to work on your behalf.

            But praying a prayer like, God I recognized that all my goodness and all my attempts to get to you will never work. But I recognize that your Son Jesus came and made a way for me to know you. Jesus please take away my sin and everything that stands between God and me. I don’t trust anything and give me your life, everlasting life. I am trusting in you and you alone.

            A prayer something like that made in faith, applies the work that Jesus has done for you, to you. Your sin is forgiven, you are given a new life. God’s Spirit is placed inside you.

            This is the most important decision you can make, to trust Christ rather than trust your own goodness. If you haven’t made that decision to trust Christ then, even as we listen to this song, I want to encourage you to take that step of faith. Use your own word ask Jesus to forgive you for your sin, Ask him to come into your life, let him know that you plan to follow him, give your life to him. Jesus always responds to prayers of faith like that.

MUSIC –. All the way my Savior leads me 4:36 Chris Tomlin Album Hello Love

            Now I know that many of  have put your faith in Christ, and what I have said is only a reminder to you. But here is what I believe you need to know. We begin our new life by faith and we continue our life by faith.

             The church in the town of Galatia  had started by faith and then someone had come along and said, you need to follow the law.  Paul wrote them a letter and said

Galatians 3:2–3 (NLT)
Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

            Paul says to them, listen, you can’t do that. You can’t start by faith and then hope to continue by human effort.

            Here is what I have observed. The longer one is a Christian the easier it is to become more religious and less Christian. When we first become Christians and we discover who Jesus is, there is often an excitement about that. We have a hunger to know about him and to connect with him and tell others about what we have found.

            But like with most things after a while the passion fades or maybe the right thing to say is that it matures. It is kind of like getting married. The passion experienced in the first year of marriage is different that the 10th year of marriage. That doesn’t mean that your marriage is passionless – but you fall into a routine of living together.

            What matters in your relationship is attachment. Are you still emotionally connected to each other? The quality of marriage is determined by your emotional connection to each other. You can have a date night every week, and work like a well oiled machine together, or you can argue and disagree with each other. But when it comes right down to it, the quality of your marriage is how connected you are to each other.  

            It is the same for the quality of our faith. We go to church, we pray regularly. We read our bible regularly. Some us know that we should pray more or be into scripture more – and we feel guilty about that. We try to live good lives. We try to be kind to our neighbour. We let people at work know we are a Christian. We live Christianly. But our faith becomes more of a routine.

            There is nothing wrong with routine. Routine helps us stabilize life. Routine help us live life well. If you want to have a better life, have better routines. Routines are good.

            Having a routine of prayer every day, and scripture reading every day, and going to church every week – are positive things. But it moves from gospel to religion when our routines become what is important. But the gospel isn’t about our religious practices or even about being good.

            Hear the words of the apostle Paul

Philippians 3:8–11 (NLT)
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.* For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

            I want you to hear in that scripture Paul’s goals
Verse 8 – the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Verse 8 – so that I may gain Christ.
Verse 9 – that I might become one with him.
Verse 9 – I become righteous through faith
Verse 10 – I want to know Christ
Verse 10 I want to experience the mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.
Verse 11- I want to share in his suffering
Verse 11 – I want to experience resurrection

            The whole point of the gospel is about walking in relationship with Christ and then walking out his life in us. It is about becoming one with Christ. Christ is in us and we are in Christ. It is about attachment to Christ. It is about connection to Christ.

            The thing about our religious routines is that they can be about attachment to Christ, or they can become about our attachment to the routine themselves.

            You can see the evidence of whether a church is attached to Christ or attached to routine when the church tries to change to be more effective for the gospel. Some churches have been known to split over the colour of the carpet, the change in the music, or even small changes to the building. We get attached not to Jesus but to our religious routines, or to religious buildings, or to religious habits.

            But this passage calls us to do a heart check. It calls us to ask ourselves the question of what are we relying on our efforts or what Jesus has done. 

            So let me ask you this question. How is your relationship with Jesus doing these days?

            When I am mentoring people I often ask this question. It has amazed me how often the reply I get back is how they are doing in their daily prayer life – or aren’t doing as the case may be. They will tell me about some of the good things they are doing. They give me the religious reply.

            But the question really is, do you know Christ better now than you did six months ago? Do you sense a oneness with him? Does he have all of you? How are you experiencing his power in your life? How are you depending on him – putting your faith in him?

            What is your desire like for him? Paul says, “I want to know him.” Does that express your heart? Or have the routines of life drown out your desires?

            Now let me quickly throw in, there is a big difference between the dark night of the soul, where we want Jesus, but can’t seem to find him – and so we do all the right things waiting for him to break through – there is a big difference between that than doing all the right things but not really wanting him.

            So what do you do if you don’t know Jesus better now? What if you are not growing in oneness and experiencing his power? What if you are not really trusting him? What do you do if you know that you don’t really want him, but you want to want him?

            The only way to go is with the old fashioned word – repentance. Go to God and say I am sorry for the state of my soul. Let me tell you about God. He is full of mercy. He wants to be in relationship with you. Tell him about what you want or even that you want to want him. Tell him where you are at – he knows anyways.

            Then you make space for him in your life. It may even look the same as it did before. It may look like daily prayer and bible reading and going to church and all those good things – but the point is not those things but that those things be an expression of a heart that say, “I want to know you.”

(Watch time call for commitment)

(Optional reading)

Philippians 3:8–11 (NLT)
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.* For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

            How about you? Do you need to take your heart to God and say here it is?

            For those of you who have never given your life to Christ, up until now, trusting in your own goodness or your own efforts, will you give your life to Christ this morning.

Let’s pray together:

Lord Jesus, thank you that you came, and that you did everything that needs to be done. Lord, we ask that as people are listening to your word, that you would move us closer to you. Move us away from the things that we just do to pretend to be drawing closer to you and help us to actually to draw closer. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thank you, Listeners for your words of encouragement, and for keeping us in your prayers.,   Keeping this program on the air continues to be a work of faith. If you can help with that, please make out a cheque payable to Good News Christian Ministries, Box 184 , Rideau Ferry , On. K0G  1W0. Or you can give online by going to

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            My name is Brent Russett and it has been a pleasure to spend this Sunday morning with you.

May you know   Jesus Christ personally and profoundly.  May the Holy Spirit reside deep within your heart .  And may the heavenly Father surround you with His constant and abiding and accompanying love

- Rev. Brent Russett
To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link:

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